Saturday, October 29, 2016

Play the Disruption Game

Do you ever go down memory lane and think about all the things that were normal then that are very different now or gone completely?  I find myself reflecting on the past while I consider the present and how different the future will be.  We live in truly interesting times don't we.

I haven't been writing in this space much in the past few years.  I kind-of lost interest in writing about what I've been up to, what I've been thinking, or what I've been speculating about.  However, I was watching an interesting clip from Doc James Whittaker @docjamesw recently where he talked about the past, present, and future and it inspired me to write again.  I don't know that this will become a habit again but there is this post at least.

James mentioned playing the disruption game.  This game involves taking an industry and thinking about how it could be disrupted in the future by technological advancements.  As you know, technology is probably the most disruptive phenomenon weaving through history.  In our life time it has been the digital form that has relentlessly disrupted everything we know.  A quick side story... my wife and I just underwent a little kitchen reno replacing counters, sink, faucet, and installing back splash.  When the contractor came to estimate the back splash he asked if we wanted
to cover over the jack for the phone.  Even though we had switched from 'home phone' to iPhone a few years ago, it did cause us to pause before answering.  We knew we would never use it again but when we sell would the new owners care?  We decided 'tough luck' for them :-) and had the back splash cover over the jack.  This is just a small example of disruption of the traditional phone business.

It was only a few years ago that I wrote about autonomous cars, back when there wasn't a lot of buzz about this.  Fast forward to today, and many people are writing about, speaking about, and speculating about the future of this disruption.  I read recently that Tesla is installing in all future models all the hardware and sensors necessary for fully autonomous driving.  Over time, their software will be updated and delivered wirelessly to gradually transform their cars from human driven, machine assisted to machine driven, human assisted to machine driven and likely human hands-off.  I mention this idea to friends, colleagues, and family and most are not comfortable with the idea and say they will never let a machine drive.  I say that will be a gift and make our roads far more safer and driving, er, transporting, more productive with our time.

So, imagine with me the future where cars drive themselves and humans are mere passengers.  I get up, get ready, have breakfast, brush my teeth, grab my lunch and coffee and head out the door.  I get into my car, and sit down for a relaxing drive into the office.  My car detects that I'm ready to go and quietly starts off (it's all electric by the way).  It auto connects with my smart device (aka phone), looks into my calendar and sees that I am indeed headed to work.  It calculates the optimal route given current weather conditions, traffic patterns, and known accidents.  The car can see all routes simultaneously to my office in Vancouver including every vehicle on the road, how fast they are traveling, what road work is going on, etc.  It has 360 degree visibility all the time.

I arrive at my office and my car parks in one of the spots and 'reaches out' it's plug to a charging station.  I head into the office.  30 minutes later, my car 'wakes up', unplugs, and heads out of the garage.  Where is it going you might ask?  Well, my car is registered into the VanCity Car Share Coop and someone asked for a car with the # of seats mine has available and my car was the nearest one available.  Off it went... my car picked up and delivered passengers throughout the morning parking itself on side streets here and there when it wasn't needed.  Knowning from my calendar that I have a 1:15 appointment at a school, it arrives back at the office out front, messages me 5 minutes before arriving, and waits for me to get there.  I get in and it takes me to my appointment.  It sees that I plan to be there an hour so makes itself available for callouts in the area within a 10km radius.  And so the typical work day goes - I make money from owning a car rather than just spending money and leaving it idle 90% of the time!

With autonomous driving vehicles, many things will be disrupted.  There will be far fewer (if any) accidents which will lead to very low cost insurance or will there be none and a small residual is built into the price of the car and the rental callout fees?  Fault of course will be the car manufacturer, not the owner.  Fault is an interesting problem here.  If a human is driving and a dilemma occurs say where two small children run out in front of you and on the right is a cliff and the left is a crowd of 12 people, what decision will the human make?  Will they stay the course and kill the two children, swerve left into the crowd perhaps killing and injury many, or sacrifice themselves off the cliff?  What would an autonomous car decide?  Great question...  it's dilemmas like this that need accepted solutions before the autonomous car will be accepted.

So, less accidents will mean less health care for accident victims.  This will lead to fewer clinics, fewer hospital beds, fewer nurses, doctors, and other health care workers.  Fewer painkillers will be needed.  People might drink more alcohol after work because they don't have to drive.  There will be no taxi drivers, Uber drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers.  Car ownership in cities will likely be non-existent.  Why own if you have on demand access?  There will be fewer fuel stations.  With fewer car owners there will be fewer parking lots, spots, and garages.  Fewer meter maids, fewer traffic cops, fewer court cases and thus fewer lawyers and judges.  There will be fewer car washes, tire shops, automotive repair garages, and fewer dealerships.

I wonder if there will be dealerships?  People that do buy will likely do this online.  I bought my last two vehicles by picking models, colors, and options online and emailing back and forth with a salesperson.  Why not do it all online.  Perhaps test drives will be done with Oculus Rift, HoloLens, or some other virtual or augmented reality experience.  This will lead to fewer sales people, business managers, etc.  Someone will still need to repair and service the cars, at least until robots are capable.

You get the point... one quite miraculous change... the autonomous driving car, will disrupt many associated, loosely or otherwise, businesses and occupations.  I wonder what new jobs might be created as a result.  You watch, I bet some version of this story will play out over the next 10-20 years.  20 years from now someone will read this blog post and think 'wow, that was prophetic!' :-)