Nerval's Lobster writes: Imagine a future in which fleets of self-driving cars navigate city streets, picking up anyone who requests a ride via their smartphone or tablet. That’s exactly the future predicted by TechCrunch in a new piece of speculative fiction, set in July 2023, in which Google sells Uber 2,500 driverless vehicles for the latter’s car-hire service. Despite the sci-fi trappings, the concept isn’t that far-fetched: Google Ventures is already a multimillion-dollar investor in Uber. It’s clear that executives at both companies are interested in exploring where their respective strategies overlap—and that raises the prospect of a future in which self-driving cars from a plethora of companies execute a variety of tasks, from taxiing people to delivering goods. In theory, this is good for society: fleets of sensor-studded vehicles send tons of data back to Google and other technology companies, which analyze that information and use it to make the vehicles safer and more efficient—a virtuous cycle, to be sure, but one that also poses risks for a certain segment of society. Google’s self-driving cars are an experiment in eliminating many of challenges that face the current generation of computers and robots, most notably situational adaptability and training. Pair that with the tech industry’s widespread attempts to solve the problem of language recognition—as “personified” by Siri, Google Now, and other voice-activated digital assistants in the production pipeline—and one can see the barriers to robots and computers in all sorts of industries rapidly eroding. So a more nuanced picture of July 2023 might feature Uber buying fleets of self-driving cars from Google—but it should also include taxi and truck drivers, fearful for their jobs, doing everything in their power to prevent such deals from going through. Any industry that requires some combination of intuition and improvisation could end up affected within the next few years.
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