The following essay was submitted by Arnold Valdez from the University of Southern California as part of the Future of Technology Scholarship competition.
In 2040 my generation will have run the gamut of society. The leading millennial will be mulling retirement while the latter end will be in the twilight of their prime. A generation’s worth of leadership, invention, and innovation will be credited to us. What will the world be like because of what we have done?
Future technologies that will dominate our lives are currently now in their infancy. These will be brought to maturity by us as we proceed through our education and employment. Many of these will be small advancements, to be certain. Daily life will be more convenient as personal devices keep evolving to assist us by anticipating our every need and want. Menial household tasks will be automated and integrated in home management systems. Hopefully a battery that can match the technology will be developed, but I can see us moving away from that sort of portable energy.
As a student of urban planning, my expertise leads me to conjecture on the future of our urban form. In 2040 what will our cities look like? What role will technology play in shaping our cities?
In the past our cities have been influenced by our transportation systems. Cities are centers of trade and commerce. Those cannot exist without transportation of goods and people. Back when transportation was either animal- or wind-powered, cities developed along ports or intersections of trade routes. The locomotive spurred growth along its tracks. The car led to an era of sprawl, flattening out the urban cores.
So where will we go from here? Here in the United States, Americans have shown their love for personal private transportation. That seems to be the likeliest future for our transportation preference in our county. However this does not imply that the car will operate the same way as it does now. Already we are seeing many features such as parking become automated. Backup cameras are becoming standard for new vehicles. Google is making strides on their self-driving vehicle. I do not mean to steal a topic from the prompt, but I do not think we understand the implications of self-driving vehicles will have on our time, productivity and cities.
Let us hold off on flying cars for now. Self-driving technology will need to be perfected before cars go airborne. Training millions upon millions of people to be pilots will be much more costly than developing reliable auto-piloted areo-mobiles. You cannot simply pull over to the shoulder after a mid-air collision. Technology will take the wheel in the sky when we get to that in 2080.
No, our generation will be marked by the proliferation of the self-driving vehicle. A slow cautious introduction in the next decade followed by quick adaptation from a generation already comfortable with technology. By 2030 25% of all vehicles will have autonomous capabilities and a standard option. Full adaptation by 2035. Expect mandatory conformance by 2040 due to overwhelming performance in efficiency and driver (or in this case, rider) safety.
Imagine waking up in the morning, getting dressed and eating your breakfast all in a streamlined fashion. On your personal device you order two vehicles one to arrive in 15 minutes and the other in 30. You go to your front curb and load your children into the first vehicle and it drives off to drop your children off at school. No need to drive them yourself, the car takes them there were they are then escorted by the school’s faculty into their classrooms. You finish getting ready at home and then your vehicle arrives. You sit at a mobile workstation which personalizes to your home or work configurations, or entertainment preference. Feel free to be distracted all you want because driving no longer requires attention. Once vehicles drop you off at your destination they will zip away to the next customer that requests a ride.
I believe this scenario would be the ideal balance between the safety and comfort of personal vehicles and the efficiency and environmental friendliness of public transit. People would buy into a car share system where the car would come to you on its own and you would be guaranteed to have a vehicle available, fully charged, going non-stop to your destination. Trips could be planned and managed through the future equivalent of today’s apps within minutes. In a hurry? Pay a premium and the network algorithm will allow you to travel a higher speed by routing or timing other lower priority vehicles and moving them to other lanes as you zip by.
The greatest boon to the urban form will be the elimination of parking. Where will the cars be stored? Well most of them will be in perpetual motion throughout the network of roads. Middle of the night? The roads are empty so use up that space to park cars. If that road is needed the network algorithm can remove those parked vehicles over enough to allow the night rider to pass through.
I am certain there will be a corporate component to it. Companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, all car companies and any new firms than enter the market will each have a share of the market in select cities. You would have to sign-up for the service just like you would choosing an internet provider. They would have to all connect to a central network for maximum efficiency. Hopefully the cost would prohibit many from private ownership which as a system of shared cars and paying per miles traveled would be a social optimum according to urban economic principles that are outside the scope of this essay for now.
Where will this leave our cities? Hopefully in better shape. I can imagine something akin to a integrated circuit. I can see those little cars running along their lanes in high speeds, inches from each other, much like electrical pulses carrying data on those computer chips. The city is the computer, the cars are the circuit, and we are the information. Our society will reflect our technology by 2040.