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How Self-Driving Cars Could Lead US Citizens to Revolt

By Rob Enderle
Jul 8, 2013 5:00 AM PT

In the U.S., we spent last week celebrating Independence Day -- the day we split from a government that our ancestors didn't trust because it was disconnected from the people. It is fascinating to watch the leaks coming out lately, which suggest our government is acting against the best interests of the people, given that the focus is to neutralize the leakers rather than refocus government attention on the people's needs.

How Self-Driving Cars Could Lead US Citizens to Revolt

This struck me as I read an article in Ad Age about the "Global Meltdown of Brand Obama", as if this problem were somehow created by bad marketing. The president's current world tour seems designed to improve his image, but the effort is failing against the onslaught of Snowden releases.

Marketing can reduce the negative perceptions, but it can't solve the core problem: a government acting against the people. If this continues -- and by now we should recognize this isn't an isolated issue -- things are going to get much worse before they get better. Currently, revolt is not imminent in the U.S., but I think it will just take the right kind of trigger. The potential of several is evident, but there is one in technology that I don't think folks are looking at -- and it could have the biggest impact. I'll go into that this week.

I'll close with my product of the week -- and I make this my product of the week most summers, because it is the one thing that lets me sleep on a hot summer night without having to put the air conditioner on freeze.

Trust in Government

At the core of the problem is arrogance and entitlement -- too many in government feel too secure. When this happens in companies, you get executives acting against the interests of investors and customers. When it happens in governments, you get corruption and officials acting against the interests of the people.

At the core of the U.S.' fight for independence was a distrust for a government that was remote and appeared disconnected from the people's needs. In Egypt and Syria real time, you can see what can happen when large numbers of people lose this trust. You get demonstrations and even civil war. With approval scores for most parts of the U.S. government at historic lows, we appear to be waiting for a trigger event that will coalesce this distrust into action, with violent results.

Distrust alone would not do this; it requires a trigger, and there are several big ones coming that we'll need to watch closely. Triggers could be people like Manning or Snowden who become casualties to the cause and are martyred, becoming far more powerful in death than in life. However, major changes that put large numbers of people out of work could also be a trigger, and a big one is self-driving cars.

The Self-Driving Revolt

Now you may think it's incredible that I'd argue people would revolt if they got cars that drove themselves, and I'd be with you had I not read a piece on the bigger picture behind this technology coming out of the Aspen Ideas Festival and a talk by a GM executive.

Once we have technology that will allow cars to be driverless, then buses, taxies, delivery vehicles, trains, subways and ships can also function without people steering them. Drones are just a step away from planes without pilots. That's a lot of jobs that will become obsolete in a very short period of time.

Now if you think through the intelligence it requires to drive cars and apply the self-driving concept to other fields like janitorial, gardening (particularly at scale), road maintenance, firefighting, military, and law enforcement -- you could supplement officers with patrolling cars with cameras -- then you jump to massive numbers of jobs that start to dead end or just end.

What is kind of interesting is that an episode from the 1960s series The Twilight Zone, "The Brain Center at Whipple's," appears to anticipate this result, but it avoids the issue of what the suddenly unemployed people end up doing.

Take the foreman in that episode and multiply him by several million, and you'll get the point I'm trying to make. I expect they'll be pissed -- and if they don't trust the government, using the system to express their displeasure is not a likely outcome. Currently the part of California I live in is in gridlock because just one mass transit system, BART, is down due to a strike over wages. Just think how these folks will react when their jobs become obsolete in just a few years.

Wrapping Up: Avoiding a US Revolt

This outcome certainly can be avoided, but not if confidence in government remains at historic lows, and not if this amazing technology comes to market without any regard for what will happen to the people suddenly displaced. With these two things combined, we have a high potential for an event that is both massive and violent.

It will likely break first at city centers, in financial districts, and near existing transportation hubs, suggesting you may want to avoid living or working near one of those locations. Timing is likely five to 10 years, and degree of disruption will be directly related to how quickly the technology displaces jobs and how little we trust the U.S. government at that time. Given that government rarely anticipates problems like this, I doubt it will be addressed in time.

I plan to be living in Belize by then.

Product of the Week: ChiliPad

Product of the Week

There is a handful of truly magical products in the world, and the ChiliPad is one of them. Granted, I think this because the inventor took a technology that had been developed to keep race car drivers cool and applied it so that sleepers could be cool on a hot -- and in the case of this summer on the West Coast, very hot -- night.

The ChiliPad

The ChiliPad both heats and cools, and it avoids the electromagnetic fields that many believe are connected to a variety of illnesses. It's not cheap, but what is the value of a good night's sleep? I use this product every night, and I'm likely its most visible advocate.

It works by heating or chilling a water source -- it has a built-in reservoir -- and then pumping that heated or cooled water beneath you. There is a small fan noise when cooling, but otherwise the device is very quiet. It has dual zones, so my wife -- who tends to like it warmer -- is happy as well. This not only helps me sleep -- it keeps piece in the bedroom, and if you're married, you know that "feature" is priceless.

If you are like me and want to sleep cool without running the air conditioner at night, try out the ChiliPad, my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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How do you feel about accidents that occur when self-driving vehicles are being tested?
Self-driving vehicles should be banned -- one death is one too many.
Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives -- the tests should continue.
Companies with bad safety records should have to stop testing.
Accidents happen -- we should investigate and learn from them.
The tests are pointless -- most people will never trust software and sensors.
Most injuries and fatalities in self-driving auto tests are due to human error.