Yesterday I sat in the driver’s seat next to Ron from Greenwich, CT Cadillac, who was instructing me on how to ‘drive’ an autonomous car. We were on i95 highway, during morning rush hour and it was raining… Perfect. So I pushed the super-cruise button, and centered the car in the middle of the lane and waited for the green light on the dashboard. The strangest feeling was when I took my foot off the brake pedal … completely. We quickened up to a car and my instinct told me to hit the brake as we seemed to be barreling in towards the car in front of us. And then with expert timing the car just braked on its own at a perfect tempo (and I learned something right there about timing and ideal breaking pressure!) and to my relief we stayed up perfectly with the traffic. Then Ron said, ”Robert, let go of the steering wheel.” I did. Amazingly easy. We just talked and and I asked Ron to take the video you are now watching.
Ron then explained that there are five levels of autonomous cars: 1. Cruise control 2. Lane guidance 3. Hands-free and feet-free 4. Driving local streets — highways are actually much simpler technology — and recognizing people and street lights 5 Removing the human completely from the car. While the car we were in is programmed for level 5, we were only allowed to use level 3.
What was interesting is after the drive, I went back in my car on i95 … and I had this strange desire to just take my feet and hands off the controls, but realized that was a really bad idea. The net/net is after overcoming the strange sensation, you almost feel that while it’s fun to be in a car, there are so many times when it would be fun and productive to just let the car do the work. I was surprised when Ron told me I could buy this very car for only $72,000; I naively thought it would be several hundred thousand. That just tells me, There’s no question autonomous cars will become ubiquitous … and quickly.
The greater lesson to me is about the advances of technology. There’s no question that technologies like autonomous cars are a huge net positive for society (and in ways we can’t even yet understand). The challenge with technology is when the car is communicating with my iPhone and taking me away from McDonald’s and instead to Whole foods because these two machines have determined based on my age at 57, it’s the wrong health decision for me. The future of technology is correctly summed up by IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty who says that AI is not artificial intelligence, but augmented intelligence. So my take is as long was human are making the decisions of where to drive us — literally and figuratively — these advancing technologies will just be enhancements to the quality of our lives.