When Will Apple and Uber Open Up About Driverless Cars? – The Atlantic

Posted: Friday, December 04, 2015

He doesn’t just mean technologically, although that’s certainly the case with brightly painted lines on highways, well-maintained streets, satellites linked to GPS, and other environmental features necessary for self-driving functionality. Key infrastructure also happens to be largely publicly funded. But the transportation systems that rely on public infrastructure don’t serve everyone equally.

“Google’s out there inventing this wonderful car but everything operates on this public infrastructure that the public pays for,” White said. “So Google gets this massive private profit, while the public will not [uniformly] get the benefit of the technology, and while still paying for the infrastructure that makes it work. That’s how it is going to go.”

“I’m not a technophobe, and I can see all kinds of benefits,” he added. “But these are complicated problems. A lot of this is: Who is going to pay for it, and who gets the benefit from it?”

Perhaps Apple and Uber are savvy to avoid such questions for the time being. They are businesses focused on making a profit, after all. Many advocates for self-driving cars say there’s opportunity for the technology to help everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, by driving down car ownership and encouraging municipal fleets, perhaps as a replacement for aging and inefficient bus systems. If that is indeed what lies ahead, we won’t know until someone builds a self-driving car that cities can actually buy.

Google, by being open about its vision for a self-driving future, may earn a reputation for being responsible and cooperative. But it also faces a regulatory thicket, not to mention a broader cultural fight for consumers’ hearts and minds.

“It’s a lot like the gun debate,” said Arthur Wheaton, a director at The Worker Institute at Cornell University. “‘You’ll pry my steering wheel from my cold dead hands.’ A lot of people will not give up the freedom to drive their own car.”

It’s perhaps understandable that Uber and Apple want to wait out uncertainty and resistance, and be deliberate about the proper time to announce their respective plans; but who does that serve in the long-run? Not the public, certainly. Though Google may pay a price for being a trailblazer, with all the scrutiny that position brings, any company claiming to revolutionize the automobile will face complex questions—and will eventually have to answer them.

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