Ten million driverless cars are expected to hit the road by 2020, according to a recent Business Insider report. Google and Apple are racing to join the automotive industry. Traditional car manufacturers are investing billions of dollars in R&D. There are many reasons to believe that the car of the future will be autonomous. If so, we should expect people to identify less and less with their vehicles.
Even more jarring, rather than retrofit a Prius or a Lexus as Google did to build its previous two generations of driverless cars, the company custom-built the body of its youngest driverless car with a team of subcontracted automotive suppliers. While their stages differ slightly, what they have in common is the assumption that the best way forward is via a series of gradual and linear stages in which the car's "driver assist" software temporarily takes over the driving, but quickly gives control of the car back to the human driver should a sticky situation occur. In reality, human in the loop software could work in the case of a driverless car only if each party (human and software) maintained a clear and consistent set of responsibilities. Unfortunately, maintaining clear and consistent sets of responsibilities between human and software is not the model that's being proposed by the automotive industry and federal transportation officials.