Personal Data, Alexa and the Driverless Car

This post first appeared on the NMA’s Car of the Future Blog on January 7, 2018.

Since the dawn of the modern era, marketers have been trying to find out about you—what are your likes, dislikes, habits and tastes. Since the advent of the personal computer and smart phones that has been made much easier due to the mining of our personal data. We want to keep this information private but that illusion is becoming more difficult to hold on to since our personal data is a gold mine for marketing prospectors.

Now, mined personal data has finally found an actual voice in the guise of a friendly personal virtual assistant named Alexa, Siri, Cortana (or some other name you have given your virtual assistant) that lives in the cloud. This assistant will soon go everywhere with you and seep into all your Internet of Things devices including your driverless car of the future.

A sample Scenario: You are going to a fancy party soon, your feet hurt and you have a headache. Your voice activated friend hears (or perhaps senses) all this and alerts your driverless car that you need migraine medication at the drugstore, some new shoes and fancy party clothes. Your car takes you places you never thought you would go but are happy that your car/virtual personal assistant thought to take care of you.

Your personal assistant, who could conceivably also control your Car of the Future, will not only be able to understand your tone and voice inflections but will be able create an itinerary based on your immediate needs and wants.  Convenience presented in the guise of a trusted virtual agent.

Currently, companies with immense personal data collections—Amazon, Baidu, Google and Uber—are all racing to not only develop driverless cars but to mine your data to personalize and pamper you. Eventually, if not sooner, these same friendly virtual agents will control your calendar, contacts, shopping lists and yes, even your medical records all while making a profit for their company at every turn.

Even better, the ride you take might be absolutely free as long as you are willing to make a stop or two at sponsoring stores.

Big Brother was always thought to be an official government construct but perhaps instead it will be our things that monitor our every move, every need, every want and even every thought.

Nissan recently announced that they will introduce at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show next week a device that will try to “decode” what you’re thinking so hands on driving is more fun. The B2V device is a skullcap worn by the driver that can measure brain-wave activity and transmits its readings to your car’s critical systems such as steering and braking. The driver still controls the vehicle but the car anticipates the driver’s thoughts and begins the actions nanoseconds earlier.

These utopian views of the car of the future make too many assumptions. If people don’t want to wear a bike helmet when riding a bike because it messes up their hair—will they really wear a skullcap to have thoughts transmitted earlier while driving a car?

Also, do folks really want to spend 15 to 30 minutes shuffled from shop to shop that they had no intention of going to just because the ride to the final destination might be free?

Many of us in our lifetime might never take a ride in a driverless car since we don’t live in large connected cities and certainly won’t be able to afford to buy one. had a great article recently about the idea that Driverless Cars have finally reached peak hype and is quickly sailing into the trough of disillusionment.

Research firm Gartner created this “hype cycle” methodology. In the beginning, there is an “innovation trigger” or rather the breakthrough, then the “peak of inflated expectations” when the money flows and every reporter has to write about the sexy/new/shiny object. This is followed by the “trough of disillusionment”—things get ugly, they fall apart, expectations are not met and there is less money for the sexy/new/shiny object. Practical challenges and hard realities now face our driverless automakers and only the strongest will survive.

If the three major sensor systems that each driverless car needs to have in order to be driverless currently cost a minimum of $70,000, the hard reality of just the price of one driverless car has finally sunk in.

In the meantime, we will all still be driving perfectly great cars and could care less about the sexy/new/shiny objects that everyone seems to think we want.

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