How would lives and landscapes change if every car had a computer in the driver’s seat?

Brian Hayes in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_01 Aug. 20 17.51 Jane has a meeting this morning, so the car comes to pick her up at 8:15. En route, she finishes her breakfast, reviews her PowerPoint slides, updates her Facebook status, and does her daily KenKen. After the car delivers her to the office, it drives to a parking garage on the outskirts of the city, where it slips into a low, narrow slot. Later it will take young Judy and Elroy to their music lessons, then stop for a load of groceries before bringing Jane home. The car also has an errand of its own on today’s agenda: the quarterly inspection and recertification required of all licensed autonomous vehicles.

Cars that drive themselves were already a cliché of futurist fantasies 50 years ago, and their long association with cartoonish fiction and dioramas at the World’s Fair makes it hard to take the idea seriously. Nevertheless, sober thinkers believe it may be only a decade or two before the family car has a computer in the driver’s seat. It’s not too soon to ponder the social, economic and cultural consequences of such a development.

Already, some cars come equipped with “driver assistive technologies.” There’s adaptive cruise control, which keeps an eye on the car ahead and maintains a steady separation. Another system warns the driver if the car begins to stray outside its proper lane. And a few models even offer hands-free parallel parking.

More ambitious levels of automation are at the research-and-testing stage.

More here.