We've all heard about the potential for self-driving cars to improve our lives -- more free time, fewer accidents, easier travel, etc.
In this clip from Consumer Goods Industry Focus, Vincent Shen and Sean O'Reilly talk about a few of the key issues that aren't often discussed, which will need to be figured out before we can dial up a self-driving taxi to ferry us to work.
How will software safeguard completely against hacking? Should we expect regulators to understand the coding they'll be regulating? Tune in to hear some answers to these questions and more.
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Feb. 23, 2016.
Vincent Shen: Before people think they're going to be able to kick up their feet and enjoy that overnight drive to their in-law's house two states away, I think we'll have to figure out questions around the safety. We'll have to figure out questions around cybersecurity, what happens if somebody can change the software that comes with the car, and alter it in a way that benefits them more, or is dangerous. Privacy, in terms of all of the software that knows exactly where you're going, it's tracking us all the time. What if there are updates that go to the software provider, and they basically know everywhere you're going? How does that impact things?
Sean O'Reilly: It almost seems to me like... when I was trying to compare all of this in my mind, what happens -- is it anybody's fault? Let's take a train -- a train going 70 miles an hour, going across country. If a kid chases a ball in front of the train, and the unfortunate thing happens, is that anyone's fault? I kind of ... I think it's going to get like that at some point, because the car is going straight. If it doesn't have time to stop ... I don't know. It's trickier with the octogenarian-newborn baby thing, but like...
O'Reilly: It almost seems to me that autonomous cars are like a train or a roller coaster -- just, something where, yeah, things happen. You know?
Shen: And something I also want to bring up -- Sam, if you're listening -- I want to bring up, basically comes up when we've talked about this -- the fact that you have, it's not uncommon at all for technology to outpace where the legal situation is, where the laws have to catch up to cover things like cybersecurity, for example. But now you have this instance where, we have these top minds at companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG), all the auto makers -- think Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA), for example, with some of its smart-car technology, where they're writing all this code, or developing all this software, working on this, innovating in this space, and you're expecting the regulators to be able to decipher such technical information, and to basically put rules up around that. It's going to be very challenging for them to have to work together and have to explain, "OK, this is how each piece works," to these regulators who, frankly, aren't programmers, and to have to figure that out.
O'Reilly: There's definitely a knowledge barrier there.
Shen: Exactly. So, and this is an idea that you and I were talking about before the show, where, you have HOV lanes right now on major highways -- like I-66 in the capital -- where that can serve as a testing ground.
O'Reilly: It seems to me, like, with the octogenarian/kid example and all this stuff. It does seem to me that we're making a mistake when we assume that, let's pretend everybody gets a driverless car. Our roads are going to be structured the same. That's kind of unlikely to me. And I also think that, in most cities where there's congestion, it does seem to me like ... I noticed the video we watched, the TED talk ... we should pull that link out. If you want it, we'll email it to you. I noticed the examples were all in a fast-moving freeway. If there's a driverless car going down Duke St. outside Fool headquarters here, the speed limit's 25-30 mph. Who knows -- a driverless car might actually go even slower than that, by law or whatever. Sensors can probably stop the car if a kid runs out in front of it. Like, it seems to me like we're making a mistake to just assume the laws that operate on the roadways are going to be the same.
Shen: And another thing is, ultimately, people say that this technology will be beneficial and safer because it takes that human error elements, whether it's an accident, or people aren't paying attention...
O'Reilly: No more drunk driving deaths, I mean, all kinds of stuff, yeah.
Shen: So ultimately, while we have all these questions, and it might seem like, "Oh, wow, things aren't that clear," I do want to make it clear that, ultimately, I think this technology does have a lot of benefits in terms of the environment, just saving people's time, making them more productive, and just making the roads safer.
O'Reilly: I don't know where I got this, and I might be making this up, but I saw the statistic that a city the size of the D.C. metro area, which has a couple million people, maybe 2-3 million people?
Shen: No, I think it's a little under a million.
O'Reilly: A little under a million? OK, I'm sorry. Anyways, I saw this statistic, and I think the city that was used was Washington D.C., and we could basically have a fleet of 7,000 driverless cars circling the city, acting as taxis or whatever...
Shen: And that would be enough to sustain...
O'Reilly: And that would statistically get you a ride pretty quick. I don't know, that's pretty sweet. Cool.
Shen: So, yeah, like I said, sorry, we don't have all the answers here. But this will definitely be an interesting space to watch, and we're actually really excited to have the opportunity to give you updates as they start figuring out some of the answers to these very difficult questions.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Sean O'Reilly has no position in any stocks mentioned. Vincent Shen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). The Motley Fool recommends Nvidia. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.