Better Driving?


There have been all kinds of fun new ways that technology has become embedded into cars to help drivers.

Last Friday, the New York Times had an article about Audi’s testing what might be described as a driver-assisted race car, going 120 miles per hour.

Just last month, Samsung demonstrated a way to see through truck on country roads in Argentina.   It was intended to help a driver know when it’s safe to pass and overtake the truck.  But, even those of us who get stuck in massive urban traffic jams, would love the ability to see ahead.   (See the picture above.)

Another version of the same idea was developed and unveiled last month by the Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain.  They call their version EYES and you can see a report about it at


There have been variations on this theme over the last year or so, but so far the deployment of the technology hasn’t happened on real roads for regular drivers.

But Ford Motor Company announced a couple of weeks ago that it will start to equip a car this year with split view cameras that let drivers see around corners.  They say it’s especially useful when backing into traffic.   This is supposed to be a feature of their worldwide fleet of cars by 2020.


In the old days, when a driver had to maneuver into a tight corner, he/she asked a friend to stand outside the car and provide instructions.  Now, Land Rover is helping the driver who is alone – without friends? – to get a better view and control the car at the same time by using a smart phone app.


Is this all a good thing?  The New York Times had this quote in its Audi story:

“At this point, substantial effort in the automotive community is focused on developing fully autonomous driving technology,” said Karl Iagnemma, an automotive researcher at M.I.T. “Far less effort is focused on developing methods to allow a driver to intuitively and safely interact with the highly automated driving vehicle.”

Nevertheless, while these features are surely helpful, on balance, they seem to me to be transitional technologies.  (Allen Wirfs-Brock provided this helpful slide on the subject.)


A good example was the enhancement of controls for elevator operators when the average passenger could press the very same automated buttons.  Or similarly, the attempt by horse-drawn carriage makers to keep up with auto makers until they firmly lost the battle a hundred years ago.  Maybe Polaroid cameras were the transitional technology between film that needed to be developed at a factory and pictures you can take on your phone.


The warning signs are there already.  In May 2015, WIRED magazine featured this story, “Google’s Plan to Eliminate Human Driving in 5 Years”.  

Also in May, Uber and its partner, Carnegie Mellon University, did a test drive of its first autonomous vehicle.  Of course, Uber’s plans and its role in disrupting the traditional taxi industry had already led to dire predictions like this one on the website of the CBS TV station in San Francisco: “How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs And Reshape The Economy by 2025”.

Based on their promise last October, pretty soon we should soon start to Tesla delivering a car that “will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time”.

Indeed, taking this idea to its ultimate extreme conclusion, the Guardian reported a few months ago that Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, wants to ban human driving altogether.  They quote him as saying:

“You can’t have a person driving a two-tonne death machine”.

So while it will be fun, perhaps we’re just seeing the last gasp of human driving.

© 2015 Norman Jacknis


A Sharing Economy?

[This is a continuation of my previous blog post about the changing meaning of money in the Internet age.]

In the movie “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”, this bit of conversation took place –

Gillian: Don’t tell me they don’t use money in the 23rd century.

Kirk: Well, we don’t.

The implication of this dialogue is that in two centuries we will have evolved from a monetized economy to something different.  But what is that?  Is it like the sharing economy? 

This is a huge topic and one that is hard to get a handle on. 

There have, of course, been scholars of the phenomenon.  Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers brought initial intellectual focus on the phenomenon with their excellent and wide-ranging 2010 book, titled “What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise Of Collaborative Consumption”.   (Unlike many others, the book covered or at least touched on the questions I ask in the rest of this post.)  She extended these ideas to larger companies in the Harvard Business Review – “Sharing’s Not Just For Startups”.


More recently, New York University Professor Arun Sundararajan, has been the academic leader on the sharing economy.  You can see his views at NYU and in his talk, “Our Collaborative Future? Ownership, Equity and Growth in the Sharing Economy”.   He has also launched an experimental platform, PeerCollaborative.

But part of the problem in understanding the “sharing economy” is that the phrase has been used in different contexts.

First, to go back to Star Trek, there is the idea of an economy without money.  One could assume this is based on some form of barter or non-monetary rewards.  Historically, of course, barter economies don’t go far.  Rewards that don’t include money have been a prominent feature in the Internet, with the people who write and edit Wikipedia entries as the most obvious example.

In his book, “Who Owns The Future”, Jason Lanier asks how people will be compensated in a digital age where so much of value is in the form of ideas (and observation of human behavior).  His solution is a system of micro-payments whenever one of our ideas or patterns of behavior is used for some other form of business.  Thus, if someone used one of your creative products, they would have to pay a small fee.  If Google sold some advertising based on data about your life that you made available to them, you would get a piece of that ad revenue.

There are all kinds of issues and weaknesses in Lanier’s book – which he mostly admits to.  But it’s worth noting that his aim is admirable: he hopes to monetize these Internet activities to preserve enough income for everyone so that the middle class survives the growing inequality that seems to have accompanied the ascendance of the Internet.

Despite its noble aims, there have been numerous critiques of his proposal.  Among the more interesting are “Jaron Lanier’s Strange Fantasy” and “Facebookers of the World, Unite!”.  But what replaces monetary compensation still remains an outstanding issue.  Can we live on sharing alone?

Time banks and time-based currency is another form of non-monetary payment, although it predates the widespread use of the Internet.  In its simplest version, people exchange their time – an hour of plumbing for an hour of web design, for example.  The example of sharing and collaboration on the Internet has provided additional justification for the advocates of time banking.  So there has been new attention to it, as you can see from this ABC News report earlier this year and more recently this TV story, “Forget Bitcoins, what about time as currency?”.


And then there’s what has come to dominate the meaning of “sharing economy” – for-profit business services like Uber and AirBnB.  One sharing aspect of these businesses comes about because not everyone has to buy an asset, like a car, for it to be available.  Another way is when a person makes available – “shares” – an asset he/she owns, like an apartment. 

The growth of these “sharing” services has not been without complaints about:

  • Abuses of the people delivering services – like the complaints against Uber by drivers who feel insufficiently compensated;
  • Abuses of the people receiving services – like the fear of attacks by guests of AirBnB hosts or the trashing of the host’s apartments;
  • Various violations of state and local regulations intended to protect consumers and ensure properly functioning markets.  (You might want to see the recent, November 19, session of Legal Hackers NYC and Launch LM concerning “Legal Issues in the Sharing Economy

To an extent, I’d chalk up these problems to the newness of this approach to business. 

For me, though, the longer term issue is whether these services are as transformative as their advocates claim.  Are these “sharing economy” businesses more than just another example of the way that the Internet can help decentralize business activity and decompose hierarchies? 

While decentralization is not unimportant, the answer would seem to be no.  These businesses, by and large, have not fundamentally changed the role of money nor set out to provide a way to measure the increasing share of human activity that is intangible services and digital products. 

Perhaps a version of Bitcoin is needed that is not merely another currency that can be exchanged for dollars or euros, but can instead be used as a measure of time given, resources shared, and data or creative product provided.  Whatever the answer is, I hope we don’t have to wait until the 23rd century to figure that out.


© 2014 Norman Jacknis