The Desire for Autonomy

Published on Sep. 21, 2018

It was only 10 months ago when I made the colossal decision to move from my humble rustic home of Latvia to Silicon Valley - a land where new disruptive ideas pop up daily and dynamic changes happen faster than the hyperloop. Then, you suddenly find yourself on Highway 101 and realize that you are barely moving. Rush hour commutes in the increasingly sprawling Bay Area take up almost 10% of the day, so naturally, everyone is trying to figure out how to use the time more efficiently. Some are brushing their hair, others are brushing their teeth, while the majority of us are brushing others off. I’m stuck in traffic as I’m writing this but luckily a few people are honking their horns so we’ll definitely be moving any second now.

Everyone wants everything to be autonomous. And now. That’s what the year 2018 is all about.

There are services which will do my laundry and deliver fresh ingredients so I would be able to feed myself. If I’m feeling extra lazy, there’s someone who will deliver a fully cooked meal to me. That way my local corner store cashier doesn’t have to see my greasy hair and stained sweats anymore - that sight is reserved for Postmates exclusively. We can have gas delivered to our homes while the delivery vehicle is burning even more itself. What a fantastic time to be alive! We want cars to be fully autonomous, capable of taking us from point A to point B, just so we can confidently belt out to Backstreet Boys’ timeless classics and not pay attention to the road.

Artificial Intelligence, in all its shapes and forms, is expected to be one of the fastest growing technologies to disrupt the automotive market. 

Working in the transportation and mobility space, I’m able to witness first-hand how autonomous vehicles have taken the automotive industry by storm. Let me use a much-overused buzzword here - AI. Artificial Intelligence, in all its shapes and forms, is expected to be one of the fastest growing technologies to disrupt the automotive market. From voice assistance and driver monitoring to HD maps and autonomous vehicles perception systems - AI is en route to take over every nook and cranny of our future cars.

These technologies will drive changes to urban environments and the way people get around. Speeding tickets and gas stations will become obsolete, while food and parcel delivery will be quick and efficient. Heck, even the daunting task of choosing the most cost-effective insurance coverage will be as simple as ever. Autonomous technologies have already been in our cars for several years. Features such as parking assistance, lane keeping assist systems, and blind spot detection are widely used and loved already. Everything else is just a matter of time at this point.

autonomous cars

Imagine a time machine would take you back to the early 18th century - a joyous time, when long-distance communication meant yelling from the top of a hill, being lucky didn’t mean “getting lucky” on Tinder but rather not dying from the plague, and the main means of transportation needed hay instead of gas or Tesla electric batteries. Bring a person from that world back to 2018 and show them around. What will be more confusing - automatic Google search suggestions or the lack of willingness to take over your own life and success? While sentences that finish themselves certainly are impressive, I believe the lack of drive to shape your own future and being in control is less understandable for a person from back then; it certainly is for me.

That’s another thing I have witnessed while being here - the shift to autonomy is not only related to vehicles or robots, but people’s lives as well. Today not only is intelligence becoming artificial and superficial, but it’s actually taking over a huge portion of our lives. That synchronized “home button-lock button” combination is all muscle memory now, the way we rack up an archive of tens of hundreds of iPhone screenshots of Snapchat high school drama in our camera roll. The amount of surface level interactions is astounding. I’m not sure if it’s the modern day lifestyle, but so many people have let go of the steering wheel and are just waiting to see where life takes them, whilst complaining about the meaning of life, or lack thereof.

This morning the first sip of my precious daily Philz coffee burnt my tongue. I was furious - how could something I love so much let me down?

Having this happen was yet another quick reminder of how easy it is for someone to take something simple, but very important (like taste), for granted. Sadly, we very often do not appreciate the small things in life until they are impacted, threatened, or taken away from us in some way.

The key is to be hard to offend but easy to impress. The more we allow these seemingly small and unimportant things impact ourselves, the less control we have over our own state of mind. Nowadays, it’s easy to trigger others as well as hold grudges for no real reason. It eats a person up from the inside and cripples the appreciation. Guilty - haven’t we all been there? The other thing is keeping an open mind and drop the arrogance. So what if you have seen the cute puppy GIF your grandma sent you? She thought of you. Out of all the people in the world, she wanted YOU to see it. No robot from the future is ever going to be able to replace that.

Imagine a time machine would take you to early 2050s where vehicles are going to be as colorful and flashy as the Vegas Strip, where humans are bravely going to coexist with robots and the thought of going grocery shopping would be the most ridiculous and comical thing to ever cross your mind. I’m certain the difference is going to be more drastic than the one for the guy from the 18th century we troubled earlier. Things are undoubtedly going to change in the next decade - same as how things have changed thus far. And guess what, it’s mostly going to be AI-powered. Let’s take the “A” out of our own “I” and be more conscious about our own lives and decisions today. The autonomous vehicles are going to happen regardless.

Hey Siri, publish this piece. Also... Tell my mom I love her.