Mobility Domination: Are There Risks in Creating Self-Driving Monopolies?
The drive to deploy autonomous cars for commercial and consumer use is gaining speed and will usher a new era of transportation. Technology industry and car manufacturing giants such as Nvidia and Audi are joining forces to create autonomous cars for sale by 2020. National and municipal governments are helping to usher in this new paradigm in transportation as well – Singapore will implement self-driving taxis this year and Dubai has deployed a self-driving shuttle system. Analysis by BCG has shown that by 2035, 12 million fully autonomous cars will be sold each year.
Self-driving has the potential to free up our time, make travel safer, and offer greater mobility options. They are also big business the self-driving auto industry is estimated to be worth around $7 Trillion by 2050 according to Intel.
Juniper Research expects five companies to dominate the space. This is reflected in the number of patents taken out across the autonomous car ecosystem with aforementioned companies few major players applying for the majority. But what, if any, risk is associated with the domination of the market in self-driving cars?
Three Possible Risks of Mobility Automation Monopolies
Emerging industry sectors have a tendency to consolidate. Smaller entrants to a technology area will be subsumed by larger, perhaps more robust, entities. Self-driving vehicle research and development is an expensive business, but likely extremely fruitful. There is a slew of startup innovators in AI technology applied to autonomous vehicles. Companies like Polysync and AIMotive are bringing artificial Intelligence to the world of the motor car. However tech titans Tesla and Google, via their self-driving car project Waymo, are already eyeing up innovative startups in the automotive AI space for acquisition. Google bought up a number of AI companies in 2016 to add to their portfolio. Ford Motor Company recently invested $1 billion in AI startup, Argo AI. When large companies acquire smaller innovators, certain risks enter the space. There are a lot of known benefits to the emergence of both partial and fully autonomous cars. Benefits such as reduced accidents and cleaner air. But mobility domination of autonomous cars by a few very large players will likely bring certain risks, which may include:
Stagnant Innovation : The early fully autonomous cars will be imperfect. Self-driving cars suffered 2,578 failures in roughly 650000 miles of test driving in California in 2016. “Failure” in these cases describes a scenario where the human driver had to take control of the car. This was often due to hardware or software failures. The industry is rushing to develop mobility but consolidation and domination may cause stagnation in innovation. Competition stimulates improvements – and elf-driving car technology includes a number of areas that need improvement such as battery life. Artificial intelligence must continue to develop to ensure safety. Domination in the market by one or two players may well slow down the rate of improvements in the technology behind autonomous vehicles.
Data Privacy: Form the time it is driven off the lot, every aspect of a driverless car’s operation will be collected and stored in a Cloud repository. If a customer skips work to go have a beer with some friends, the car company and most likely several third-party providers will know. That data will be a target for hackers and as shown in numerous data breaches over the past few years companies have a difficult, sometimes overwhelming task in protecting private customer information. Privacy concerns regarding driver data cannot be overstated. A consumer’s driver data will show:
- what stores they shop in
- what doctors they visit and how often
- where they work
- where their children go to school
- where they live
- when they are and are not at home
Such data is a treasure trove for identity thieves, con artists, and burglars. In 2015, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled 1.5 million modern cars (non self-driving) due to cybersecurity issues. The exponential increase in data collected, processed, and transmitted by a self-driving car versus a non-self-driving car will only serve to increase such issues. Initiatives like Google’s Waymo are aimed at mitigating privacy and security issues by reducing data transmitted to cloud storage – a ‘not always on’ system of data collection. Although this may improve the security of collected data, the privacy protections require improvement. monopolistic control of data privacy has proved troublesome in the past. Facebook, for example, was laissez-faire about privacy. Log haul challenges from the likes of Max Schrem were required to spur Facebook into action. Similar efforts from industry leaders and government regulatory bodies will be needed to ensure self-driving car companies remain vigilant in protecting customer data.
Job losses and Security Vulnerabilities: Self-driving vehicles and their fully autonomous descendants will have a negative impact on certain professions. Jobs like taxi drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers, will disappear. A monopolized autonomous car industry would effectively control our transport system, replacing older vehicles with their own autonomous versions in every area of our lives from the school run to national transport systems. This level of control of our travel and transport infrastructure wielded by a few massive corporations creates risk.
On the flipside, a single incident could significantly impact customer confidence in this monopoly and its limited participants. A few weeks ago, a pedestrian was sadly killed by an autonomous Uber vehicle. In response to this, the state of Arizona banned self-driving Uber cars. Imagine if there were more than just a handful of prototypes in play. Additionally, a major cyber security vulnerability remains undetected in our transportation network, a cyber-attack on a highly connected transport infrastructure would result in mass chaos and possibly loss of life.
Autonomous cars are coming, at speed, your way. We can’t swerve to avoid them. They have many benefits across all sections of society. But it looks likely that certain heavy weight organizations will dominate the area. We need to have keen legislation forced through government as well as consumer pressure to make sure that those dominant forces, belt up, and take care of our self-drive.
This post was authored by Avani Desai. If you want to sponsor or contribute an article please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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