Driverless Cars: Dystopia Or Utopia?

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 63 months ago
Driverless Cars: Dystopia Or Utopia?
Is this the future? Courtesy London Transport Museum & RCA.

The news tells us that driverless cars are coming, and they're going to change our lives. It's just a question of when. But what will this mean for our day-to-day lives? Will it be a positive change, a negative one, or a mix of both?

We've put together a list of the pros and cons of driverless transport to help you decide for yourself.

Will our pod deliver us to wherever we want to go? Courtesy London Transport Museum & RCA.

An automated utopia

Fewer accidents - TfL's figures show that over 2,000 people were killed or seriously injured on London's roads in 2015. We'd expect this to decrease with driverless cars, which never fall asleep, zone out or get distracted by a text. It won't eliminate accidents altogether, but should greatly reduce the numbers.

More space - Many cars in London are left sitting round in parking spaces for most of the time — some international studies have show that this figure may be as high as 95% of cars. If cars are driverless then they can be summoned when needed, thus eliminating the need for parking spaces. What can be done with this extra space? Potentially more housing — we all know London needs it — and more green spaces.

Robots become pets as we take them out for a walk. Courtesy London Transport Museum & RCA.

Greater accessibility - Not everyone has access to a car, or the ability to drive one. This includes disabled people, the very young or old, and people for whom the economics or owning or renting a car don't stack up. Often the quickest route from A to B is via car, and while cabs can fill this space, driverless cars may be a cheaper alternative to providing greater mobility.

Many people own larger cars than they need. A driverless car can be ordered to specifications for each individual journey — a mini pod if it's just you, or a larger one for the entire family, a basic car for a short journey or one with all the mod cons for a long drive.

No more dead time - Listening to the radio or audiobooks while driving are options, but there are limits to what can be done — after all, the road should be the primary focus. But if the car drives itself, then reading a newspaper or writing emails can be done on the fly — just as we often do on public transport.

Will we become stuck inside our pods, never leaving them? Courtesy London Transport Museum & RCA.

A driverless dystopia

Job losses - This is a big consideration. Lots of people make their living from driving including taxi, minicab, delivery and haulage drivers. New jobs will be created in the driverless car industry but these will require people with very different skills. Without a government plan, there will be potentially hundreds of thousands of people unemployed across the UK with no new job to go to.

Death of the high street - High streets are already noticing decreasing business due to online brands delivering to your door. Once driverless vehicles are able to collect items to bring home, then it may almost eliminate the need to ever pop into a shop. Will our high streets become desolate relics of a bygone age?

A homely feel replicated inside a transparent driverless vehicle. Courtesy London Transport Museum & RCA.

Data privacy - Most of us are already worried about how much data and information the likes of Google and Facebook are accruing about us. Future cars may have a wide array of biometric sensors that will be designed to help us - e.g. facial recognition to programme in our preferred seating arrangements and to stop theft, plus other sensors to ensure we are in good health. But what if this gets hacked and the data stolen by others?

The legal implications - Who is responsible when a driverless car crashes? The driver, the owner, the manufacturer or the people who designed the automated systems in the car? It's a very murky legal area that's getting a lot of attention at the moment. It gets even more complicated if someone hacked the car and caused the accident.

The psychological impact - Are humans ready to let go of control to machines and what will it feel like to no longer own a car? It's unclear how this will affect us overall. Will it free up our time, or is it a step towards the world of Wall-E where we roll around on floating chairs, staring at screens and becoming obese?

What do you think about the driverless future? Let us know in the comments section.

This article was originally published to tie in with the Driverless Futures: Utopia or Dystopia? exhibition at London Transport Museum.

Last Updated 25 April 2017