Last night, I went to a huge "Tech Talk and Happy Hour" put on by one of the major automobile manufacturers. They were recruiting talent for their engineering teams to develop a new infrastructure for self-driving cars. They even had an example on display. It was invitation-only and the recruiter tried extra hard to make sure I showed up.
They fed us pretty well; two free beers and all the tacos you could eat, and the tacos were made in-house and very tasty. So that was kinda nice. The place was crowded and there were a lot of people of various skills at the place.
I have very mixed feelings about self-driving cars. I suspect they're going to make life worse, not better; we may not have to take the wheel, and they may be safer than human beings once we solve a whole host of problems, but they're going to create more problems than they solve. Privately owned ones will stratify the rich from the poor even further; wealthy parents will be able to keep working while dispatching the car to get the kids to and from school, and wealthy owners will tell their cars to just orbit the block "until we're done," thus creating horrific traffic in city cores. Fleet cars will add to the street burden.
As a technologist, I think self-driving cars are significant and important. However, as a committed urbanist I want cities that are walkable, and mass transit that is frequent, useful, and adaptable. Self-driving cars will make cities less livable, not moreso. They have their place; as an adaptive technology for the disabled, they will be fantastic. As a convenient technology for the lazy, they're a communal and personal health hazard.
Also, the infrastructure for supporting a fleet of self-driving cars is an environmental nightmare. "We have four cars at the moment, and together those four cars generate as much data per day as all of Facebook." Facebook generates 19Kg of CO2per second; so do four self-driving cars. There are 268.8 million cars on the road. If one percent of them were self driving, that's 50,920,000 Kgs/CO2 per second just for the "steering" part, never mind actually charging up the vehicle!
The good news, though, is that when the presentation was over, I went up to the people in the company shirts, and they eventually directed me over to a tech recruiter. My pitch was "Look, here's what I can do for you, now convince me you're not a dysfunctional mess," which he actually took as a bit of a challenge. When he asked me where I was, I explained that I had left Splunk and was taking a few classes, and then mentioned my project. "Wait," I said. "How nerdy do you want me to get?"
"I'm an engineer turned tech recruiter. Get as super-nerdy as you want." So after about 15 minutes of explaining the project, its origin, and the wild things it has led me to do (take classes in set theory, category theory, and Haskell, among other things), and concluding with a list of use cases and potential value-add projects, he said, "Oh, we have to hire you."
So there's that, I guess.