Today in Arts Entrepreneurship we volunteered products or services that we found to be “innovative” and “game changers.” I heard some people mention how Netflix displaced television, how Pandora challenged the sales model for the music industry, how Spotify inherited Pandora’s place, and how Google’s search software and Glass Project* have made tremendous waves. Of the most widely covered break-out technology** I raised my hand and voiced that self-driving cars will revolutionize our way of life by reducing instances of accidents due to human error and also increase fuel efficiency.*** I proceeded to make this points and also point out that testing of these vehicles has already been legalized in Nevada, the only problems are all the legal hurdles before self-driving cars become the norm and not the exception.
Surprisingly, a classmate expressed that self-driving cars are borderline “un-American” infringing on the American spirit of self-reliance and uniqueness. To be frank, that comment took me by surprise because as a Political Economy student I am currently studying about being American and this concept of “self-reliance” was introduced in my History 131B (“Creating Modern American Society) course. The past of this nation highlights the pursuit of the American Frontier, the Wild West and adaptation to a new environment. With that in mind, I do not perceive a dissonance between giving up control of a driving wheel and pursuing the American identity. In fact, the link between entrepreneurship, the “New American Frontier,” and the welcoming of daring new tech, like autonomous cars, is clear.
It is the epitome of being American to pursue modernity, to challenge the norm, to seek efficiency and most of all to pursue the American Frontier. I see the frontier, now, as emerging technology, social reform and ideology. There is no more land on Earth to parcel, or a desire for the United States to dominate and conquer physically (economically and politically are matters that need not be addressed in this discourse). There is land in outer space and real estate in the internet, but the main point is that innovation is the new carrot on the stick because there is no finish line.**** To shy away from emerging technology is the most un-American mode of thinking, in my humble opinion. Embracing what is inevitable and seeing the positive results is the goal. Rather than thinking of all the reasons a piece of technology might be too invasive, too strange, or too inconvenient we need to think of ways that they can benefit society, why, and the surmountable challenges that stand in the way of positive change. I do not mean to imply that negative backlash to a scientific/ technological innovation should be ignored, but that it should not be the focus.
Self-driving cars will err less than people and I believe that the most beneficial move is to only have self-driving cars in the road. Unfortunately, that is not yet economically feasible and as demonstrated in my class also not a hypothetical world that people have assimilated to. But as American culture dictates, or as I understand American culture to be, the adaptation of modernity will not lag for long and self-driving cars will become as common to our perception as smartphones, printed text, and fire have become.
*I wrote another tech blog relating to Project Glass as well as to Epiphany Eyewear which I worked on as an intern this past winter break: “Technology: The Arrival of Augmented Reality.” (http://immenselyalive.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/technology-the-arrival-of-augmented-reality/) For more information on this innovative Startup visit: http://vergencelabs.com ; http://www.epiphanyeyewear.com/ ; or find them on Facebook.
**(“break-out” in the sense that it’s geared towards the public market, unlike the DARPA Grand Challenge starting in 2004; the international pursuit for autonomous cars started the late 1970′s) For more information refer to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA_Grand_Challenge
***Pair fuel efficiency with hybrid cars or completely electric cars and the innovative push by TESLA to install charging stations and we can decrease green gas emissions considerably! Also check out wireless car charging (related to wireless phone charging): http://delphi.com/manufacturers/auto/hevevproducts/charging-cordsets/wrls-chrg/
****The actual phrase is “carrot or the stick,” (reward or punishment) but I prefer the visual image of a carrot being dangled in front, never being reached and always hungering for it. I had to look it up, being foreign and all: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/carrot.html