With a growing tide of anti-establishmentarianism, is it me or are autonomous systems the last thing people want or need? In an age which is looking for people to blame for everything, the last thing you want is to open the driver’s door or pop up the cockpit canopy only to find nobody there.
We still can’t reduce the cockpit head count from two to one, despite automation. True, aircraft cockpits and ship bridges are not as crowded as they used to be. But even if the aircraft captain is now a pilot, radio-operator, engineer and navigator combined, he or she still needs a buddy for back-up. People – in the eyes of the law – are not the same as machines.
But why fight it? If we need people to blame, design them in. If you want to travel down the M6 letting your car drive itself, what a shame if the technology is perfect but some dumb law says you need a driver.
The answer: insured hitchhikers. Service stations of the future will have hordes of students clutching cardboard destination signs. They hop in the front seat, get a free ride and sleep off a hangover. You sit in the back and fiddle with your ipad.
Of course, the government will step in demanding that these pretend drivers have insurance. But if autonomous vehicles are really smart, there will be no accidents and the premiums will be minuscule. Sorted.
I can hear the technical purists moaning in despair. Why invest so much and then have to pop someone in the driving seat for legal reasons alone? It’s daft.
The world is daft. Thousands of commuters into London have had their lives made misery by a labour dispute concerning who should be allowed to press a button to open train doors. What is so magic about autonomous vehicles (and pilotless aircraft for that matter) that they should be free of such issues?