Uber has just rolled out a pilot program in Philadelphia. Customers can request a self-driving car when calling for a ride. The program has spent 18 months in development and is being testing in Philadelphia because of the difficulties driving there presents. The city is not laid out on a typical grid and presents some “aggressive” traffic patterns. During this phase of testing the program, a driver will be in the car just in case a situation arises.
Only 48% of Americans polled are willing to give self-driving cars a try. That’s the detail I wish to focus on. I think that number will change as time goes by. I have no demographics on that statistic but I would bet you could see a definite trend if the data were broken down by age group. Consider: I am 40 years old and have a cell phone with me at all times. I text, share pics, look up directions, etc. Young adults – 18 to 25 year olds – have grown up with smartphones as a regular part of daily life. There are exceptions, but people my parents age tend to use a cell phone only for voice calls. They do not text or use the internet features.
There was a time when spending cash or writing a check were the options for paying things. Sending a check through the mail was the default mechanism for paying bills. I would say the majority of people today swipe their debit card for daily purchases and either go online to pay bills or have those payments automatically drafted from their account. But my dad was something of a holdout from a bygone age. He did not use a debit card anywhere expect to make a withdrawal at an ATM. He didn’t trust direct deposit or electronic funds transfer of any kind. In my experience old people still write checks.
As new technologies emerge, it takes time for people to adjust and make them a normal part of our daily lives. Switching from check writing to debit card swiping, and from shopping in person to online, was a change some people were uncomfortable with and perhaps unwilling to make. Self-driving cars are totally new to all of us but in 20 years a generation of Americans will have grown up with such technology. As time goes by we will get over the shock of seeing driverless cars, the technology will continue to improve, and in the meantime a generation of older adults will die off. In a few decades the same poll will have very different results. Some may always have reservations about trusting a computer to do the driving; but in 50 years it will not be 50% of those surveyed.