Amazing technology breakthroughs
NEWARK, California — A self-driving car of Uber was caught going through a red light in San Francisco by a dashcam video taken by a taxi driver the week I arrived here. Uber had apparently unleashed a fleet of driverless cars for testing. They have been told to stop and get a permit first.
This is the kind of twilight zone we are in right now as new technology changes the world as we know it. Laws and human behavior are struggling to catch up with the way life is lived from now on.
Uber, ever the tech upstart that defies established authorities worldwide, didn’t think it was necessary to get a permit to test the self-driving cars. They also blamed the human inside the car for the error. A human can override the computer. He probably overrode the computer to beat the red light. He was suspended.
Uber, a ride sharing operation using a computer program to match car and passenger, has disrupted not just the taxi business but also the way people now view car ownership. In a city as busy as San Francisco with very little space for parking, Uber and similar companies like Lyft make total sense. You just type in your location and where you want to go in an app in your smart phone and a car and driver materializes before you. No need to circle 10 times around the block praying for a parking space.
It is predicted here that there will be less and less people wanting to buy cars. They will instead opt to share rides by using Uber or similar services.
Driverless cars are also said to eventually disrupt the car insurance business. “Imagine a future in which fleets of driverless cars move quietly and carefully around our cities and countryside, seamlessly picking up and dropping off passengers. There are fewer cars on the roads, and those that are there tend to have fewer collisions,” a Financial Times feature visualized.
The FT continued: “Fewer cars and fewer accidents mean less demand for insurance. In mature economies the market size could shrink by more than 80 percent by 2040… Some insurers are reacting to the changing landscape. In the UK, Axa has joined a number of government-backed groups that are looking at how best to introduce driverless technology…”
With the growing popularity of electric cars, the old car repair shop will increasingly be a thing of the past. Electric cars have little by way of parts that the typical car mechanic can fix. It is, in fact, a computer on wheels. Further developments in the technology of batteries (zinc-ion vs current lithium ion) will make the electric car even more dependable and able to traverse longer distances between charging.
The FT listed down a few more industries being disrupted. Financial advisers are being challenged by the growth of automated financial advice websites. So called “robo-advisers” or “websites that recommend a portfolio of funds based on an investor’s answers to an online questionnaire — have tried to disrupt traditional face-to-face advice by offering low-cost alternative to customers who are increasingly comfortable with digital investing.”
Even the practice of law is changing fast as young digital native lawyers enter the work force. Lawyers can now work from home. Indeed, a nephew of my wife whom we visited last Christmas is planning to leave his law firm and do solo practice precisely because the digital revolution allows him to do so.
An article in the Huffington Post says that “while law firms will by no means ever disappear, legal practice may become quite rarified in as little as five years. Ironically, the future of law may look a bit like the distant past, more resembling Abraham Lincoln’s time, in the sense that clients large and small will interface with a single lawyer, procuring counsel on the basis of individualized expertise rather than brand name.”
So it may well be that we are living in times similar to that when electricity was first invented and the first electric bulb was lighted. Those of us who are digital migrants may not know how to integrate the new technologies into our lives as well as our children and grandchildren who grew up with them.
But even with us, many of us cannot imagine living in a world without broadband connection. Even as seniors, the first thing many of us do when we wake up in the morning is to grab our smart phones and scan our e-mail’s in-box and then quickly check out Facebook. We have reconnected with long lost friends through social media.
In other words, digital technology has already disrupted our lives in many good and not so good ways. I thank God for the presence of technology that enables me to talk to my kids and grandkids an ocean away virtually face to face as often as I want. But I must admit, I will still think twice before riding a driverless car and I still don’t trust technology enough to do online banking.
But amazing developments in technology will continue to surprise and amuse us and help us improve the quality of our lives. And there is no place on Earth where the development of new technology is as frenzied as it is in Silicon Valley. That’s also America’s competitive edge that will protect its superpower status for a while.