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A future where no-one needs to drive

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The BBC just shared a report about Cruise, a self-driving company that has launched a commercial taxi service in San Francisco.

The driverless future is here today.

It made me reflect on where we are at. Where we are at is at a juncture where most menial tasks will be run by software. Taxi rides, lorry driving, peeling potatoes, picking up rubbish, delivering post and parcels … anything that involves transport can be automated. Flying a plane, steering a ship, running a train … anything that involves transport can be automated.

The question is, obviously: should it be?

There has always been a view that driverless cars should still have a driver, purely for those occasions where the car doesn’t work the way it should. But Cruise proves that it can break that rule, as the car has no driver.

In fact, it’s interesting that Cruise has entered the market first as Uber were talking about a driverless car network six years ago, but gave up on the idea and sold their division developing such technology to Aurora for $4 billion in 2020.

Having said that, the forecast back in 2016 was that ride-hailing would rise to more than 25% of journeys by 2030, according to Morgan Stanley. Equally, in another study by the OECD, they estimated that driverless cars would reduce the number of vehicles owned by 90%.

It would be a driverless, carless future. Cars would own themselves and operate in a network of journeys paid for by app. Or would it be paid for by app?

I find it interesting that, equally back in 2016, there were predictions the future would create a driverless car network that runs itself.

“Once driverless cars become commonplace, most people won't want or need to own a vehicle any more and, in a world dominated by self-steering taxis, each ride becomes cheaper if the vehicles are autonomous rather than owned.

‘The funny thing about a car that owns itself is that we can encode whatever rules we like into its software,’ explains Mike Hearn [an ex-Google engineer and one of the leading Bitcoin software developers].  ‘We can program it to make a little bit of profit, so it's got some money for a rainy day, but not excessive amounts. We can make it the most moral, socially minded capitalist possible.’”

In other words, the car network runs itself, repairs itself and pays for itself with its own currency. In fact, through Mr Hearn’s vision, the cars would club together with any surplus earnings they had to pay for factories to build more of them.

“After it rolls off the production line... the new car would compete in effect with the existing cars, but would begin by giving a proportion of its profits to its parents. You can imagine it being a birth loan, and eventually it would pay off its debts and become a fully-fledged autonomous vehicle of its own.”

At the time I read that vision, I thought it was madness but, with Cruise operating in San Francisco, I can it could become a reality. But then you extend that reality to all of the logistics and supply chain, where ships, planes, trains and all delivery infrastructure runs via software and you can see a future that seems like madness but is becoming a reality.

Or is it just me?

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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