Will your next van be driven by a robot? | 19.06.2017

It wasn’t long ago that artificial intelligence (AI) was the mainstay of Hollywood drama and action thrillers. But it could soon be driving next to you on a motorway. You may have heard of Google’s experiments with self-driving cars, but were you aware that driverless lorries were being trialled in Cumbria?

If the general hype is to be believed, we’re mere years away from giving up our steering wheels to AI, becoming passengers in a vehicle driven completely by computers.

For logistics, the benefits of being able to take human drivers off the road and drive pretty much 24/7 may make self-driving vehicles a technology companies simply cannot refuse. For everyday consumers, it may be a trickier sell. Apart from the general worries over whether the technology is safe (plus a few accidents involving self-driving cars) there’s the question of whether consumers will really want to give up the joy of driving.

That said, trials have shown that so far, self-driving cars are safer than human drivers – with an “at fault” rate 40 times lower than new drivers. That’s not even taking into account the impact of removing drunk drivers from our roads.

A further question lingers over what we will do with our spare time if driverless cars do become the norm. Entertainment and media companies are exploring exploiting the soon-redundant dashboard and windscreen to make cars a complete entertainment system. You could soon get in a vehicle and be transported, via the system, to the sandy beaches of Barbados, or the centre of a heated argument around a family dinner table. Where there’s a fight for customer attention, marketing soon follows, and car windscreens could soon become consumers’ very own personal billboards.

Of course, with no drivers needed for these cars and lorries, there is the issue of the loss of jobs that accompanies driverless vehicles. Time will only tell how our jobs will evolve as AI takes the wheel. It could be that some vehicles, especially in the case of driverless lorries, will still require a human supervisor or operator to take over if systems malfunction. Equally, making supply chains and transports as whole, more efficient through AI, could mean that more jobs are created. If people are freed up from the more mundane task of driving around, it could lead to a more advanced workforce – we’ll have more time, so we can focus more on strategic level thinking, planning and creativity.

Regardless of where you sit on the good versus bad nature of driverless vehicles, it doesn’t look like they’re hitting the brakes anytime soon. What that ultimately means for our roads is anyone’s guess. So next time you hit the road, pay attention to the cars around you. Pretty soon yourself and your fellow drivers may disappear completely.