Cars are so much more dangerous than aircraft. More dangerous per mile, more dangerous to bystanders, more dangerous in every way.
And yet there are very few people who say that they are afraid of being in a car. And yet we spend a fortune on the FAA and more than £8 billion a year in the UK on the security song and dance we have to perform before every flight. We carry life jackets on planes even though they’re needed about once every 33,000,000 flights.
That’s because flying is magic and driving is just riding a bike or a horse, but with a motor.
The challenge of the self-driving car isn’t that it’s a car with no driver. Actually, the self-driving car is an airplane with wheels.
It’s like a magical technology.
When this new technology (one that we don’t believe we can understand) arrives and it feels like life or death, our instinct is to freak out, to make up stories, and to seek reassurance. Vaccines have had this challenge for generations. Because they’re long-lasting, involve a shot and feel like magic, we treat them totally differently than the unregulated market for placebos and patent medicines, regardless of their efficacy.
If you’re lucky enough to invent a magical technology, be prepared for a long journey. Decades ago, I worked with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke on two different projects. Asimov was truly embarrassed that he was afraid to fly. And Clarke was famous for saying, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
What he left out was, “Magical technologies that involve media-friendly disasters are the hardest ones to sell.”