Autonomous dreams

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Autonomous dreams

The author is the head of financial news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Where is it easier to apply fully autonomous driving, in a passenger car or a cargo truck?” an AI expert asked in a lecture  a few years ago.
Most of the audience chose the cargo truck, because even if it gets into a car accident, there will be no casualty. But the answer was the opposite. The expert explained that in an unexpected situation, like running into debris on the road, a passenger can respond, but an unmanned cargo truck can do nothing.  
From November, roads in Sejong will be open for a pilot run of autonomous driving buses. They will run level three autonomous driving with a driver, and once they are verified as safe, they’ll be upgraded to level four, without a driver. The age of completely autonomous driving is almost here.
The changes brought about by autonomous cars will be revolutionary. A businessman running a parts supplier is agonizing over how to respond. The biggest challenge is the rapid drop in new car sales. The concept of cars will change from individuals owning a car to sharing self-driving taxis. “The number of new car sales will drop to less than half and the one fortunate thing is that the lifespan for parts will be shortened as cars will run further.
The insurance industry is also in trouble. In the age of self-driving cars, traffic accidents will drastically decrease. It will be good news for the automobile insurance in the short term. But low accident risk means that insurance is useless. Automobile insurance will fade into history and product liability insurance will remain.
A completely new car interior without a driving seat can be imagined. What passengers will do during the ride will be a key topic in the content industry. Employment issues as taxi and bus drivers become superfluous are inevitable, along with ethical and security concerns.
While I imagine this future, realistic analysis throws a cold blanket over my dreams. An auto insurance expert projects that many small streets have no clear distinction between the sidewalk and the road, so it will take considerable time before fully self-driving cars can realistically move around the streets of Korean cities. It may even be impossible.
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