The light bulb did not replace the candle. It replaced going to bed early. The motor car did not replace the horse. It replaced staying at home. Every major innovation has primary consequences and secondary consequences. The secondary consequences look obvious in hindsight but they were not obvious at inception. Who in 1985 would have anticipated that the internet mean that music downloads would kill major record labels or that an innovation like Wikipedia would finish Encyclopaedia Britannia?
So let’s spend a moment speculating on the impact of a big innovation that appears to be heading our way – driverless cars. Google and others have demonstrated prototypes that perform very well. Most of the technology needed is already in place. See this video interview from the Economist.
The primary consequence of this innovation will be that fully automated cars replace conventional cars and drivers become passengers. What will the secondary consequences be?
Once again I turn to the Economist in which Schumpeter speculates on this. He forecasts that some of the secondary effects might be:
Worldwide over 100,000 people are killed in road accidents every month and the figures are rising. Nearly all road accidents are caused by driver error. This is the single most compelling argument for the driverless car. You and your children will be safer. But the other consequences will be many and varied including some of those above and some that we just don’t anticipate.