TCHI Magazine #4: Putting things in perspective
In a magazine that is all about connecting, let’s not forget the most basic meaning of the word: getting from A to B.
As fascinating as the development of autonomous cars and passenger drones may be, innovation stretches far beyond mobility technology. In this story we examine the future of personal transport and logistics from four totally different panoramas. Hop on and travel with us to the far corners of your brain…
Panorama 1: The self-driving car ethicist
The car is set to undergo a massive transformation in the coming years, as automation gradually eliminates the need for drivers. Among many challenges, self-driving car design also raises fascinating moral dilemmas. When a driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian crossing the road illegally, he or she is making a moral decision that shifts risk from the pedestrian to the people in the car. Self-driving cars might soon have to make such ethical judgments on their own. This requires programming autonomous vehicles with a moral code. A daunting task, as programmers will have to decide how a car will react in many different situations. Choosing the life of a human over an animal is relatively easy, but how about deciding between saving the life of a successful business man and a homeless person? Or an incurably ill child and a seventy year old? What complicates things tremendously is the fact that there is no universal moral code. A global survey shows that many of the moral principles that guide a driver’s decisions vary by country. The survey laid out 13 scenarios in which someone’s death was inevitable. Respondents were asked to choose who to spare in situations that involved a mix of variables: young or old, rich or poor, more people or fewer. In countries with different cultural, economical and social backgrounds different choices were made. For example, in a scenario in which some combination of pedestrians and passengers will die in a collision, people from relatively prosperous countries with strong institutions were less likely to spare a pedestrian who stepped into traffic illegally. Will we see a future in which autonomous cars in different countries will make different moral decisions? Barbara Wege, who heads a group focused on autonomous-vehicle ethics at Audi in Ingolstadt, Germany, argues that self-driving cars would cause fewer accidents, proportionally, than human drivers do each year – but that events involving robots might receive more attention. “We need to come up with a social consensus,” she says, “about which risks we are willing to take.” We advise extending development teams with philosophers and social scientists who are able to transcend cultural backgrounds in order to reach a global viewpoint on the morality and ethics of self-driving cars.
Panorama 2: The car owner (RIP)
While the first panorama made us gasp for air, this one is pretty straight forward. The car owner seems to be hitting a dead-end street. Soon. Some researchers predict private car ownership in the US will drop by as much as 80% by 2030. To us it seems a lot of people might be resistant to the idea of giving up their own car and the sense of freedom and independence that comes with it. But evidence suggests that people seem ready to accept the loss of car ownership, provided alternative transport goes fast and far enough. A shift away from privately owned vehicles towards a service – owned and run by public or private ventures – is a smart and efficient solution that’s going to revolutionize the way traffic fl ows through cities. It’s likely that autonomous cars will operate as part of a networked system. This will enable them to avoid congestion, thus reducing pollution and minimizing the time people spend on the road. Congestion is often caused by too many drivers all trying to take the most direct or convenient route at the same time. Only drivers who take the route early will benefit, while the rest will get caught in traffic. Working as a system, driverless cars will be able to distribute themselves across a range of routes to prevent traffic jams and move through the city more efficiently. In such a system and with the sharing economy on the rise it is also very likely more people will be sharing cars than they do today. This will lead to a lot more human connection; meeting new people on your way to the same part of town or a mutual event. Initiatives like UberPool (sharing an Uber with someone going in the same direction) are already running. If self-driving cars ultimately mean we will be traveling together more, to us that seems like a great side-effect.
Panorama 3: 450 kW Mad Max
Remember Mad Max? The dystopian action thriller is set in a world where oil is extremely scarce. In total anarchy Max has to fight for every drop of petrol. With the way things are moving forward, fossil fuel might not be the energy source we should be concerned about. In a future where everything is driven by electricity, will there be enough to make the world go round? And maybe even more critical: will there be enough batteries to store all that energy? What solutions could we as a society come up with to distribute and allocate electricity once it is no longer abundantly available? Do we assign it to government and emergency services fi rst and leave it to the market to distribute the rest? So, the wealthy will always be able to travel and the general public will have to save up? Or do we implement a social credit system in which we score points for good behavior and get rewarded with electricity? In case you are considering this merely a philosophical thought experiment – it is not. In 2020 a social credit system goes into effect across China, where every citizen is scored based on their behavior. Good actions, like volunteering, and bad, like littering, are tracked using algorithms, artificial intelligence and facial recognition — and there are real consequences for a high or low score. In total, over 200 million surveillance cameras are being installed. A large scale pilot has already run (participation was obviously mandatory). As many as 9 million pilot participants with low social scores were already ‘punished’ with travel restrictions. Until their score improved, they were not able to book internal flights or train tickets. It is not hard to imagine this kind of system being used when the world’s electricity supply is lacking.
Luckily between a Big Brother like totalitarian system and the anarchy of the Mad Max movie there is a lot of room for the positive and sustainable future we see before us. These two extremes just go to show the impact mobility can have on our society and it will certainly effect the way we design our future cities.
In a magazine that is all about connecting, let’s not forget the most basic meaning of the word: getting from A to B
Panorama 4: The urban designer
If car ownership drops as significantly as predicted, the number of passenger vehicles on American roads alone will go from 247 million in 2020 to 44 million in 2030. Think of all the free space that will become available! Not just on roads and lanes; on average every car is parked more than 90% of the time. Some cities are already preparing for this future. San Francisco, for example, has turned a number of parking spaces into “parklets,” small grassy public spaces that include benches, plants, and (sometimes) artwork. The shift in the use of urban space will be much more fundamental than that. It is predicted that by 2050 about 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. At Tchai, we think instead of cramming people closer and closer together, the challenge is new development at reasonable densities, protecting open spaces, respecting the need for privacy and supporting community cohesion. All the city dwellers switching to autonomous, electric ride-shares could prove a real blessing. It opens up vast tracts of land for new uses, like wider pavements and more housing, parks and zones where cars are banned. When we think of the possibilities for retailers, our inspiration goes through the roof. With an advanced backbone of online shopping, sharing rides, pick-up points and autonomous delivery we can use urban retail space to make genuine connections and create profound brand experiences. Not just being commercially present, but adding value to inner-city life with urban farming, co-creation and services that build communities and add to well-being. Fast forward to this future, please! We believe human beings moving across the planet will keep changing the dynamics of the planet itself.
And we will most certainly find new creative ways to do so. As Einstein said: “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”