Cars That Drive Themselves

Question: What will the car of the future look like?

Geoff Wardle: If you look at the history of the automobile, there’ve never really been any radical changes.  I don’t see any radical changes, or step changes in the near future, at least.  I think perhaps we will see some bigger changes than in the past. 

I believe that if we are going to continue to use automobiles in any big way, we have to be much more selective as end users in making sure we use the right vehicle for the right job; the right tool for the right job, the right car for the right journey.  And you mentioned a little earlier how 85 percent to 87 percent of people still use the car for their commuting rather than other means of transportation so the reality is that most of those car journeys are done alone.  So, why do we haul around ourselves in a vehicle that is 20 or 30 times our own weight because it’s got three, four, five, six, or seven sometimes empty seats around us?  Those vehicles are fine when they are used to carry a lot of people.  So I think one of the changes that I believe we need to see is a much greater opportunity for people to use, whether it’s buying or sharing vehicles specifically for commuting.  They will be safe, they will be much more energy efficient, use up less space, and then you can make a better case for using cars. 

So I think the architecture of vehicles, we’ll start to see much smaller vehicles.  I think that one of the big issues of vehicle design too is the crash avoidance technology that we’re beginning to see being introduced. 

Personally, my own opinion is that if the automobile is to remain a major player in personal mobility, then I think autonomous vehicles are going to be a real advantage.  Some people think that this is crazy and this is not possible.  I, and quite a few other people, think that this is not crazy and there are some really good reasons why we should go that way.  We’re kind of on the way now.  How will this affect the ways cars look?  As I’ve said, we’re going to see cars that – I hope to see more cars on the road that are much smaller.  We’ve seen some examples at recent auto shows, Volkswagen, and some of the Japanese companies have shown much smaller vehicles.  There is still a lot of reticence amongst car users that they are not as safe as driving around in a big car.  That needn’t be the case.  Small cars can be engineered to be extremely safe.  They still have to pass all the same crash regulations that a big car does.  So a lot of it is about perceptions. 

At the same time, if cars can be engineered to drive themselves reliably without crashing into each other, then you can make the cars a lot lighter still because you don’t have to engineer them to be light tanks. 

Question: How far away are we from cars that can essentially drive themselves?

Geoff Wardle: I think, given the right circumstances, we could see vehicles that are able to drive by themselves within a decade.  But that’s under ideal circumstances.  The main barrier that people flag up with autonomous driving is; Yes, but how do you mix cars that can drive themselves with older cars that can’t drive themselves?  And so actually introducing these autonomous cars into the Legacy fleet is a challenge, but I think it is quite possible. 

Honestly, I think it’s probably 20 or 30 years away before we see a car landscape where all cars are driving themselves.  But I often think; what would it be like if we transported ourselves 100 years into the future, or imagine our great-great-grandchildren, and they say, “Granddad.  Is it true that in 2010 people were allowed to drive their own cars around?”  “Yep.  That’s absolutely true.”  And they say, “Well, that’s crazy.  Didn’t people crash into each other and make mistakes?”  “Yes, they did, and 40,000 people a year died every year on American roads because they crashed into each other.  And goodness knows how many people got injured.”  “Wow.  So, how was that allowed to last for so long?”  I think if you look at that perspective, you can see that it becomes an inevitability.  But I would say 20 or 30 years before it become ubiquitous. 

But I think we see the beginnings of it now.  There are a lot of vehicles now which have adaptive speed control on their cruise control; adaptive cruise control.  If the car gets too close to the one in front, the brakes automatically come on.  Most people who drive very powerful sports cars have subliminal systems built into the car, which applies the brakes a little bit discreetly, or stops the wheels spinning if the driver is too enthusiastic or too aggressive.  We have devices that warn you if you try to change lanes when there’s somebody still in your blind spot, and we also have now in some cars being introduced that if the car feels that you have not seen a pedestrian step out in front of you, or it’s getting too close to a stationary object, it will slam on the brakes before the driver even reacts. 

So you can imagine these kids of technologies becoming more and more ubiquitous in the cars so that the car kind of in the end surreptitiously takes over from the driver, then you can see the driver beginning to take less and less interest in the driving.  And that to me is the way we introduce them into the Legacy fleet.  

Recorded on February 4, 2010

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.