Do you remember watching The Jetson’s on television growing up? I know when I first saw it, the concept of flying cars and even self-automated technology was so far-fetched and beyond the capabilities of the technology then available, that it was the futuristic animated show of its time.
But, here we are today in the 21st century where we have conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where companies from all over the world fly to Las Vegas and debut their new technological innovations to the world.
Over the past few years, the questions surrounding Google and Tesla’s self-driving cars have presented a number of questions to the general public. But, the most prevalent question is whether or not with the technology that exists today, are we able to implement it, and if so, whether we are ready for it?
Live from CES 2019 in Las Vegas, I spoke with tech futurist and Editor-In-Chief of Digital Trends, Jeremy Kaplan about our future with smart car technology. Kaplan’s panel last week, “Vehicle Tech’s Next Big Thing” was a huge hit, so I wanted to follow-up with him about his key take-aways from the lively discussion. Kaplan appears regularly on television and radio on networks like Fox Business, BBC, CNN, and NPR.
#1 — The Technology Exists and It’s Here to Stay
I was curious how often the tech futurist gets asked about self-driving cars, and as predicted, he’s definitely no stranger to the question.
The reality of self-driving cars, according to Kaplan, is that the technology does exist today:
“We could do it right now. Here at CES, you can walk around the exhibitor booths and see that the technology is perfectly fine. That’s why Tesla has self-driving cars that can effectively drive themselves.”
But, with all technology there are of course barriers to entry and/or limits to its full utilization.
The panel, according to Kaplan, “recognized that the biggest challenge we face with self-driving cars is government regulations and states, and the fact that there is an entire fleet of cars that don’t self-drive.”
#2 — What Does “Personalization” Mean For Vehicles?
Today, when you go to purchase or lease a vehicle, you have some means in which to customize or personalize the car. Whether you are choosing a particular package, the type of trim, or even the interior interface of the vehicle, you feel as if you are molding the car to your tastes.
Yet, in my discussion with the Digital Trends EIC, this really isn’t “personalization” as it is defined in our digital age.
“While you do personalize your vehicle to some extent, the reality is that this isn’t personalization at all,” Kaplan explained.
One of the panelists, an executive at Hitachi, walked the rest of the panel through some of the advanced concepts they are currently working through in their labs, specifically pertaining to personalization.
“Given a world where there are biometric systems built into cars — fingerprint systems and video cameras for digital authentication, technicians can pretty accurately identify who is behind the wheel driving that car. And, all of a sudden, you have your entire identity in that car, which presents numerous ramifications.
#3 — Welcome to the Dark Side
No, we aren’t entering into George Lucas’ world of Star Wars, but even Lucas was far ahead of his time when he first created the concept of lightsabers, planes, and other space war technology.
With TV shows like Netflix’s Black Mirror that expose the realistic dark side of technology in various futuristic societies, there’s no doubt people today should at least be aware of how dependent they’ve become on the technology they use on the regular.
Convenience Trumps Privacy
As I tell my law students, colleagues, and other innovators in the space, when it comes to technology, convenience will always trump privacy. Consumers don’t fully realize how quickly they are willing to give up their own privacy rights in exchange for a better functioning and more efficient device.
In our discussion, Kaplan agreed that privacy is a fluid concept, and history has shown that. In emergency incidents like Hurricane Katrina or the most recent California wildfires, people are as transparent as water, letting the world know exactly where they are and how to contact them for assistance.
Riding the Elevator to Smart Tech
While our society is headed down a futuristic path towards “smarter” living, I was curious on whether we are actually prepared to accept it, including the consequences.
Kaplan’s response was both thought-provoking and enlightening:
“Fun fact for you — when push button elevators came into the market, people were terrified of it,” he told me.
“In fact, people wouldn’t get into elevators at all, because there wasn’t a push button operator opening the door for you. The companies that made elevators took out full page advertisements to convince people they could get on them safely and walk out in one piece.”
And, according to the tech expert, I’m not the only one with this mindset.
“CES is always about this duality between the television set you can buy today and the futuristic technology you can buy fifteen years from now. That’s why we have these concept cars here, brand new nice 4K TV’s in the market in May. Especially with some of that far reaching futuristic tech, there is this dilemma of what’s it going to take to convince people.”
Safety Is The New Key to Survival
As Kaplan and I had our own time to explore some of the exhibition booths, one thing was clear — each company has implemented some type of new safety measures and/or mechanisms to help ensure its survival.
“A lot of car tech, especially over the last three years, has been all about safety — lane keeping, blind spot monitors, and other alerts. Which is why consumers have been actively pursuing it.”
Roads, Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads
So, where did the panel end on my initial question of whether we are prepared to accept the reality of the technology as if it is here?
“Technology is terrifying. Are we ready for personalization on that scale? I don’t think so. And, we asked the panelists that. But, I think they were all willing to admit that the tech industry needs to do something.”