Obviously self-driving cars are going to change the world. That's not what this post is about, at least, not entirely. Over the last few years, self-driving cars have become commonplace in the news. Innumerable articles have been written with predictions on how the world will change: (1) thousands of lives will be saved; (2) the taxi and trucking industries will become fully automated with countless people losing their jobs; (3) time that was once wasted in daily commutes can now be used productively; etc.
I call these "first-level changes." First-level changes are direct consequences of fully autonomous vehicles, or Level 5 autonomy. Before we go further, below is a refresher on the levels of autonomy set by SAE International (and adopted by the NHTSA).
What I find far more interesting are what I call "second-level changes." Second-level changes are those that indirectly impact our society. Second-level changes are sometimes counterintuitive or even bizarre. That's what makes them far more interesting. We need smart people (like you, dear reader) to think about these indirect changes brought about by Level 5 self-driving cars. Otherwise we might be blindsided (I couldn't resist) by serious problems in the near future.
Here is a prime example of a second-level change: self-driving cars will make organ shortages even worse. According to the Slate article authored by Ian Adams and Anne Hobson:
Of course, we would expect an overall net positive in lives saved from traffic accidents than those lost due to unvailability of organ donors. But it's still a serious consequence of self-driving cars. And its probably one that many haven't thought about.
Regional airlines go out of business
Ok, maybe regional airlines don't completely fold. But think about this: why would you fly to a city 6 or 7 hours away when you could hop in your Level 5 self-driving car at around midnight and wakeup in the destination city? Think about avoiding the lines, stress, hassle, TSA pat-downs, flight cancellations, uncomfortable seats, pricey airport food, the guy seated next to you that sneezes in your face while your sleeping.
All that stuff.
Self-driving cars stand to impact areas of the world that lack legitimate public transportation options. So it's not unreasonable to expect decline in regional air travel. Especially when you begin to think about the changes in vehicle form factor due to Level 5 autonomy.
Vehicle design will change dramatically. There will be more emphasis on comfort and active features for passengers' entertainment or productivity. And this doesn't even take into consideration potential changes in speed limits for Level 5 self-driving cars. Travel times may be reduced considerably if Level 5 self-driving cars are permitted to travel at high speeds. This only makes regional travel via self-driving cars more attractive.
Alcohol consumption rises
Great for bars and restaurants, even better for breweries and distillers. Maybe bad for rates of liver and kidney disease?
Yes, this is pure speculation. But common sense tells me patrons will be more likely to order more drinks at dinner or while watching the game somewhere when they don't have to drive. Yes, there are people that drive while intoxicated. But there are a lot more that don't. To give you an idea, Morgan Stanley estimates alcohol markets could receive an additional $98 billion because of self-driving cars.
But if you're drinking enough that its unhealthy, then whether self-driving cars revolutionize the world isn't likely to change that. So perhaps not. The same logic probably applies to the idea that productivity at work could decrease. If you drink enough that it negatively affects your job, then self-driving cars probably aren't going to change your behavior one way or the other.
Third Level Changes
Just kidding, I'm not going there.
My whole motivation for this post is to draw attention to how much society will change in unforeseeen ways by this technology. If at least one person starts thinking this way about self-driving cars, it'll have been worth it.