Please open the Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences was the message I took away from the news that GM and Lyft are bringing cars in the form of taxis to Austin, Texas.
Already, driverless cars are wholly dependent on the cloud. Who else is going to take the money for the trip, guide it through updated GPS info (how about those orange barrel zones?), find a parking place, and wake up to find you after the pub crawl?
Do you want a Tesla to meet you at the front door? How about a much-rumored Apple Car? No, that won’t do, let’s put on the Ritz and have a GullWing Mercedes saunter to queue, wink its little lights at you, and have some sumptuous jazz playing. For some people, the latest football game will already be playing on the screen. Others will be deep into a saved RPG, killing orcs while speeding down the 101.
The entire experience, from paint job to economics, is going to cater to those who can afford it. Most of us will get the Toyota model, perhaps with one headlight out. It might creep along while others with higher-grade gear leave us in the dust.
Owning your own car, however, means you’ll be at the mercy of subscriptions and updates, lest your driverless car drive you in the drink where the bridge is out. The upshot is that it’s likely that real-time traffic updates might get you to work or your dentist appointment earlier. Stuck in traffic as an excuse may be because your auto isn’t plugged into a network that allows you to avoid tie-ups, or at least contribute to them.
Will the government be able to re-route you? Do you want the traffic management relegated to some piece of the government’s cloud, like traffic signals are managed today? Will there be a way of knowing in near-certainty when traffic jams will occur?
Do cloud-network outages bring traffic to a screeching halt? Will your car stop because someone can’t debit your account for the ride because a backhoe in Omaha cut someone’s fiber link?
Do you want to own your driverless, cloud-controlled car? Perhaps not. On-demand seems the ideal taxi replacement, but will supply and demand keep you waiting at the curb at the airport or hotel? Will rental car companies be your provider, waiting for you just outside baggage claim?
The cloud will know your habits, your favorite haunts (“New! There’s a great brew pub that’s only 6.144 miles! Try it? Click here.”), where the nearest hospital or non-franchised coffee shop is located, and so forth.
But what of hijacks, where your automotive session is now controlled by malware? Will it take you to McDonald’s? Or will it simply halt in the middle of your favorite freeway, to test the dodge ‘em capabilities and updated firmware in the vehicles behind you? Will the auto-wrecker come when you get a flat tire? Will you pay for the optional window-shade so that the beggars at the onramps won’t look you in the eye, or discover you’re still putting on your makeup, or are looking at your Facebook instead of working?
Will your driverless cloud be programmed to put you at the handicap spot, or on the fifth floor of the parking garage? Will it let you go to the nude beach, at all? Will your destination history be wiped, or will it be visible for all to track and see? Will it go to your child’s soccer game without a cleaning charge because it poured rain during the game?
Will there be extra toll charges because you picked a destination in a seedy part of town? Will it even list the cool Thai restaurants there? Will you be assigned the same car? Will you be rated by the fact that you smoked, swore, or passed gas in the car? Will there be Frequent Driverless Miles? Will they take cash, at all?
It’s my guess, knowing Google, that there will be endless ads, studiously researched to compel you to buy. Face it, you’re going to be bored. I’ll bet that captive audience, coupled to a Buy Now button, might compel you. And the cloud will be your friend, and then perhaps, your overlord.