radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

What We Can Learn From Autonomous Vehicles.

Nov 16, 2019

Welcome back to the radical Briefing. One of the more curious things happening in the world today, and quite frankly something which keeps tripping up most (if not all) of us regularly, is what Ernest Hemingway once described as “Gradually, then suddenly.”

Now, Hemingway used the quote in a different context — bankruptcies — where it seems to be a very accurate description of the world, but it seems to apply to technology in equal measures. And at the same time we are reminded of the old German wisdom of “es wird nichts so heiß gegessen, wie es gekocht wird” — which roughly translates into “nothing is eaten as hot as it is cooked” (don’t you just love German sayings?).

Many of us get swept away in the excitement about new technologies and imminent breakthroughs. Yet, often things are more complex and take longer than we’d like. Take autonomous vehicles: To this day you will find many experts and thoughts leaders touting the launch of fully autonomous vehicles (what the industry calls “Level 5 Autonomy”) as just around the corner. And with it the complete downfall of traditional car manufacturers, the even more rapid rise of car sharing platforms and the complete decimation of the truck-driving workforce.

Not so fast.

From Alphabet’s own admission that self-driving cars went through a lot of hype, to Morgan Stanley’s cutting Waymo’s valuation by 40%, to Waymo’s retreat from the Austin test market — building and operating a Level 5 autonomous vehicle is hard. And it is not just Waymo. Daimler is “right-sizing” it’s self-driving car ambitions as are others. And even the often-reported decline in car sales due to ride-sharing and millennials not caring about car ownership anymore seems to be more of a PR-stunt rather than backed by data.

That all being said — don’t underestimate the impact even lesser-capable self-driving tech (such as Highway-Autonomy, or “Level 4” in industry parlance) will have huge impacts on the way we think about and run our businesses. And there very well might be a “gradually, then suddenly” moment for autonomous vehicles. Just don’t get swept away in the hype.

The lesson to be learned from this example (and we believe it translates into many other technologies such as AI, blockchain, IoT, 5G, gene editing, microbiome, etc) is simple: Look at the data and make up your own mind.

radically yours,

Jane, Mafe, Amber and Pascal