As part of the structure of the Creative Destruction Series, we have conducted and curated several conversations with different great thinkers and doers in the field. This includes researchers, designers, technologists, artists, owners, end-users and a few left-fielders. In this blog, Eli Kuslansy and Kinder Baumgardner talk about autonomous cars and the new landscape they will "drive" in.
EK: Could you describe the distinction between “way finding” and “way knowing? You talked about it in your SXSW presentation and your panel was based on it.
KB: I have to give credit to my collaborator, Michael Borosky, on that piece; he came up with the “way knowing” word. So I’m here to talk about it and my points of view around it.
I think the idea is one idea, which we use to show you how to get somewhere. But “way knowing” is using technology to give you more information, so you know how to get somewhere in a better way. The knowing also ties in with additional information: how long it will take you, what might be of interest along the way and what route you might avoid. And when you get to a place, if you have a dinner reservation or not, how long you have to wait and all those kinds of things.
EK: I think you’re speaking about autonomous cars in this new open landscape that’s also powered by something like Google Maps, which means that you have at your fingertips information tied to geography that would actually change the quality of the journey itself. So it’s not just A to B.
KB: That’s right.
EK: Directions, yes?
KB: Yeah. I think you have to think like Google and other groups like that. What is their revenue stream? It’s really advertisement. And so you need to think about what a car is in that context. I mean a car right now is the thing I get into and drive around because I kind of like it. I explore in it; it takes me places. And sometimes I just drive it from point A to point B. But the autonomous car is not a car; it’s a delivery system. For example, Amazon had to come up with an elaborate way to move things to you because they can’t move you to something.
Ultimately, the autonomous car is just a way to move you to the good or service. And Amazon and Google, that’s really all they’re going to be into. It’s not about adventure, it’s not about driving and it’s not about going to work. It’s about moving you to a good or service and that, I think, is a huge game-changer.
EK: But this is also a service and product based upon your profile, your search, etc.
KB: Absolutely, yes. The algorithm tells them what you want. I mean you think everything kind of becomes more concierge. You want to go to dinner. You get in the car and you say, “I’d like to go to dinner.” The response would be, “You ate at these restaurants recently. Do you want something different?” “Yeah.” “The algorithm tells me you would like one of these three. This one has a reservation available, would you like it?” “Yes.”
I don’t have to think anymore. I don’t have to go online, log on, try to figure out what to do. The car brings me to that experience.
EK: Interesting. You mentioned the idea that if we’re just staying within our own cluster of like-minded seekers, that’s going to further impact the polarization of culture and also impact creativity.
KB: Absolutely, because again it’s a delivery system. It’s delivering you to a “thing”, a place. It might be a cultural place or it might be entertainment. But, yeah, it’s going to be delivering you based on an algorithm. Just the way the Amazon algorithm says, “Look, we’ll get these pretty things that we know you would like to buy.” It’s not going to bother putting up something that you are probably not going to click on, because it would be a wasted effort. It’s going to be the same with the car. I’m not going to take you to a place that you’re probably not going to enjoy. They want you to spend money and enjoy it.
So based on your profile, the algorithm, what you do and what you watch, it will bring you to places where people who watch Game of Thrones go. It’s going to bring you to those places. So you’re going to look around and it will feel really comfortable. It’s going to be a wonderful experience, but everyone’s going to be a lot like you.
EK: Right, so then all of those kind of serendipitous explorations and discoveries that lead to great innovations would probably be under assault, as you would go with your group of like-minded seekers who are just like you.
KB: Everybody’s like you. The innovation will start to stall. Innovation kind of eliminated bumping into different kinds of people.
EK: Don’t you think they have to build this into the new model, if that’s the case? Because that’s a tremendous loss, no?
KB: It would be a loss but that kind of innovation happens through serendipity, right?
KB: You’re going to try a bunch of different people until you find the one that you can really collaborate with.
EK: Diverse set of people and diverse set of communities, too?
