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I think driverless cars should be one of the most fantastic changes in the next 20 years. The benefits are just too many. My crazy prediction is that Zipcar will end up being a leader in deployment, making a transition akin to Netflix's DVD to online one, the principle advantage being the possession of the right kind of customer relationship.

Your mention of Zipcar in the context of Netflix is an astute point. Zipcar has a very nice and well-developed infrastructure that would be nearly ideal for the transition. The question is whether or not Zipcar is thinking that far ahead, and I do not know the answer.

Many people do not know that even though Netflix has only been streaming video for a few years, they were very actively building their business around that transition over a decade ago, pretty much from their inception. They built out all of the elements required to take advantage of that transition long before it was technologically viable. Even though their DVD by mail business was highly successful, it was in many ways seen merely as a strategic waypoint. I think Zipcar might be well-advised to take a similar view of their business model, being prepared to strategically cannibalize it when the market is ready for driverless cars.

Yeah Hastings was fond of saying 'That's why we called it NETflix not DVDs-by-mail'.. although I think even in the late 90s there were some weak attempts at video on demand over the web so the vision wasn't nearly as advanced as I think it would be in Zipcar's case. One of the major problems in the analogy is that the capital investment to replace cars is so ridiculously enormous it's difficult to imagine one company capturing a large chunk of it.

The precise details of how driverless cars come to be used will be fascinating. Urban or rural first? taxi replacement or owned first? Will there be restricted areas? Who are the major players? Does it kill existing mass transit (I think so)? What will be the dominant fueling model? What will NYC do with the subway (make it a high speed expressway for the cars perhaps)? Will webvan make a comeback (snicker)?

This comes as quite a surprise to me; I didn't register a prediction (I have no idea why, maybe I just missed it), but my prediction would have been like those in - only in the 20s or 30s%.

I talked to a robotics expert two weekends ago who predicted 10 years for Google's lobbying efforts in Nevada to succeed. I figured optimistically it would be a few years. I'm also surprised. +1 for rational lawmakers.

Someone had to go first. I would have expected some island to do it, like Isle of man. But why not Nevada. That does not mean that the lawmakers are particularly rational, just that they see a technology they like, or maybe they count it under good PR for the state.

Perhaps. Nevada went first because Google targeted it with lobbyists. I expect that the lobbyists did hit hard with the rational argument in favor of self-driving cars, that it will save hundreds or thousands or more lives compared to human drivers.

That still raises the question of why Google picked Nevada to lobby instead of some other state.

I did some quick Googling, and according to this Census Bureau site Nevada has 2.0 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles compared to 1.4 for the country as a whole; it ranks 10th most fatalities in the 50 states. That could be a contributing factor. Montana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alabama, and Arkansas are the more dangerous states. Those states all have either a greater reputation for political conservatism than Nevada (and therefore more potential resistance to new tech) or lower populations, and most of them are also poorer than average.

In short, of states with relatively high rates of road deaths, Nevada is one that combines a large, relatively wealthy market for driverless cars with a probably more favorable legislature.

Everyone is over-thinking this. I used to live in Nevada and political process is driven by the unusual history and heuristics of the state.

The politicians do not care about technology, safety, or even being first per se. Nevada has very successfully built a political economy based on doing legislative and regulatory arbitrage against neighboring states, particularly California. If they think there is a plausible way to drive revenue by allowing things that other states do not allow, it is a surprisingly easy sale. The famous liberalism of the state, where a very atypical range of activities are legal and/or unregulated for a US state, is really just a consequence of this heuristic applied over time. If California disallows something that can generate revenue for Nevada, even if just for tourism, Nevada's instinct is to allow it as a response.

It is cheap for them, passing legislation to allow people to do something is almost free. As history shows, as a state it is pretty comfortable being the first to do a lot of things; it is not as prone to precautionary "what ifs" when there is an argument that the basic risks are manageable. It has worked out well for Nevada.

There are many, many examples of this. Everyone is familiar with "instant" weddings and divorces, which used to be much more difficult to do in most states, as well as gambling, prostitution, and other vices that were outlawed across the border. Nevada's economy is, in large part, based on making things legal and inexpensive.

There are also numerous boring examples, such as approving the construction of power plants along the California border when California had the power shortages but refused to approve power plants in the state; making it a tax-free and highly effective place to run Internet fulfillment centers (e.g. Amazon, B&N, etc are all there); they managed to designate areas of their cities as international ports to bypass California; they allow Californians to do their DMV paperwork in Nevada for the registration fees (I had a Nevada driver's license with a California address for years); they will approve almost any spectacle with minimal hassle, no matter how bizarre, if it brings in tourists from out of state.

All Google had to do was convince the politicians that they could bring money into Nevada that otherwise would end up in California. It is a calculated risk but Nevada politics has always been very comfortable doing things that are politically too risky in other states. Google probably made an argument from both jobs (the development Google does needs to take place somewhere) and tourism potential. Las Vegas is very fond of people movers that make it easier to fully exploit the city (they have a privately funded mono-rail system after all) so it could also be sold on that basis.

In short, the only foresight or rationality at work here is driving revenue by legalizing something that other states are unlikely to allow. This is an old modus operandi for Nevada legislative activity and someone at Google probably knew this.

Yeah, as one of the people who put this at only 20% I'm glad I did. I was originally going to put around 95% against, and then I thought that might be overconfidence. So now I only look somewhat silly.

If these cars really work, it's a mighty big thing. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to describe it as the biggest breakthrough in computer technology since the very invention of computers. (One cynical question I'm fond of asking is whether there has really been any great progress in software technology in the last 40-50 years, and this is the first thing I've ever seen that might give a decisive positive answer to it.)

Also, a tantalizing question is what the economic (and other social) consequences will be once technologies like these start proliferating and replacing human workers across the board. Before this recent talk about self-driving cars, I had believed that such technologies would run against nearly-AI-complete problems and thus remain unavailable for a long time to come, but assuming this isn't just empty self-promotion, we might be looking at some very radical (and potentially very nasty) developments quite soon.

I don't think it would be an exaggeration to describe it as the biggest breakthrough in computer technology since the very invention of computers.

Bigger than the internet? Cars could already be driven, but people can't do internet stuff without the internet.

Admittedly this is a subjective judgment, but I really think it's incomparably greater. Once you take into account the steady improvement in computer speed and storage capacity, scalable and ultimately global computer networking is a straightforward development at some point along the road. After all, networking protocols consist of precise algorithms that are complete and self-contained in and of themselves, which just need powerful enough machines and network links to be executed. (In fact, the complexity of the present protocols comes only from cumulative clever optimizations for performance.) In contrast, these driverless cars are supposedly able to grapple with messy real-world situations and make decisions that can't be reduced to state machines in any obvious way. I can't think of any comparable technology that works well in practice.

Yes finally! i have been waiting for this law to pass and it finally has.

With the recent formal verification of self-driving car software in simulations we should be seeing self driving cars on the market sooner rather than later.