Our Rosy Outlook on Driverless Cars Needs a Reality Check…


I was at an event recently that screened a 1956 short film — Key to the Future — in which GM envisions what self-driving cars would look like in 1976. The footage — with a uniformed guy in a control tower directing a singing family along a highway for autonomous vehicles — inspired chuckles from the audience.

One aspect of the video that did become a reality is the interstate highway system, a major milestone in vehicle transportation that better connected rural communities and big cities and cut travel time. But they also displaced entire urban neighborhoods when they were constructed and divided others once the work was complete. They enabled mass migration to suburbs for the more affluent, who could now easily commute by car into cities for work. But this sapped the tax base of large cities, setting up prolonged urban decay during the 60s and 70s.


Sixty years since the GM film, we’re now are on the cusp of another major transformation in transportation with self-driving cars, and some are concerned they will have similarly negative unintended consequences.