I’m currently at CA World in Las Vegas, an event largely focused on software development. During the opening of the event Peter Diamandis, the chairman and CEO of X Prize Foundation, spoke about disruption and how we are really only at the start of a wave of change that will completely change the way we live and work.
The example he gave was that of Uber the goal of which, he says, is “autonomous Ubers… at which it is 10 times cheaper to use an autonomous Uber than to own a car”.
That makes some sense. If you can order a car, have it arrive when you need it and then it takes you where you need to go. You won’t need a car, or even a driver’s licence. Diamandis speculated that his four-year-old child may never actually drive a car.
Although that may have sounded far-fetched just two or three years ago, we are much closer to this than many people realise. Already, Tesla has released software updates to its vehicles that enable a number of actions, such as lane changes and parking, that don’t require driver intervention.
The recent demonstration by Volvo of driverless cars is Australia is another portent of things to come.
We will move from car ownership towards what Diamandis calls ‘transportation as a service’.
The flow-on impact of this is massive. For starters, car makers will see a reduction in production and we will order the type of vehicle we need for a specific scenario. Some days we’ll use a small commuter vehicle for getting to and from work, while on other days we’ll order a larger vehicle to go on a picnic.
“All of sudden, if I don’t own a car I don’t need a driveway or a garage at my home,” says Diamandis. So, there’s a further knock-on effect on the way we use residential real estate.
Parking lots cease to be as important, as cars aren’t left idle when we shop or commute. Diamandis noted that about 40 percent of Westfield’s real estate costs are spent on parking. While I’m pretty sure we don’t need more or larger shopping centres, perhaps that land will be reclaimed as public open space and used for recreation.
Our roads will change as you can “pack eight times as many cars on a road when you go autonomous,” he says.
That means existing roads won’t need to be expanded leading to a fall in the road construction industry and all the other businesses that flow from that such as construction equipment.
At the moment, when people think about Uber, they are heavily focused on the impact on the taxi industry. And in an automated ‘Uberised’ world, it’s hard to imagine that a taxi industry will even exist.
And this is the challenge. Many technologies are developed and progress in ways we can barely imagine. Culturally, we see cars as status symbols. We like the freedom of being able to come and go as we like, without having to plan ahead. But if we could reduce the cost of car use by 90 percent – something that is conceivable in a car-sharing culture – then will we be prepared to trade that convenience for the saving? And are we happy with all the flow-on effects?
Despite the rapid march forward of technology, these changes aren’t going to happen this decade – but they will be marching forth and well on the way by the time 2020 rolls around. What I’m seeing, and is rarely covered by technologists, is social and cultural change will be needed. And that takes much longer to happen – at least a generation.
Anthony Caruana attended CA World in Las Vegas as a guest of CA.