In Praise of Driver-less Automobiles

Tyler Cowen:

The benefits of driverless cars are potentially significant. The typical American spends an average of roughly 100 hours a year in traffic; imagine using that time in better ways — by working or just having fun. The irksome burden of commuting might be lessened considerably. Furthermore, computer-driven cars could allow for tighter packing of vehicles on the road, which would speed traffic times and allow a given road or city to handle more cars. Trips to transport goods might dispense with drivers altogether, and rental cars could routinely pick up customers…

The point is not that such cars could be on the road in large numbers tomorrow, but that we ought to give the cars — and other potential innovations — a fair shot so that a prototype can become a commercial product someday. Michael Mandel, an economist with the Progressive Policy Institute, compares government regulation of innovation to the accumulation of pebbles in a stream. At some point too many pebbles block off the water flow, yet no single pebble is to blame for the slowdown. Right now the pebbles are limiting investment in future innovation.

And perhaps more importantly:

This isn’t a column about driverless cars at all.  It’s about our ambivalent attitudes toward major innovations.  It’s also about how the true costs of regulation are often hidden.  A lot of potentially good innovations never even reach our eyes and ears as concepts, much less realities.  They don’t have tags comparable to that of the driverless car.

We already have driver-less trains and robot-guided surgery, why not cars? Cowen’s full column is here.

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