• 02.18.14

Why Altruism Will Be Crucial To The Rise Of A Driverless City

The best traffic for everyone might not result in the fastest trip for you. Remarkably, people are on board for this.

Why Altruism Will Be Crucial To The Rise Of A Driverless City
[Image: Traffic via Shutterstock]

Our driverless car future is supposed to bring fewer car accidents and fatalities, as well as the end of inexplicable, nonsensical traffic jams. But the ultimate payoff is bigger than that: a driverless city, where all-seeing computers are routing cars to maximize the efficiency of the system as a whole.


And for that vision to be ultimately accepted it will take some sacrifices. For example, a computer might direct an individual car to make a slightly longer trip along a more circuitous route if it optimized the overall traffic flow. A person would only do that if they spotted a jam and thought it would save themselves time.

Luckily it turns out people might be more willing to make these sacrifices than we think, at least according to a survey, sponsored by Intel, of 12,000 adults in countries around the world. In the survey, 58% of people from the U.S. and 78% of people overall said they’d be willing to have a longer commute for the benefit of their neighbors by answering yes to this question:

I would be in favor of intelligent cars and buses that select the optimal travel route for everyone commuting–i.e. reducing commute time by 30% overall–even if it made my own commute 10% longer.

Steve Brown, a futurist at Intel, was surprised by this result–especially since more people supported this optimal routing concept than the general idea that they would want to ride in a driverless car or a driverless bus in the first place. Similarly, 59% of U.S. respondents and 77% of respondents globally said they’d be fine with putting sensors in their car that reported anonymous data about their whereabouts if it meant helping ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars get to an emergency more quickly by avoiding traffic jams.

“The thing that stood out to me was the altruistic nature of some of this. We think about our society as being kind of a ‘What’s in it for me?’ society,” says Brown. “Even if it might take a little longer for you on a particular day, that’s okay because, overall, there’s common goodness. And that was a really nice thing to see.”

Nice, and necessary, too.

While a long way off, the vision of a driverless city is going to require even more acceptance like this to ever come to a reality, as Intel hopes it will. The chip manufacturer sees a big business in putting its chips, servers, and networked sensors embedded in as much of the physical world as it can, and especially in cars. It’s already working with BMW, Toyota, Kia, and other manufacturers today and investing in startups today.

To see more of the survey results, which involved many more questions and topics, you can explore them here.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.