The automobile is one of mankind’s greatest inventions and one of the most consequential. Whether we drive or not, our lives are impacted directly or indirectly by cars.
Since the beginning of the last century, automobiles have practically dictated how we layout our streets, where we build our commercial centres, how we design our residential areas, even how we build our houses; if you factor in considerations for parking or a garage.
Cars are also one of the leading causes of death around the world. Over one million people die each year in road traffic accidents. The World Health Organisation suggests that without sustained action, road traffic crashes are predicted to become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030. Although safety standards have improved dramatically since the days of Henry Ford, the basic utilisation of the automobile has virtually stayed the same.
Change is afoot, and if the current pace of research and development continues, we could see a fundamental change in how humans utilise automobiles in the next 20 to 30 years. This change is being driven by significant developments in AI, cloud computing and importantly, telecommunication network technology, which has enabled the explosion in data transfer capacity that we are witnessing today.
We are fast approaching a world where all automobiles will not only be autonomous, but will be able to communicate with other vehicles and people on the road. All traffic will be orchestrated by an intelligent operating system. Without manually driven cars there will be no need for speed limits or more than an a few inches of space between cars driving at 500mph.
We will practically eliminate traffic accidents, traffic jams will be a thing of the past, and we will overhaul our societal obsession with car ownership. In a world where nobody needs to learn how to drive there won’t be a need to purchase a personal vehicle. Most of our highways and city streets will become redundant and could be repurposed as parks and playgrounds. The cars of today might become niche collectors’ items, driven by nostalgic enthusiasts on tracks at the weekend.
We’re not going to get to this ‘cartopia’ without massive leaps in AI. But it’s important that we don’t view AI as an independent panacea. It is only as effective as the data we provide it. If we provide autonomous vehicles with the wrong data we could inadvertently create chaos on a scale we’ve never seen before. We see this today with people, and it could be worse with machines: People often make decisions based on limited, biased and incomplete data and a lot of "gut feeling" and this often leads to imperfect and often expensive solutions that are difficult to overturn. We at Teralytics believe that these decisions should be based on the most representative and inclusive data possible. We have found mobile phones to be the best source of inclusive data on human mobility to help cities, transportation and mobility services benefit everyone.
Automated cars could be the defining invention of the next century. It is up to us to dream big, boldly apply the latest technological advancements and usher in a new age of human mobility.