Brian C. Berry
Autonomous vehicles. Driverless cars. Self-driving automobiles. No matter how it is phrased, it still seems like a foreign and futuristic concept to many. Over the past century, the “horseless carriage” has moved from an odd curiosity to the single most popular form of transportation the world has ever seen. But one constant has remained. Someone was always needed behind the wheel to drive it.
Maybe not for much longer. The era of the autonomous vehicle is not a dream anymore; by and large, it is just about here.
How do we get ready for this new era? The answer is, believe it or not, we already are.
Yes, it is hard to imagine what the world will look like when driverless cars arrive; the changes will be disorienting to say the least. Concepts and costs which today we expect to be "fixed" will no longer be so.
Perhaps it’s easier to consider, though, when we think about how innovation inspires adaptation and “thought evolution.” It is human nature to continuously find new and better ways to get things done. Think of how medicine has changed over the past 150 years. Look at what happened when electricity became widely used in the late 19th century. Consider aeronautics and aviation, an industry that has taken us on a wondrous ride over the past 100 years. Our notions of broadcast media and computer technology, which came to be in the 20th century, continue to advance rapidly. Examine how much different manufacturing is today, or how products are made across the globe. This is thought evolution to a tee; innovation inspires human adaptation in thought and action.
Driverless vehicle technology represents the next step for the automobile. Rather than fear it, we should embrace and respect it. While autonomous cars are not yet ready for the mainstream market, products and services powered by advanced analytics have hit the market in a big way, proving that machines can learn, can display “intelligence.” In fact, we don't have to look very far for common applications of artificial intelligence, or “machine learning,” which are impacting us right now.
Current Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning:
- Digital Assistants, such as Siri and Cortana, provide Voice Recognition services. These pieces of software take audio data and predict the textual equivalent. They learn the sound of your voice (i.e. how your vowels and consonants sound) gradually, over time, to improve its ability to discern words from "noise."
- Auto sensors today avert minor collisions. The reliability of these sensors varies greatly from model to model, primarily because today's automobiles are only very recently becoming digital and connected. In other words, the algorithm ships within the product, but does not yet continuously learn. That said—how did we ever live without those rear bumper sensors?
- Cloud-hosted email services have learned to identify and quarantine phishing exploits, which keeps you safe from ransomware. People around the world deal with the threat of cyber-attacks every day; often the threat enters an organization through an innocent looking email and, if opened, can cause massive amounts of harm.
- Home Automation products control our environment, enable home security systems and turn out the lights. Products like Nest learn your preferences for climate control.
- Product Recommendations from online retailers, such as Amazon and Netflix, have become extremely common. These retailers have taught the technology to learn about humans as consumers.
So yes, the machines are working for us today, right now, and autonomous vehicles are on their way as the next great achievement. The fundamentals of Machine Learning are being proven in millions of little ways; our products and services will be better, more personal, more cost-effective and more timely. The key is not to live in fear of them, but to respect their capabilities and the very nature of thought evolution. If we can do that, the era of the driverless vehicle will be one we can all welcome and embrace.
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