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Whose lives will autonomous driving change?

Autonomous driving will reduce traffic accidents and change how much time we spend time in transit. Its development will bring radical change to human society after 2035, maybe even transforming distribution services, land values, and the nature of the family. What other new possibilities will autonomous driving bring?

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There has been remarkable technological progress related to autonomous driving. Faced with the arrival of a driverless era—a time that is not so far away—we must be sure to remember that even when AI is driving, it is people that are moving. Autonomous driving will change the shape of society, even impact the form of our families and friendships. We used short stories by four creators as a way to consider the future that autonomous driving may bring.

The future of autonomous driving as depicted by four creators

Until recently, self-driving cars existed only in cartoons and science fiction. The development of AI technologies, however, has realized fully autonomous vehicles that can drive without human intervention. Our transport project team applied the analog method of fictional works to depict a world of cutting-edge technology for autonomous driving. The authors were four creators active in the spheres of television dramas, filmmaking, fiction, and theater. Each produced a depiction of how we might work and live in what will eventually become our driverless future.

Scriptwriter Mitsuhiko Fujiki’s Farther Down the Road depicts the narrator taking what he thinks may be a final family drive before his parents get divorced. Their destination is his grandfather’s funeral. He describes the AI-controlled, 2020s-model autonomous vehicle they are riding in as a “junker.” The car has a “repeat” feature that allows previously followed routes to be retraced, and the narrator uses this feature to recreate the day that his parents first met. After returning this family to the point of their origin, the automobile’s AI expresses emotion for the first time, surprising all three. As if knowing that its role has been fulfilled, it drives itself off into the sunset.

Film director Yukiko Mishima provided a story with a protagonist suggestive of a fairy tale princess living in a castle. The heroine Kiriha in her The Demanding Princess Mistis is only eighteen years old, but becomes rich by inventing an autonomous vehicle. It allows her to go anywhere she wants at any time, at the price of revealing everything she does. Feeling oppressed by her controlling father, she runs away to a place called Tsukino. At a lakeside there she meets a silver-haired woman named Mani, with whom she eats asparagus and rides in a canoe. Through this she experiences the thrill of unexpected encounters and unplanned activity, thereby learning the freedom of being restrained by no one.

Keiichiro Hirano’s One Day, at a Destination Unknown focuses on interactions between the narrator and his car, which he has named Dan. He tells Dan to take him to a restaurant with a view, someplace within a two-hour travel time. The car displays attractive scenery on its windows and plays the narrator’s favorite music. Noting that the narrator’s girlfriend has not ridden for three months, the car asks if it should delete her registered data. As an AI, Dan is unable to distinguish whether the girlfriend’s long absence is due to a breakup or her death. The story shows that while a computer is capable of completely forgetting the past by simply deleting the relevant data, this is feat humans cannot perform.

Two Speeds by Tomohiro Maekawa, who was also a guest speaker at a Think Human Exhibition presentation, depicts interactions between a boy who was raised in an age of autonomous driving and a former taxi driver named Suzuki. The two first meet in a self-driving bus stalled by a lightning strike, which Suzuki drives by placing it in manual mode. Later, the boy begs Suzuki to take him on a ride in a human-driven car. He finds the experience to be bumpy, but enjoys the speed. The drive ends with an accident, but the boy remains impressed by the thrilling experience of manual driving.

Internationally noted Korean artist Kim Jung Gi live-painted a picture inspired by the worlds created by the four authors.


Development that does not sacrifice that which is important to people

The transport booth at the Think Human Exhibition featured Korean artist Kim Jung Gi, who live-painted a picture inspired by the worlds depicted in the four stories. Booklets containing the four stories were also available for distribution to visitors.

Theater writer and director Tomohiro Maekawa gave a presentation as a guest speaker. His story Two Speeds begins with the young narrator and his pregnant mother riding a self-driving bus, which is shut down due to a lightning strike. His mother goes into labor, and the other passengers ask each other if anyone knows how to drive. They find an old man who does, and he puts the bus in manual mode so that he can operate it. The story compares human driving with autonomous driving, depicting human control as resulting in a much rougher ride. The boy, however, doesn’t view that negatively.

“When humans drive,” Maekawa said, “we must feel the road via steering, namely, through our hands. An AI driver wouldn’t need that kind of indirect feedback, though, so I think the result will be a very different kind of ride.”

The boy is very excited by the experience of riding in a vehicle that is being driven by a human being. As technology progresses, we will likely have fewer opportunities for such personal experiences. The story also shows how the boy experiences a loss of intimacy with his mother following the birth of his baby sister.

As Maekawa said, “Advancing technologies bring increased convenience, but they can also result in a kind of experiential dissatisfaction, like the lack of noise from an electric car. I depicted this as the boy being dissatisfied with the experiences within his environment. Technology creates a feeling of physical distance between people. Even now I feel that although technology may reduce physical burdens, it can also lead to the sense that something is missing.”

Further development toward autonomous driving will also promote the development of new infrastructure, which will in turn advance various new technologies and change the form of services. This will no doubt also have physical and emotional effects on humans. The engineers who are realizing this tend to focus only on the technology, at the risk of leaving behind that which is most important to humanity. The points that Maekawa raised can also be taken as proposals for the overall autonomous driving-based society that we are rushing toward. No matter how much technology advances, at the most fundamental level humans are analog beings with emotions. We cannot forget this, even when we find ourselves in a mobile world with cutting-edge digital technologies. This collaboration with four creators showed us this, providing an important first step toward a more human mobility that pursues more than just automotive performance.

What effects will the huge social impact of autonomous driving have on human health and thought? What makes for a comfortable mobility space? Mobility is one of Teijin’s primary areas of business, and we are currently developing next-generation mobility solutions. We will continue to pursue the experiences and possibilities that uniquely arise from autonomous driving, proposing solutions that balance changes in values due to future mobility against quality of life in the truest sense.

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