The People’s Vote: your six most discussed topics
Technology and Business
If there’s one thing that new autonomous technologies never fail to deliver, it’s debate. We’re taking a deep dive into your comments about our recent articles on our social media platforms to see what people really think about letting computers take the wheel
As technology advances and the realities of a driverless future come into focus, it is becoming clear that the applications of AI-powered tech aren’t limited to the driverless cars we can quite easily imagine on our roads. Infrastructure, shipping and even the way we organise our days will be changed in the coming years as a result of these developments. So, how to do people feel about the changes, and what questions remain to be answered? Here are the top six questions:
1. Are autonomous vehicles already here?
Although cars first spring to mind when we think about autonomous technology, several readers point out that there are other areas where some degree of automation is already in use. “Autonomous ships are far more likely to become a reality than autonomous cars. In fact, with ships, we have auto steering for long journeys that can pretty much keep ships on course. So, in a way, autonomous ships are already here.”
But autonomous shipping brings up new challenges around monitoring, regulation and even maintenance. Would the current requirement for a look-out by sight and hearing at all times remain in place? Would this still have to be a person physically on board? One reader, commenting on Facebook, thinks not. “This could be met by a remote watchkeeper, potentially watching several bridges at once,” he explains.
People’s roles, it therefore seems, could be adapted to suit the progress of this technology, and though not fully autonomous, much of the tech itself is already in use.
2. Will driverless technology put jobs at risk?
This question is raised time and time again. What does driverless technology mean for people who work as drivers, or on ships, or in any job that can be fulfilled by software? It is clear to see that the progression of this technology will result in changes to employment, but this will be based on the current market and current technology.
A 2025AD reader highlights the new opportunities this technology would present too. He says, “it could unlock more job opportunities as well, it’s just we don’t know what these are. There would have been the exact same argument when the car or any other large change was introduced. We adapted, and we will again.” What these new roles could be is perhaps the more interesting question.
3. Can autonomous vehicles be hacked?
As with any new technology, concerns over security are common. Some of the most extensive conversations being had around autonomous vehicles circle back to this question. One reader highlights the fact that hacking is a relatively common occurrence with any electronic system and suggests that, “unless driverless vehicles are air-gapped from the internet, they will be at risk from hackers.”
In research conducted last year with Georgia Tech and Multiscale Systems Inc. similar ideas were put forward, suggesting that connected cars should use multiple networks to reduce the risk of hacking. However, as driverless technologies evolve and are tested, so are their cybersecurity measures. E. g. Tesla, being one of the front-runners in over-the-air (OTA) updates, had to do a major overhaul of their hacking safeguards back in 2016. Preventing hackers from ‘taking the wheel’ will be a key measure for the acceptance of AV’s.
4. What will autonomous vehicles look like?
Perhaps the most fascinating conversations being had right now simply ask what cars on the road will look like once autonomous technology becomes the norm. As long as we want to travel from A to B, we will need cars, but there is no reason that a driverless vehicle, without the same needs and restrictions as our human-operated ones, will have to look anything like the cars we know today.
A reader commenting on Facebook, imagines vehicles where passengers could easily move around while on the go. He goes on, saying, “It’s up to us what we do inside. I envision a van that will let us stand up.” Another reader pictures a more relaxed scene. He says, “interiors should be designed around the people, to make them feel relaxed and as comfortable as possible – as if you were in your own living room.”
With the need for pedals, steering wheels, and a driver’s focus on the road gone, the possibilities for design are unlimited and could even be adapted depending on what you actually want to do in your car. But the much bigger question is how car manufacturers will differentiate their products if suddenly cars become very similar, with the focus shifting to comfortable interiors and lifestyle features over performance capabilities.
Read more about how operating systems could be the ultimate differentiator in autonomous vehicles.
5. Should humans still have overall control?
Though human error accounts for the majority of all road accidents today, an overwhelming 80% of our commenters across our channels agree that humans should have overall control of driverless vehicles. Some would still rather trust a human over a machine, knowing that way only one person is at fault, rather than an entire system which could affect many more people.
One comment on Twitter says we should hand over all control; “humans have so many more opportunities for error in comparison to a machine. Even just having a few hours less sleep than usual could exponentially increase your risk. If driverless vehicles have a lower chance of causing injury, then humans should be removed from the equation completely.”
Another person also has complete faith in the safety of autonomous vehicles, explaining, “electronics are getting so reliable that it would make no sense to abstain from relegating all functions of transportation to computers. Sure, you can keep human control if you want. But as long as you have it, there will be accidents due to human error.”
Many commenters agree that letting computers take control would dramatically reduce the risk associated with travel, which is surprising, as there is still plenty of apprehension about putting our lives in the hands of a machine. It seems that no matter how safe the technology is, humans will still have that ‘gut feeling’ that makes us think that we’re safer when we’re in control, when in reality, we really aren’t.
6. Are driverless cars safe?
Safety remains the biggest question, and greatest cause for concern among some, when it comes to the future of autonomous vehicles. We are used to the threats posed by machinery and understand that a car can be a dangerous thing, so it’s understandable that debate carries on over just how safe from threats like hacking driverless technology can be.
But, increasingly, we’re becoming confident in the ability of technology to ensure our safety. Over half (59 %) of our readers on our social media channels admit they would feel safe being ferried, even over rough seas, by a computer. One contributor on Facebook trusts in the reliability of autonomous vehicles and sees the development of driverless cars as an opportunity to improve everyone’s experience on the road too. He says, “this is our chance to remove arrogance, to remove intoxication, and to remove anger from our roads.”
Another comment agrees that human error is at the root of most accidents. “If every vehicle is automated and talking to each other, then they can spot failures and act accordingly. That vehicle can simply apply the brakes in the event of failure and come to a complete halt. All the other vehicles would be able to avoid it, unlike now.”
Another person recognises that removing human control makes driverless cars much safer than those already on the road. “Humans get tired. Humans do not see well at night, or in the fog,” she explains. “We could wake up to the possibility of never losing anyone in a road accident again. While it is true nothing is 100 % safe, humans certainly aren't.”
The debate still continues. Though driverless technology once felt like something of a far-off future, the reality of its place in our everyday lives is coming ever closer and with that, more and more questions are raised. What do you think about the questions our readers tackled above? What do you want to know about autonomous vehicles?
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