Disruptive Innovation

As a focal example for this module, we will consider the case of a disruptive innovation that is roaring down on society at nearly the speed of light, despite common acknowledgment that we really do not know what its effects will be. This is so-called “automated driving” or “driverless vehicles.” There is no question that within the next 5 to 10 years, the bulk of vehicles on the roads will switch from being directly human controlled to being largely robotically controlled, with only sporadic if any human intervention. For all of human history, transportation has required the direct involvement of a human being, whether that be the driver of an oxcart or the driver of a Mercedes 18-wheeler. Management of vehicles has been one of the central preoccupations of humans for at least the last 100 years. Giant industries are based on this technological framework. The introduction of robotically controlled vehicles promises to disrupt these giant industries in critical ways, even eliminating some of them entirely and reshaping others to be almost unrecognizable.

How will society deal with these issues? What will survive this disruptive transition, and what will not? What will our society look like when it is completely transformed by this virtually inevitable technology? Who will the winners and losers be? Any look at disruptive innovation always generates more questions than answers, but by examining those questions we may begin to formulate better ones and eventually arrive at a more complete understanding. If we do not, then we will be simply whipsawed by our own technologies whose underlying values may be significantly different from those we would like to see our society enact.