Which is why we are seeing an avalanche of faux-news stories about the coming era of driverless cars, how they’re on the streets now, how well they are doing in testing, how soon there will be nothing but driverless cars on all our roads. And all this chum in the financial water has served its purposes: the hedge fund sharks, and the Masters of the Universe they serve, are in a feeding frenzy; and the gullible public is giddy with anticipation.
Meanwhile people with a lick of common sense are saying, wait a minute, doesn’t this sound oxymoronic, like clean coal, or safe sex? In today’s world, people with licks of common sense do not get funding to answer their questions, and therefor the skeptical questions you might have about “driverless cars” are almost unanswerable. Until right now, right here:
Is there such a thing as a “driverless car?” Not yet, there isn’t. The conditions for allowing “driverless cars” on the public roads in a few states unanimously specify that the driverless car has to have a driver who is ready to instantly take control of the vehicle. Moreover, what they are driving and testing are prototypes and jury-rigs; no one has yet built an autonomous vehicle. (Tesla cars offer “auto-pilot,” but it isn’t.) So almost all the stories you have read and seen about “driverless cars” on the road are fake (some fastidious journalists write about testing cars that are capable of becoming autonomous, but most people read right through the fastidiousness).
How are the potentially driverless cars doing in their testing? Awful. For example, in the first week of March, Uber’s 43 test cars in three states logged some 20,000 miles on public roads. Their drivers had to intervene and take control away from the software, an average of once every mile. Critical interventions, required to save lives and property, were counted separately; they occurred every 200 miles. Which makes your life expectancy, as a passenger in a truly autonomous car, approximately four hours.
How much will a driverless car cost? No one has a clue, because no one has built one yet. As Consumer Watchdog put it in its devastating report on the imaginary industry, “No completely self-driving vehicle is offered for sale today, and notwithstanding a great deal of marketing hype, no manufacturer has set a firm date when it will market a passenger vehicle that is able to operate in all conditions without human intervention, or, importantly, what it will cost to buy.” Just to hazard a guess here, my bet is that the early adapters to driverless cars are going to have to choose between buying the car and buying that second fully-staffed luxury yacht.
Would driverless cars need new infrastructure? You bet your booties. No one has even begun to plan, let alone estimate the cost of, a national network that would support the car-to-car, car-to-road and car-to-satellite communications that would be required by tens of millions of driverless cars. Figure that out, and then specify who is going to pay for the staggering cost, while our bridges collapse, our interstate highways continue to rot, and our potholes continue to eat 18-wheelers. Then you’ll have a plan.
What about insurance? Worry not, the insurance companies are on this, 24/7, with a full-court press in every state. Not, as you might think, to figure out how to equitably insure the vehicles and arbitrate liability; but to demand that all the state immediately suspend regulation of and restrictions on the insurance companies lest — and this is a quote from a top insurance lobbyist — the regulators “chill this promising technology and the huge advances in overall public safety it promises.” Speaking of chill — did you just feel one? You should have.
Bottom line: “driverless cars” are not here, and not coming. Like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, genetic engineering and other “next-big-thing” oxymorons, what we’re really talking about here is a high-tech con, designed to separate real morons from their money.