A lot of people are reacting in horror. Mini-vans have hit the streets of Phoenix with one element missing - a human being. Is the 21st century getting too scary? Well, in some ways it’s more like the Middle Ages.
JRR Tolkien, Middle Earth: an injured Aragon, almost unconscious. is brought back to the army of Rohan on the back of a horse.
Westerns - they once dominated Hollywood output - and how often was a half dead hero returned home by his horse? How often did a riderless horse, returning to base, alert the US cavalry/heroes of a disaster?
Of course, by the end of the 19th century the horseless carriage began to gain traction. Within a couple of generations of its invention, what by then had become known as the motor car, had become embedded in the human psyche, it became the pride and joy of millions of drivers, it became the stuff of dreams, the aspiration of many, the greatest means for installing status, an extension of the manhood for others - within a few decades of its invention it was so much a part of humanity that many just thought it was part of our DNA.
But there is one thing that the motor car could not do that a horse could, and that is drive/steer itself.
An Alphabet min-ivan produced by its subsidiary, Waymo, is now prowling the roads of Phoenix. The vehicle in question is a modified Fiat Chrysler Pacifica mini-van. And it will be available as a service - for people to hail. Actually the mini-van won’t be empty, there will be a human being on the back seat - a kind of back seat non-driver, but this is to re-assure the public and even this practice will be eventually cease.
Waymo’s, chief executive John Krafcik said: “To have a vehicle on public roads without a person at the wheel we’ve built some unique safety features into this min-ivan. Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second. With these checks, our systems can instantly diagnose any problems and pull over or come to a safe stop if needed.”
He also said: “Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service.”
Many are horrified of course, many say “you wouldn’t see me dead in one of those things” they may not realise this at the time, but given it is surely only a matter of time before the hearse is driverless and they will indeed be seen dead in one of those things.
Resistance to the idea of autonomous cars is akin to the resistance to the idea of a horseless carriage.
Yes the disruptive impact will be massive - some ask the question, who will be insured, car or owner? But a more pertinent question may relate to how will the car insurance industry cope if there are an order of magnitude less accidents? Few have yet asked how the car industry will react if we all start sharing cars and as a result less cars are needed to meet demand.
But actually, the psyche of owning a driverless cars is more akin to the psyche of owning a horse, a transport system that is not reliant on a human, one that could drive an injured human to the hospital, return home on its own accord, and if so required, drive right up to the gates of Mordor.