Welcome to episode 289 of The Digital Life, a show about our insights into the future of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett, and with me is founder and co-host, Dirk Knemeyer.
This week we’ll be talking about emerging technology, the transformation it brings and the fear of change that comes with it. In particular, I’m thinking of a news item that I saw the other week about attacks on driverless cars in Arizona, specifically in a city called Chandler, which is new Phoenix, and the attacks were on the Waymo vehicles, which is the Google spinoff for driverless cars.
By attacks, Jon, are these cyber attacks? Is there a DNS attack coming in? What’s going on with these cars?
No, these are strictly … These are not cyber. These are strictly offline. This is like slashing of tires, throwing rocks, yelling …
Yeah. Threatening with firearms. So this is strictly analog. The attacks are of the old school variety. So, there were 21 of these attacks reported over the past couple of years, and like I said, there’s a variety of them, so I assume threatening gestures and yelling is one thing. Showing firearms is a much, much different level.
And of course throwing rocks or slashing things is clearly, clearly a violent attack. So far there’s not … None of this has really entered the legal system in terms of Google. Waymo in this case has not been pursuing these attacks as criminal mischief or whatever they would qualify as in the attempts to sort of keep the peace and not draw the kind of attention that a legal proceeding would definitely bring in more reporters and more attention and things like that. Let’s look at this from a couple of different angles because there’s something interesting going on in Chandler and I think it’s an interesting microcosm of what is slowly starting to take shape in the US which is you have this advanced technology, the driverless cars, and fundamentally sort of threatening huge mammoth change if the realization of driverless cars really comes into being. Whether that’s all going to get worked out and along what timelines, I don’t know. There’s policy, there’s insurance, there’s all kinds of ethical questions. In fact, there’s just technological questions that still need to be answered. So this world of driverless cars may be a long way away or at least decades away. But, for the citizens of Chandler, this is the everyday reality. I love the William Gibson quote that “The future is here. It’s just unevenly distributed”, and right now it’s distributed right on top of Chandler, Arizona. So, that being said, I could really see how this could be viewed as a quote “invasion,” right? Because you have this … If you’re a … I don’t know, a driver of any kind, and that’s …
This is a threat to your way of life potentially. So if you’re a taxi driver, a truck driver, a delivery driver, a UPS driver, any of these things.
Bus driver, right. Any of these things, this is potentially a huge problem for you because it replaces something that perhaps you’ve been doing for your entire career with a machine, and even worse, they’re testing it right on your streets. So you’re at the cutting edge. So what’s your response? I mean, sort of fear transforms into anger transforms into chucking a rock at a Waymo vehicle, I think. So, if we look at this as an example of the kinds of reactions that people will have to AI generally speaking … So, clearly we can see the thread of driverless cars sort of leading to a market disruption of … especially in the US, where we love, love, love our cars and our streets and our driving. We are a car culture unlike any the world has ever seen. The Ford production line sort of started here. We have a driver’s culture, very much in the US. There are other countries that have it as well, but we’ve … definitely among the top.
But let’s range a little farther and think about all the other industries where AI will start poking its technological nose into and you can begin …
Yeah, and you can begin to see one kind of reaction, one kind of cultural sort of rebellion against these unrelenting technological change that we’re facing now. I think it can be frightening. I think it will be frightening to many. So, I don’t know what all the takeaways are from this. Dirk, what was your reaction when you read this article? I thought it was completely fascinating.
It was fascinating. A few different things. So, one, another factor that it bears noting is that there was an incident where a driverless car killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. So, that was relatively local to Chandler, so whereas that story for the rest of us popped up in the national news, we read it, expressed some reaction to it and moved on with our lives. In Arizona this is real people. This was a local story. It had name, background attached to it, affiliation with local organizations that other people had affiliation with. So I think there’s a non-trivial impact of that on people’s attitudes in Chandler. Absolutely there’s the socioeconomic fear aspect and encroaching on future jobs, but there’s also a “these machines are killing our people” aspect that I think is really contributing to the psychology and the passion to varying degrees.
This really took me back to the Luddites. We use the term Luddite without really knowing or understanding where it came from, but the Luddites are based on an economic worker’s movement in the 1810s, so about 200 years ago. At that time it was mainly in textiles that automated machines and companies with these machines were displacing skilled workers and the reaction to that was for these skilled workers to form groups and be disruptive. We remember sort of historically the top layers while they were off breaking machines. They did break machines, that’s true. They also assaulted, in some cases killed, business owners that had the companies that were doing the cheaper textile work and replacing their jobs. The Luddite movement was so significant and it was overlapping with the Napoleonic war, that at one point the English government had more soldiers dealing with domestic Luddite disturbances than they had soldiers dealing with Napoleon and the French army. So, the scale of it is staggering, so what we have happening now in Chandler, Arizona is … Let’s call it a minor nuisance for lack of anything better. At the point at which the US Army is having to deploy people en masse, then we’ll be dealing with something that is socially at a level similar to the Luddites 200 years ago.
So, of course the story is disturbing and people behaving in such base and ultimately self-destructive ways, slashing tires and throwing rocks is … You don’t feel good about that, but it certainly is nothing compared to a very similar context 200 years ago and the sort of very organized, much larger scale reaction to approximately similar encroachments.