KB: Yes, absolutely. But that’s inefficient. Engineers and algorithms strive for efficiency so you may end up getting pushed into hyper-efficient situations. Maybe there could be an algorithm where you could select, “Hey, I want to meet people different from me.”
EK: Like a diversity slide or something.
EK: Maybe you could talk a bit about the urban landscape in the world of autonomous cars and vehicles. Because you say there’s tremendous change in things like highway signs, speed limits, unintended consequences, etc.
KB: Yeah. There are the physical manifestations of what we need to operate a car, like signs to tell us how fast to go. But already cars know what the speed limit is and put that information on the dashboard. So if you drive on a 35mph street, it will tell you, “Hey, this is a 35mph street.” You may be going 40, but it will tell you.
So all that stuff like speed limit signs go away, even lighting. We won’t need streetlights in the future because cars will see robotically. They won’t need to see what’s ahead of them because they’ll sense it.
EK: You won’t need traffic lights either?
KB: Traffic lights won’t be needed once autonomous cars can communicate; they’ll decide collectively when to go or not go. But, no, you won’t need traffic lights, streetlights or road signs. You might need them for pedestrians, but even they will be more and more connected via social media.
EK: It’s almost like the back channel in a way.
KB: Yeah. We still need a roadway, but it changes a lot. There will be a valet space in front of every shop. The car will pull over and stop right there. You get out, go in, come back out and your car will come and get you.
That will change kind of the character of the streets for everything, with more movement, more coming and going, more walking. You don’t walk around the city as much when you arrive right at the front door and you’re picked up right at the front door.
I think we’ll still have parking garages, but a lot fewer, and cars will use the parking spaces much more efficiently. For example, if you don’t need a staircase in a garage, that’s a couple spaces that are freed up. Doors don’t need to open and close and so cars can park very close together. The cars will decide, “Hey, everybody leaving at 5:00, park here. Everybody leaving at 4:00, park there.” It could reduce drive aisles.
EK: The same will be true for things like traffic jams, because if there’s intelligence on the flow and location and destination there won’t be rubbernecking.
KB: Absolutely. Right now everybody uses Waze or Google Maps. If everybody used them, there would be no traffic jams even today, because they adapt to location and speed to route you around traffic. But we don’t operate that way at this point.
Once you have autonomous cars they will all be wired into mapping technology and take the most efficient route so that traffic will kind of spread out. Freeways may be less necessary but cars will still funnel to freeways, because then they can go super fast. If you’re not going to crash because you’re a robot, why not go 200 miles an hour?
EK: Right, because you won’t have a things like tailgating.
KB: You won’t have a lot of traffic problems because you’re not going to crash.
EK: You also mentioned there’s going to be a change in ownership of cars? More of an Airbnb-type service?
KB: Supposedly when you don’t actually operate the vehicle, you don’t have an emotional response to it. The owning of it becomes much less important. What you’ll have is subscription services where you subscribe to a brand of cars and then use any number of vehicles they offer.
EK: Back to the valet service for a second. I wonder how that would operate in a high-density urban environment like New York.
KB: In New York, on any given block there are 30 businesses. Taxis don’t necessarily drop you right in front of your destination, though they might occasionally. Autonomous cars are going to drop you right at the address you’re going to, but there’s not a guy driving it anymore. And there’s a lot more demand for that.
Curb space is not going to be used for parallel parking anymore. Curb space is going to be used for pickup and drop off, and there will be queues at certain times of the day. There’s going to be a bit of choreography.
EK: Let’s talk about unintended consequences. For example, the impact on parking (which is actually a revenue stream) and tickets for moving violations. If we don’t have that, that’s a loss, no?
KB: Oh, yes. You can’t give a ticket to a robotic car for speeding or parking in the wrong place so there are going to be user fees.
EK: Like a tax of some kind.
KB: A tax or a toll, but there is going to be some kind of user fee, absolutely.
EK: How about the impact on professional drivers? Across the country there are 3 to 4 million of them who will all be unemployed?
KB: Yes, but there are going to be different jobs.
