80 Billion Invested In Self-Driving Autos Highlights A Fault of Capitalism
Before you conclude that this is a socialist manifesto, let me assure you I am capitalist to the core. I’ve read John Adams ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ and I am a believer. Capitalism has brought more wealth to more people in the history of the world than any other system devised by man. Constitutional Republics joined with regulated Capitalism have created the largest middle class in the world (albeit a less than healthy one at the moment but fortunately on the rise again) and spread more peace for more people to the point that the Marxist coined the term, ‘bourgeoisie’ to define ordinary people so wealthy they are morally corrupt.
Marxism and Communism, failing to take into account the sin nature of man, have been unable to produce any success stories, and any fans of full-blown Socialism need to take a long, hard intellectually honest look at Venezuela, once the darling of Socialism and now a heart-wrenching disaster.
The success of Capitalism does not make it above reproach. The 2007 derivatives scam, so brilliantly documented in the movie and the book, ‘The Big Short,’ reveals the dangers of unbridled greed in our system and the consequences; the economy is finally recovering in 2018, eleven years later. It is indeed far from a perfect system. After six thousand years of known human history, it has turned out to be now and above the best one available.
In a running debate with my best friend of whether AI exists or not, I ran into this eye-opening article that from 2014 to 2017, investment firms have spent an incomprehensible 80 billion (yes, that is billions, not millions) in self-driving car technology. My retort to my friend was that they had paid a vast sum of monies on systems that are unable to do what my daughter learned to do in two months. Which made me begin to think, “Why are they spending so much money on a problem that nobody is begging them to solve?”
Well first, there is the allure of how many cars are currently on the road. There is no doubt of the size of the potential market. The Automotive Industry is set to sell over 80 million vehicles in 2017 worldwide, and the market is growing and will continue to expand. If someone can develop an automated driving system that works; the returns could potentially be huge. That is if people want them. It appears they do not. A 2017 study done by MIT revealed that 48% said they would never buy a fully automated vehicle. The number one reason is that they said they do not trust technology with their life.
Not trusting one’s life with technology is a well-founded fear. Having owned a technology service company for fourteen years, I am personally well aware and acquainted with the difficulties of transmitting a TCP/IP packet successfully from one location to another much less anything more complicated such as stabilizing an Operating System. If anyone thinks that terrorists, homegrown and abroad, will not hack into automated systems and kill people they are living a pipe dream. Hackers have already demonstrated that this can be done.
All these challenges may be mute for the simple reason that after nearly thirty years of developing self-driving cars, we are still no closer to having them functional. They cannot drive in the dark, they cannot ‘see’ objects, they cannot operate in lanes where the divider paint has faded, they have trouble identifying stop signs with stickers or graffiti on them, a $75 device can dangerously jam the systems GPS, they have considerable difficulties in busy four-way stops; the list of deficiencies is long. Google has admitted that their research vehicles, which have human drivers, have been overridden ‘thousands’ of times yearly by the testers. Worse, people have died. Two confirmed in Telsa automated driving accidents and one when an Uber car hit a pedestrian.
All of the evidence points to a much longer development cycle than initially anticipated and there is the growing possibility that the current technology will never allow cars to fully automate. What is interesting is that there is an increasing market for tech augmentation of vehicles; driver assistance programs. We purchased a 2014 Chevy Traverse with radar and lane assistance technology. I have become a huge fan, particularly in parking lots where it will let you know of cross traffic. It also will notify you if another vehicle is in your blind spot; invaluable to the point I will probably not purchase another car that does not have this feature.
Investors seem to think that entirely self-automated cars are right around the corner when the evidence says elsewhere and it appears half the consumers would never buy them. We do not have the time to discuss many of the other problematic challenges that still await adaptation; state and federal regulations, invariable lawsuits that will occur over technology related deaths and if they get the technology functioning; transitioning from human drivers to automated vehicles. Highways are expensive; one cannot merely build entirely new infrastructures.
Why then 80 Billion?
Exuberance is one of the weaknesses of Capitalism. Investors are human beings and have shown, historically and repeatedly, that they are susceptible to the idea that if given enough monies and technology; anything is possible. In the 1930’s America Fairs, visitors reveled at what the future of technology in the American cities could be. While some predictions were spot on, such as electrical kitchens, many completely missed the mark. Flying cars were (and have been) promised for over a century now, but gravity turned out to be a real bitch. Most past technologists completely missed the computer revolution and thought for sure by now we would be headed to the stars.
I witnessed this tendency to Exuberance in the 1990’s. The Internet was to transform businesses, eliminate poverty and joblessness and socialize knowledge and power. There is no doubt that it has changed commerce, but not always for the better. Power structures not only continue to exist; it has in some ways empowered them further, and totalitarian Governments have either used the web to their advantage or successfully censored access to information. Fake news and Google and Facebook, accused of filtering to their preferences have further complicated the pursuit of a technology-induced nirvana.
Artificial Intelligence and Self-Driving cars are luring investors into the same spell. Both have been ‘right around’ the corner to implementation for decades now, and both are still facing the same challenges since the beginning. The AI movement and Automated Driving seemed to be linked; the second dependent on the first developing and when it did not, trying to use existing technologies to overcome and have failed.
What is the future of Self-Driving vehicles? There is no doubt it will change the way drive; it already has. Augmented technology will continue to make cars safer for all of us; helping to avoid accidents; see better and be more aware of potential dangers. We may even see toll roads turned into automated lanes. The future will be messier and not what we envisioned; if the last fifty years have taught us that anything, it should have taught us that fact. But apparently, not the investors who will probably be taking a bloodbath in losses as they did in 1980 (real estate), 1990’s (tech bust) and in 2007 (derivatives).