Saturday, January 09, 2016
At the time of this writing, there's a national election brewing in the United States, waves of refugees over-running Europe and economic peril hovering over China. It is easily not the best of times, which is how a momentous incident recently occurred without anyone much noticing:
A few weeks back, General Motors invested roughly a half billion dollars into Lyft, the Uber competitor that's disrupting the transportation industry via hand held technology. If you've been asleep at the wheel, Lyft connects private drivers with passengers who need a ride, using an application consumers keep on their cell phones. Riders are connected to a driver who uses his own car to charge them for the ride. It's not only cheaper and more convenient than taxi cabs, it's also helping to put those taxi cab companies out of business. But that's another story. More consumers use these services because it's cheaper than owning, maintaining and insuring a car. In fact, some industry analysts predict that private car ownership will eventually disappear altogether in favor of "rides as needed services."
Nobody seemed to care much about GM's investment in Lyft, because nobody seems to care about much anything these days if it isn't placed in front of their noses. In this case, however, one need only look slightly to the left of Detroit to see the real, potentially huge implications of GM's move. One has to ask himself, "Why would an automotive company want to hook up with a tech outfit?" Here's one scenario:
Throughout history, car companies have promoted their products to the consuming public, but in reality, the big money has never been in individual sales, but in fleet sales, where one sale can move hundreds or thousands of units to one corporate customer. Rental car agencies, police departments, the military, taxi companies, delivery services and just about any other enterprise that recruits armies of drivers are sought-after customers. They buy lots of cars with one stroke of the pen.
Bearing that observation in mind, it would make sense for GM to get a foot in the door of Lyft if Lyft were planning on converting its model from private drivers to its own fleet of hired drivers. And if vehicle ownership really is slipping out favor, GM would want to supply the fleets for whoever is left buying cars, like Lyft. In the tech world, total control of data is the brass ring, and by hiring its own fleet of drivers for its own fleet of cars, Lyft would be reducing the risk inherent in both, while ostensibly increasing the efficiency/profitability of each.
But the fun doesn't stop there.
Assuming that scenario is accurate, it's not too far a stretch to imagine the day when Lyft dismisses all of its drivers and replaces them with its own self-driving cars -- with General Motors right there to supply them. After all, if self-driving vehicles really are coming soon, and operations like Lyft are completely technology-driven, who really needs a human driver? Pretty scary, eh? It gets scarier. You think self-driving cars are cool? Think again. They're going to kill you. And here's how:
First, realize that self-driving cars aren't really self-driving at all. They're steered by interactive technology that responds to an infinite number of stimuli, ranging from consumer cell phones to Global Positioning Services (GPS) from satellites orbiting the Earth. The only way the system can work is by maintaining a steady flow of data throughout the process. Digital information which is archived and analyzed and never destroyed, which means you will be tracked wherever you go, forever, by a system that anyone can hack into or abuse.
The system also relies on electric power, so the day someone -- or some terrorist -- kicks out the plug from the wall, all those GPS systems will be rendered useless or worse: hacked to cause crashes and put passengers in real danger. This is one of those issues that nobody wants to acknowledge, like the water supply and the power grid, both of which are insanely vulnerable. If you don't think it can happen, remember the last time you couldn't get phone service or internet? It's not exactly a rare occurrence.
But there are far worse dangers of self-driving cars that are affecting you even as you read this. They're just one more way big tech businesses -- the ones that like to portray themselves as your friends -- are destroying humans' ability to provide for themselves. Brands like Amazon, Apple, Google and more aren't doing as much to enable your potential as they are destroying your self-reliance. They're increasing your dependence on their services by requiring you to pay fees for something you can easily do yourself at no cost. Instead of owning your music, you stream it. Instead of thinking through your decisions, you click. Instead of educating yourself with truth, you Google it. Convenience undermines any need for critical thinking, replacing it with blind obedience. That's why nobody remembers your phone number; they have it on their speed dialer.
Self-driving cars will continue technology's mission of atomizing society, further reducing human contact and estranging us all from one another. Autonomous vehicles reinforce the notion of "it's all about me" because you're not aware that someone else is out there in the lane next to you. There's not even a driver. There's just you. Alone.
That may be good for Lyft and General Motors and Amazon and Apple. But it's bad for you, bad for your kids and bad for humanity. If you really want to know why the world has become increasingly disconnected, look to the people who promoted connectivity in the first place. You know, the same folks whose lack of conscience disconnects people's hearts and minds -- and keeps al Qaeda members up to date.