Malcolm Gladwell took a ride in a Waymo — controlled by a perfect, calm algorithmic driver. As Gladwell put it, Waymo’s driving was executed “with the unruffled rationality of an engineering major at Stanford university.”
It was a kind of sneak preview of the ideal, intelligent city. Ah, but this goes further.
The roots of those further-reaching implications begin with Gladwell’s interviews with bicyclists, to whom cars are the greatest risk. They say that some drivers drive rationally and give wide berths. But others seem to resent the cyclists’ presence and seem to use their cars for personal expression. Forget art, journals, or lawn signs. This is car as pencil, paintbrush, or speaker’s dais.
When all human drivers finally give in to algorithmic drivers, pedestrians will rule the road. In this scenario, pedestrians will understand their new power. And they’ll use it freely.
Gladwell tells a story about how he and friends run every morning on a path along side the FDR drive. Their path is nice, but right next to it is the beautiful FDR Drive, “undulating ribbons of smooth inviting blacktop in the autonomous future.”
What if suddenly it became safe to wander out into traffic?
He says, “We are totally going to do our workouts on the FDR at rush hour, a hundred of us, and the Waymos will sit patiently until we finish. Do you understand how awesome the future is? We get the streets back!”
That’s just science fiction for now. But where science fiction leads, reality sometimes follows. But it sure doesn’t appear on any map I know of toward intelligent, tech-driven cities. It makes me wonder what other little surprises, real or potential, might be just ahead