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Intelligent Transport: Can We Handle It?

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There has been a lot of press on “intelligent transport” lately: technology-enhanced automobiles, cargo vehicles and personal transports. The poster child for the movement has to be Google’s driverless car. If you haven’t been following the latest Google adventure in innovation, check out this Ted Talk with Sebastian Thrun:

But beyond this high-profile Google project, now legal in California, there are countless devices and vehicle prototypes designed to post-modernize the 100-year-old technology of hitting the road. But it’s not just vehicles, it’s also roads, signs, and overall geographic systems that are being innovated.

Here’s a Discovery video overview from the World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems:

The ostensible benefits of intelligent transport are safety, efficiency and sustainability, all of which are desirable. But this tech is also a sign of the increased networking and automation of our lives, and thus a potential loss of adventure and personal autonomy. On a certain level, in other words, it feels too damn safe. And tech-tethered.

While I’m no fan of gas-guzzling old technology, I do have to admit there is something satisfying about ripping along an open freeway in a convertible, with no set itinerary. So I wonder how quickly broad adoption of intelligent transport will happen, if intelligent transport means safe and tethered. The very real future forecasting issue here is the interplay between technology and culture: are we really ready to embrace so much automation in an area of our lives that provides us such a sense of psychological control as driving our cars? Maybe many of us are, but is everyone? Will there be a blended period of time where intelligent and dumb cars share the road? And will we eventually lose the ability to choose, as the new paradigm sweeps the old technology aside like leaded gasoline?

However it turns out, it’s clear that as these technologies advance, the road trip is unlikely to be the same.

Which begs the classic futurist question: when do I get my frickin’ jet pack?

Author: Eric Kingsbury

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