KB: Yes. The guys that were driving cars will be now cleaning them. So an Uber-type vehicle is going to pick up three people and then it’s going to go back to the shop to get cleaned.
EK: Talking about revenue streams, there is a lot of retail signage on the roads and advertisers make a lot of money off of it. I guess some of that will never go away because you still have people looking at the signs to a certain extent.
KB: If I’m not driving a car I don’t have to look out the window. I’m forced to look out now to see signs so I can drive. But if I don’t have to look out of the window because the car is driving itself, I’m going to be much more drawn to my devices. So that’s going to be where the advertisement is.
EK: So it’s shifting from physical signs to something that’s more digital. And, in some ways actually has more intelligence to it, because currently highway signs are a very broad shotgun approach to advertising.
EK: That’s interesting because then there’s a whole field behind signage, especially highway signs.
KB: I think there will be more of a need for signage that creates a tactile pedestrian-user experience because people are still going to want to walk around from place to place. Autonomous cars are going to take you to a walkable place and you might want to walk around and have an experience you can’t have delivered to your house. So that walkable experience still goes on and in some ways signage may become much more elaborate and important. So I can see an increase in how signage works; it’s smaller scale and more tactile.
Potentially to some degree it’s interactive. But if everyone has a cellphone, why am I going to walk up to a sign and feel like I need to touch it and interact with it?
EK: What do you do with these old highway signs? You talk about turning them into natural habitats. What do we do with this infrastructure that we’re not using anymore?
KB: There’s going to be a lot of defunct infrastructure. Some of it’s going to be three-lane highways that aren’t needed anymore. Some of it’s going to be surface parking lots. Some of it’s going to be big gantry signs that don’t really serve a purpose anymore.
Clever people will come up with ways to reinvent those things. You can very easily think about vertical habitat. They’re big trees, designed very specifically for very specific animals, say, bats or a certain kind of bird.
I’m interested in the rewilding of cities, because when you have a surfaced parking lot in a sunbelt city and we’re not putting cars on them, what do they become? We have more parking than we could ever fill with high-density housing. We can’t build our way out of it. All of those kinds of landscapes and those kinds of infrastructures have to find a different purpose.
Some of it may be nature in the heart of the city. It may not be beautifully curated nature. It maybe weeds and scrub tree and things that grow in, but they serve a purpose.
EK: On last challenge is security in cars, hacking your car. Ill-intended people will inevitably will try to hack autonomous cars.
KB: There needs to be a bigger solution to computer identity theft that’s got to apply to everything. Someone needs to come up with an overarching solution for all of these things.
EK: Unlike the Internet itself, there are no standard protocols that go across industries or across devices. If we’re talking about autonomous vehicles, there would have to be some kind of standardization so that Ford doesn’t have their own thing and GM doesn’t have their own. All those cars have to talk to each other.
KB: I think it’s going to be messy while we think about how our infrastructure is going to change, how our cities are going to look and operate. Kind of like when we stopped using horses in cities and starting using cars; they were all mixed together.
EK: What’s that old story from Michigan? There were only two cars in the state and they had an accident.
KB: That sounds about right.
Creative Destruction Series: Introduction
Creative Destruction Series Part 01: Palpitations on the Slopes of Technology
Creative Destruction Series Part 02: Designing for Plurals, the Evolving Audience
Creative Destruction Series Part 03: Relocating Humanity
Creative Destruction Series Part 04: A Curious Stepchild of Inbound Marketing
Creative Destruction Series Part 05: Automated Design
Creative Destruction Series Part 06: Embracing Serendipity in the Digital Age
Creative Destruction Series Part 07: Three Versions of "US"
Creative Destruction Series Part 08: 12 Strategic Predictions for 2017
Creative Destruction Series Part 09: The Mythology of Online Searches
Creative Destruction Series Part 10: The Need for Data Literacy
Creative Destruction Series Part 11: SXSW At First Glance
Creative Destruction Series Part 12: Contemporary or Conservative? The 2017 Frieze New York Art Fair