I was privileged to be able to attend the TEDxBrussels event last week in Brussels’ Bozar, where the speakers were thinking about the deep future. Putting aside the lack of Europeans and lack of women amongst the presenters, I was interested in how I found myself responding to them.
There was a brilliant presentation from someone who cares a lot about how cars function and how a self-driving car (which exists) operates using cameras etc, etc. My use of ‘etc etc’ shows just how much attention I paid to this part of his presentation. What interested me is how a self-driving car can change the way our societies are organised and function. You wouldn’t need to drive your children to school – just pop them in, set the programme and let the car go and come back. You wouldn’t need driving licenses; children could become more independent and with a greater range much earlier, for better and worse. Traffic accidents would be almost eliminated – therefore so would the vast demand on emergency services, health services. The leading cause of children’s death would be wiped out. The separation between ‘travel’ and ‘living’ could become wider – special new roads – or narrower – a caravan-like existence where the car travels and you live inside. Public transport, public health and social behaviour would change forever.
What about the presumption that we will still need cars? Are we being conditioned into thinking about self-driving cars, rather than removing cars altogether? Is the world of tomorrow simply a tweaked version of the world of today, or can we really control our future? Are we merely the evolutionary tool that facilities a bio-techno-electro- future for life on our planet…?
That is what I would have been interested in hearing about. This made me think about how some of our priorities and ‘vision’ for Europe and whether we are putting the problem or the solution at the front of our thinking. How often do we put the technology (albeit IT, medicines, novel foods, consumer goods) before we put the problem that policy is supposed to be trying to address? How should we shape policy to make sure that the people are at the centre – before we end up with cities and landscapes dominated by self-driving infrastructure projects to allow our new cars on which to operate.
(By the way, all the presentations including a brilliant Paddy Ashdown on the future of Europe, the rise of China and other high politics – Churchillian and moving can be found online here: http://www.tedxbrussels.eu/2011/)
One final thing that struck me: the car still looked like a car. We need a Steve Jobs of the motoring world. Maybe we can find a female European one?