Staying connected: Does autonomous tech bring us together?
Technology and Business
“For most of human history, the world didn’t change all that much in a single lifetime. That’s obviously not the case anymore, and technology is the reason why.”
Michael Bless, author and historian of science at Vanderbilt University, is right to highlight the huge impact of technology. In even just the past decade, the patterns of our lives have shifted dramatically, and, for many, this has marked a decreasing connection with people.
We’ve asked before whether tech is driving us apart, and, yes, in some ways it is. Alexa may now be the first ‘person’ we talk to in the morning, and intelligent machines have stepped into many roles where we would once have found a human, but that doesn’t mean technology isn’t bringing us closer together in other ways.
Is tech breaking or making human connection?
Technology of all kinds keeps us connected in a way that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Zoom, Teams, houseparty, WhatsApp, even email and text messaging means we can reach out across the globe in an instant, and we’re only becoming more connected. Just think of how the Covid-19 outbreak has pushed what were once live experiences into a virtual world.
We now have a near unending supply of resources, educational materials, and systems for people to learn or work from home. We can visit museums, gardens and concerts online. While the world has never felt more physically isolated, digital media offer a bridge to keep us connected. Agustín Fuentes, a professor of anthropolgy at Princeton, captures the mood perfectly, saying, “What is so important to humanity is connection. Quarantines require people to connect in other ways, we’ve adapted to survive.”
And autonomous tech will help even more of us adapt to, and thrive in, a post-Covid world. Working in tandem with technologies which allow us to see each other virtually, driverless vehicles offer the chance for us visit loved ones with similar ease.
Driverless vehicles: A lifeline for those in need
“There is an unfortunate paradox in which at the time of your life when you are largely free from employment or child care, and have more free time to travel, physical and cognitive ability may be declining, making travel more difficult.”
George Holley-Moore and Helen Creighton, AgeUK
For parts of our communities – older people and those affected by disability in particular – travel is often a stumbling block. Yet it remains vital to forming and maintaining human connections. This is where autonomous technology could become life changing, offering a lifeline to those unable to travel independently and giving more options to those who aren’t ready to stop driving altogether.
In Japan, for example, an extensive, and increasingly autonomised, travel network means older generations have the freedom to visit new places, meet people, and be part of the events which bring families together. After all, travel is essential for so many celebrations. In China the world’s largest human migration occurs around a holiday which sees city populations spread into a rural regions as many travel home – a journey which would be made simpler by AD.
Autonomous driving then, is a technology which will enable inclusion and human connection. By making travel simpler and more accessible it will likely make it more common too. In this way, technology will inevitably bring us closer together, not drive us apart.
Four ways autonomous driving can bring us together
1 Simplifying travel for disabled drivers
When designed with accessibility in mind, vehicles with some degree of automation could be the ideal solution for disabled drivers. Not all autonomous vehicles are able to operate without any manual input, and this is not necessarily needed for most disabilities. Instead, autonomous level two or three, where features like rear-view cameras, lane-keeping assist and automated parking remove the need to actively turn in a seat or perform complex manoeuvres, could put many affected by disability back in the driving seat.
2 Giving older people freedom
Though we might think older people are keen to give up driving, a survey from Age UK found that just 1% of drivers over 60 would hand over their keys on the basis of age alone. But taking a health-based approach, autonomous tech could prove immensely useful for older generations. Choosing a vehicle with some degree of automation could boost confidence and extend our driving years, while fully autonomous travel gives those who no longer want to drive the option to travel just as freely.
3 Making connections en route
Ridesharing is often discussed alongside the future of driverless technology and the two go hand in hand. It has been predicted that as few as 20% of us will own a car by 2030, with the majority using services akin to Uber or Lyft instead. With driverless options like the E-Shuttle CuBE making this experience a shared, and sociable, one, even travel itself could become a place to make new connections.
4 Opening up rural communities
Often suffering from poor transport networks that make leaving the local area a task which requires immense organisation and a stroke of good luck, rural communities could be better served by autonomous vehicles. More reliable, easily accessible and available to drivers and non-drivers alike using road networks already in place, AVs would make it much simpler to travel in and out, enabling locals to catch up with friends and family beyond the community.
There are almost countless ways driverless tech can bring us together, but we can’t deny that it has the potential to keep us apart too. Instead of using AVs to travel more and socialise on our journeys, we might send cars on errands for ease and reduce our opportunities to make new connections as a result. Ultimately, it has the potential to both make and break connections – the question is simply how we choose to use it.
Do you think driverless technology will drive us apart or bring us closer together in the future? Would you like to see driverless cars on the road right now? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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