Why Nobody Will Buy Self-Driving Cars For A Long Time To Come

Self-driving cars are the future, but are humans ready for them? The answer is a resounding “no,” and you shouldn’t expect to see them for a long time…

The pursuit of the perfect autonomous car has hit some snags over the past – most recently, it turns out you can mess with their street sign-recognition technology with some stickers and pen.

Yes… Seriously.

Through defacing street signs, the vehicle’s image recognition system can be thrown off, meaning you could have automated cars speeding through stop signs without any knowledge of the T-junction it’s about to drive through.

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But governments are working to resolve any future issues. Specifically, the British Government issued tougher guidelines on the network security of these connected vehicles – forcing car companies to keep all models up to date, calling for strategies to minimise any potential vulnerabilities and limited usage of any personal data.

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Technically, this should be all good, right? Wrong. Because no matter what is put in place to make you statistically safer than you could ever be driving a car yourself, nobody will ever trust a self-driving car and will not do so for a long time to come.

And I am aware of the data – the research that shows driverless cars are in fact safer than human drivers, which demonstrates how we really should take the human margin of error out of the equation.

But these are numbers, and as our current political climate proves, numbers are 100% irrelevant in the face of opinion (hi, Amber Rudd). So with that in my mind, allow me to inject my own opinion into this and thoroughly apply the brakes on this whole supposed self-driving car “revolution.”

People will not buy a driverless car for a long time to come because of two reasons – the human preference to “feel safe” over actually being safe, and the unspoken joy of driving.

Feeling Safe

I get the studies. Everyone does. In another life, maybe I would be able to explain away this gripe and convert people to the church of autonomous motoring. However, humans currently have an inescapable trait deeply ingrained within their moral fibre – they feel safer when in control of something.

It’s the psychology behind the saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Look into other studies in this area and not only will you see psychologists confirm this theory, but even autonomous car makers see that while participants are “mostly excited” about the technology, they had “remnants of nervousness” and “uncertainty” of what to expect when the vehicle was in full control.

This is a power/control complex that humans cannot ignore, and one that will inevitably give people a holistic sense of unease during every journey.

Joy of driving

With this, of course I’m not talking about the more functional journeys like the school run, trip to the shops or picking up your drunk partner from the night club.

By this, I mean the work commute, the long-distance journeys, the other random trips that require a variety of roads from motorways (highways) to the country roads.

While a study by The University of Chicago Booth School of Business primarily concludes that human happiness while driving is correlated to the value of the car you drive (i.e. Drive a Ferrari? Chances are you enjoy driving more than those driving a Ford Fiesta), the other correlation is there that most people agree that driving makes them happy in some (if not most) situations.

That liberating sense of freedom, which you take by both hands on a steering wheel (and sometimes a gear stick) cannot be understated. Much like the feeling of being safe when in control, it’s one that is deep within the psyche of every human being for now.

What next?

These two key points are deal breakers for now, but shifts in mentality come with every generation. While humans at the moment will actively resist self-driving cars, future generations will be comfortable with the technology. Think the distance between how capable you are at operating a smartphone vs your dad – getting out his special pair of reading glasses for each session.

I am looking forward to our move into the world of autonomous cars, but my hesitancies are the same as many others – the fact that as a connected device, it can be hacked, and the subsequent lack of control means lives can be put at risk.

Add to that the moral machine behind it all. As artificial intelligence makes its presence known on the road, difficult decisions will have to be made by the computer. In deciding between killing two passengers or five pedestrians, which of the two evils will the car pick? Side note: check out the Moral Machine. Really taxing decision making put into a game.