Less than a decade ago, self-driving cars seemed impossible. Now, we are told, they are inevitable. The benefits and the risks are not yet clear, but the technology is likely to make a profound difference to people’s lives. We have heard a lot from the developers, but, if the technology is to realise its potential, we also need to understand what members of the public think and, just as importantly, how they think about self-driving cars. In this paper, Sarah Castell, Head of Futures at Ipsos, and Jack Stilgoe, senior lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at University College London discuss some of the challenges of engaging the public with new technologies.
According to OECD projections, global passenger demand will more than double before 2050, most of it in Asia. The new mobility technologies that will meet this demand could be an opportunity to change transport systems, or they could simply make existing problems worse. Self-driving cars, as part of increasingly smart transport systems, could help ease problems of safety, congestion, pollution and accessibility. But this will not just be a matter of a computer taking over the driving; there will be a number of different ways motorists, pedestrians and other travellers will be affected. Self-driving cars could be a 21st Century disruption as big as the introduction of the motorcar in the 20th Century. Our streets, our ways of life, the rules of the road and the shape of our cities could all change.
We might not know exactly how this disruption will play out, but Ipsos surveys and dialogues give us hints on how the public tend to respond to new technologies; as well as giving us early thoughts on views of autonomous vehicles.
Sarah Castell is Head of Futures at Ipsos and leads a team exploring public and expert attitudes to emergent science and technology. She is an expert in public dialogue and her work investigates public views of the ethical and social impacts of AI, automation and big data, in healthcare, finance, public service delivery and beyond.
Jack Stilgoe is senior lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at University College London, where he runs the Driverless Futures? project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. He was part of the team conducting the 2018-19 UK Sciencewise public dialogue exercise on Connected and Automated Vehicles.
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