Driverless cars will be here in little over five years. You’ll no longer have to own a car. And it’ll basically change everything you know.
Well, that’s the opinion of über brain, general smart trousers and former boss of Foxtel and News Corp, Kim Williams. In a wide-ranging interview Williams recently gave to B&T, the outspoken and self-annointed tech futurist predicted that some sort of hybrid, electric-powered, autonomous vehicle – the likes that Google in the US are testing right now – would become the norm on Aussie roads.
Williams argued when the driverless car did arrive it would “transform traffic, road safety and public investment in road infrastructure”.
But in reality – B&T asked – is all this some sort of Jetsons-like utopian fantasy?
“It’s nothing to do with utopia it has all to do with human utility,” Williams snapped. “As is the case in San Francisco at the moment, the maximum wait time for an Uber response is two and a half minutes. Now if you can get to an environment where you have a maximum response time of two and a half minutes to get someone to take you from A to B inside a city and you have that sort of extraordinary efficient utility then you quickly move to thinking ‘I don’t need to have a car’.
“Most people would use their car for maybe five per cent of their waking hours in a week? Ten per cent if they’re really heavy users? So 90 per cent of the time the car is not being used. It’s a tremendously dead piece of capital investment.
“If most of your time is spent in cities, where, frankly, driving is not a particularly pleasant thing; it’s some sort of kind of judgemental combat with others in order to advance by seconds in front of them; empowering an enormously dangerous activity on a regular basis – and you can see the results of that in any intensive care in hospitals all over Australia.
“If you can replace that with something that is safe, secure and immediate, and it takes you from A to B efficiently and, in fact, because it’s talking to all the other devices efficiently, then of course, you’ll say yes,” Williams said.
But will car companies, oil firms, insurance businesses, government revenue raisers and the likes simply sit back and see their (highly profitable) businesses destroyed?
“I know people who work with and advise major automotive manufacturers and they are all absolutely aware of this huge, enormous disintermediation threat; where they car itself, the whole notion of car ownership is under threat. Now, will it happen tomorrow? No. Will it happen in five years? Possibly. Will it happen in 10 years? Definitely,” Williams argued.
However, rather than the death of traditional industries and car manufacturing as we know it (although that probably died some years ago in Australia), Williams sees enormous opportunity and profitability in the driverless car.
He argued that every industry is susceptible to threats and, also, of being usurped by the new incumbent.
Williams said there is always a risk of failure in any new or old technology. “Of course it’s happened before. It happened with the horse and buggy industry. It happened with the horse whip industry. It’s happened with any number of industries that you can think of… this is not a new phenomenon, this is something that has happened again and again and again and again in human history.”
He added: “I’m old enough to remember telex machines. I’m old enough to remember fax machines. I’m old enough to remember having an OTC cable gram account when dealing with international music agents you’d get a phone call at three in the morning from OTC cable grams and they would read the cable to you and on the spot would dictate a response and they would post it out to you both; you’d get it in a couple of days in the post.
“Technological change is not new, it’s just a heck of a lot faster and it’s just a heck of a lot more efficient,” he concluded.