Based on that, do you think that we’re in for increasing unrest around implementation of AI? Is this sort of an inevitable clash or is it in fits and starts? What can we anticipate? Can we not anticipate? Are there ways that we can mitigate this transformation enough that there is a slow intake? So you have your driverless car lanes, you have your side of the highway where there’s people driving it, and forever or at least until whatever generation is that thinks that they don’t need to drive cars anymore, those two lanes.
It’s not gonna be driver choice that drives it, it’s gonna be money and how do you have everyone having the correct technology in order to safely deploy into a mono system? The thing that’s gonna hold us back isn’t that Bob wants to hit the road on his Harley. The thing that’s gonna hold us back is people can’t afford to get the driverless car to participate in the grid with everyone else, right?
Sure. I mean, people will hold on to their cars in New England for a while and then if you’re out in warmer climes, you can hold onto your car for decades, right? So, the infrastructure or that level of adoption is gonna take a while, not to mention simply the pricing question as well.
But yeah, I wonder if given that this is a indication of things to come, if sort of slow rolling emerging technologies in a way that is a little more cautious might be an inevitable police, right?
No, that’s not gonna … I mean, look. The market is gonna drive it to go as fast as it possibly can, as long as there’s some capitalist out there who can get a new vacation home or a new yacht. I mean, it’s gonna go as fast as that person chooses that it does. The difference now compared to the 1810s is that much of it is virtual instead of physical. The Luddites are remembered for destroying machines but they only destroyed machines because the machines were there. It was a physical thing that they could act upon. People are acting upon the Waymo cars in Chandler, Arizona because they’re there. It’s a physical thing. If you want to act on Facebook, and a lot of people are very mad at Facebook, what can you do? You can uninstall it and tweet that you uninstalled it as long as you haven’t raged at Twitter already as well and then you’re on Mastodon or something else that nobody follows.
So, in the virtual world, there’s nothing to act upon. You can uninstall. You can not buy the stuff, but other people are going to buy the stuff unless everyone’s turning against it, in which case that service will go away. Other services will come to replace it, and a lot of the AI driven change over the next decade certainly will not be as physical. It will be more virtual. It will be things that are happening in systems where there’s nothing to destroy, there’s nothing to attack. Yeah, you can take your laptop and smash it on the ground. Congratulations, you’re out $2,000 or $500 or whatever the cost of your laptop is. There isn’t this external, corporate owned, physical thing that we can lash out against. I mean, can we go to their corporate headquarters and start throwing rocks through their windows? Yeah, but that’s the fastest path to jail you can possibly imagine. I don’t know. So from my perspective, it’s going to be a question of where are there opportunities to sort of physically act out and against things? That’s where this will show up more. So, companies that are more virtual … It just won’t be explicit because people can’t really do anything, but the fact is that these technologies will be disrupting older industries. The people in those industries could … It’s not like jobs are going away. There’s other things that they could be doing and retraining for, but that’s not what people want to hear. People want to continue doing what they were doing, what they perceived as safe and part of their identity, and those folks are going to continually be frustrated and discouraged over the next decade as AI and automation are encroaching on our world.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, I think in the spirit of transformation and the new year, of course, 2019, we have some big news to share with all of our listeners, and we’re transforming as well. We’re changing as well, and our next adventure in podcasting is gonna be called creative next. It’s about looking forward to AI and automation and thinking about adaptive strategies, ways that we might future-proof design engineering, writing, researching, business, from all these sort of creative perspectives, and really prepare for collaboration with smart machines. So, sort of a look in a way of sort of positively transforming alongside these new AI tools that will be coming.
So, we’re going to do this Creative Next podcast in a slightly different fashion. It’s going to be interview based, so each episode we’re gonna be talking to an innovator about a critical issue related to our creative futures and we’re doing this in six separate seasons which will be released over the next couple of years. Our first season on learning is going to be debuting on February 19th, 2019.
So, The Digital Life is transforming into sort of our next podcast iteration and we invite all of you, all of our friends and listeners who have enjoyed the show over these past seven, eight years now, to come along with us on this next journey which really sort of builds on all of the work that we’ve done here on the digital life. It’s sort of the next instantiation, which is Creative Next. So, if you’re interested in taking this journey with us, please go to CreativeNext.org and sign up for our mailing list and we’ll be sure to let you know all the whens and wherefores when the first episode drops, and as a special bonus, we’ve got a sort of a prototype first episode out there for you, Creative Next number one, that you can sample and listen to and see where we’re headed. We would love it if you join us.
Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to TheDigitaLife.com. That’s just one L in the digital life, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everyone, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening, or afterwards if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. You can find The Digital Life on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Player FM and Google Play, and if you’d like to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter @jonfollett. That’s J-O-N F-O-L-L-E-T-T, and of course the whole show is brought to you by GoInvo, a studio designing the future of healthcare and emerging technologies, which you can check out at GoInvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O dot com. Dirk?
You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer. That’s at D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R and thanks so much for listening.
That’s it for episode 289 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett and we’ll see you next time.