The End of the Line for the Automotive Era?


The advent of the fully autonomous, self-driving car is perhaps the most tangible signal of the coming age of Artificial IntelligenceNo other product represents the notion of ceding control to AI as visibly as handing over the keys to our beloved cars. Whatever remaining questions there are about self-driving cars concern when not if these vehicles will take over the road. To that end, companies like Ford and Lyft are forming partnerships to ensure that their business models aren’t left behind by the proliferation of the autonomous vehicle. But, while Uber has bet its $60 billion plus valuation on a fleet of self-driving cars replacing its drivers, one automotive industry veteran sees the self-driving car as the “end of the line for the automobile.”

As part of Automotive News’ ongoing series “Redesigning the Industry,” Bob Lutz, former Head of Product for GM penned an article titled “Kiss the Good Times Goodbye,” in which he makes the case that we are “approaching the end of the automotive era…because travel will be in standardized modules.” In a sea of pundits weighing in on the self-driving future, Lutz is clearly an expert with decades of high-level strategic experience in the industry, and that makes his prophecy unwise to ignore. But, his prediction for Automotive News raises a number of questions about the impact of this new paradigm on the industry, and for answers, researchers at Unanimous AI turned to a “super-expert” of our own design. By convening a group of nearly 70 American consumers inside our Swarm AI platform, it’s possible to create an artificial intelligence that taps into and amplifies the insight and intuition of the group.

As drumbeat of autonomous progress rolls on, it’s worth asking this newly formed super-expert the biggest question of all – why? If humans are to be asked to turn over this level of authority to the machine, and if an entire industry is threatened with massive upheaval, what benefits can we expect to see that make the tradeoffs worth it? As you can see in the replay below, the swarm quickly converged on the notion that self-driving cars are safer cars, which is a massive benefit not just to drivers, but to society as a whole. That said, when asked to identify the most beneficial aspect of self-driving cars to the driver, this swarm returned the same output. In other words, the swarm’s super-expert now has more faith in man’s ability to create a computer that can drive a car, than in our ability to drive that same car ourselves. That sort of confidence would have seemed unthinkable in the era of the robotics “fail” video, but the swarm is unequivocal.


Curiously, although the swarm saw tremendous value in the additional safety provided by self-driving cars, it was also conscious of the difficult that humans will have in ceding that control. In fact, while Lutz cited the loss of customization and style as primary drawbacks to the loss of the personal car, the swarm converged on a more primal instinct – loss of control – as the biggest drawback.

Another place where the swarm disagreed with Lutz’s doomsday prophecy concerns the future of performance cars.  Whereas Lutz argued that a future where no one passes anyone on the highway “is the death knell for companies such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi,” the swarm revealed a conviction that, even if humans aren’t driving, the thrill of high-performance cars might not be left by the wayside. Anyone who’s ever ridden a roller-coaster or even seen one of Tesla’s “Ludicrous Mode” videos knows just how much fun can be had even if you’re not at the wheel.
Researchers asked the swarm a slew of questions around this fascinating topic, trying to paint a comprehensive picture of the impact and sentiment surrounding self-driving cars. As you can see in the chart below,  the swarm was quick to recognize the difficulty that drivers will face in both giving up their cars, and the act of personally driving them, it ultimately revealed that consumers were likely to eventually be won over be the ease of transportation and use of self-driving cars. For those who grew up in the golden era of the automobile, the transition that Lutz and the swarm are forecasting may seem like a paradigm shift too drastic to imagine. But, the evidence shows that teenagers, the next generation of drivers, are less interested in their licenses than ever before. So the transition to a self-driving future need not be disruptive. While older generations wring their hands, the younger generations have seen the future, and they are good with it.
As you can see in the Decision Analysis chart produced by our Swarm Insight® portal, there are no easy answers as to what will eventually compel drivers to turn over their keys. But, it’s compelling to note that, while four of the potential responses saw legitimate support at the outset of the question, “happy to trade” saw almost none. That suggests that, like Bob Lutz, while very few people will be excited about, but concerns over safety and, of course, convenience will ultimately be the end of the automotive era.
Here is the full breakdown of the Swarm’s Guide to the Future of the Automobile





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