I really prefer keeping myself busy with technical stuff rather than with politics. But sometimes things happen that are so stupid that they affect me and I have to speak up. And sometimes those two areas intersect and politicians with their incredible belief that they can ignore reality and technology make me want to puke.
Prepare for some (purely verbal) puking.
As most readers of this blog know I was lucky enough to get a job with the Spring Data Team in the beginning of 2017. Before that I worked for about 15 years for companies that do mainly do software development for the automobile industry. This means that although I’m still living in Braunschweig, which I assume Volkswagen considers its front yard I’m as independent from Volkswagen as I can while still living here. And that is a very good thing.
Because Volkswagen and the rest of the German automobile industry is on a slow and painful suicide trip.
There are two things that should be obvious for anybody thinking about cars at all:
- Powering cars with fossil fuels is not sustainable.
- Driving your car yourself has the same future as riding a horse or fighting with swords: It’s going to be a hobby.
Just in case you haven’t thought about cars lately let me explain. If you thought about cars before skip to “And it will be fast”.
Powering cars with fossil fuels is not sustainable.
There is a limited amount of fossil fuels available. New fossil fuels get created so incredible slowly that it is irrelevant compared to our consumption. Consumption per year on the other hand is a significant part of the available fossil fuels. The rest is a simple estimate any fourth grader should be able to do. My daughter can do it.
Of course it is an interesting and difficult question for how much longer it will be affordable to fuel your car with gasoline.
Are we fine next year?
As long as Trump doesn’t start a thermo nuclear war I’d say yes.
Are we fine in 10 years?
If nothing changes price will go up, but probably still will be affordable for most.
How about 100 years?
The answer is almost certainly NO!
The future for powering cars is most certainly electricity.
Driving your car yourself has the same future as riding a horse or fighting with swords: It’s going to be a hobby.
A couple of years ago it was unthinkable that a computer could win a game of Go against a good human player. About a year ago a computer won for the first class against a world class human player. Now human players don’t stand a chance against the best go computers. In a couple of years they won’t stand a chance against an average PC and some decent software.
In general computers will eventually be able to do whatever humans are able to do. And way faster. And way more precise an reliable.
There are already autonomous cars today. Currently they are limited to experiments companies like Google or Tesla do and to limited environments like shuttle buses. But already they produce less accidents then human driven cars in those circumstances. And there is no reason why the progress in computer technology should stop before a autonomous car is more secure then a human controlled one.
But security is just on small part of the story. I’m writing this article in a train. Traveling by train is great, because I can work, read or sleep. It sucks because I have to change trains and can only travel at times and locations dictated by the Deutsche Bahn (plus random changes as part of their special customer service program known as “controlled chaos”). An autonomous car is just as a train in that I don’t have to do anything while driving. And it starts at my home at whatever time I decide.
Today what is closest to an autonomous car is probably a Tesla and it is a pretty expensive thing. But once it is truly autonomous, that will change in an instance. Because I don’t have to own a car anymore. I can just rent one (and still start my traveling at my home). Or I can own a car and rent it out to others when I don’t need it.
An autonomous car will be cheaper, more secure and more comfortable than the stupid things we use today. Once they reach that capability, what should stop them from taking over?
Right answer: Nothing.
And it will be fast!
Once autonomous cars become legal, everybody will either want to own one, or get rid of the old dirt accelerator and rent one when they need. The switch will be similar to what happened 2007 after the first iPhone: Very few years later there were basically no phones with physical keyboard anymore. Also many of the big mobile companies stopped existing.
What one day looks like a super sexy car worth 20k 40k or 60k will be proof of living under a rock within very few years after the first general available autonomous car.
Nothing of what I wrote so far should be any surprise, right? You don’t have to be very smart for this. And there are plenty of articles explaining this.
Of course there is still the question when this will happen. At this point I’m only guessing, but I’m 45 right now and I’m pretty sure I’ll see it happen before retirement.
The future of cars is electric and autonomous.
Lets imagine for a moment you are responsible for a company building and selling cars. What should you do once you realize this?
Well, I’m no manager but I see two strategies available:
Be selfish: You get a top manager salary. The money you get every year is enough for quite some nice lifestyle for the rest of your life. So you basically can ignore all the stuff above, do the same you did during the last years and gather money as long as you can. Possibly limit your lifestyle to something that you can afford if you stop earning money at the end of the year.
Get into the development of autonomous cars as fast as possible. Basically try to maximize your chances to become the company that offers the first autonomous car. One idea would be to take a big chunk of the money owned by these huge companies and create a new company: Small, agile with one goal: Creating the first autonomous, electrical powered car.
Now imagine you are the government of a country which has a couple of big car companies and of which the economy depends to a certain extend on those companies.
While not as much as top managers top politicians earn enough money so they don’t have to worry about money for the rest of their life. Also typically side jobs for politicians depend on influence not on making smart decisions so there is nothing to worry about. This basically means you should brown nose as many top managers as possible in order to increase your chance for a nice job without having to do any actual work after your political career.
Or you take your job of serving the PUBLIC (and not companies) serious and work with startups and companies that are willing to accept reality. This will take effort. It will be unpopular because it involves change and people tend to hate that.
If you have any doubts which actions are taken by the German automobile industry let me remind you: Volkswagen and others rather kill people by producing cars that produce illegal high amounts of pollutants rather then abide to the law. If they get found out the request monetary support by the state for just doing what is there task as a company anyway and which they are even legally required to. Namely producing cars legally allowed to drive and make sure they create products that they can sell in the future. And the German government supports them in this.
German car companies also claim there is no network of charging stations and they can’t build one with out the help of the state. Then how was Tesla able to build one?
Yes I know all the companies are working on electric and on autonomous cars. But I worked with a couple of those companies. They still think they can survive by building cars. But really they need to build software that happens to run on machines with four wheels (four since there won’t be a stearing wheel, remember) and they just don’t know how to do that. And they don’t even realize they need to know it.
The car industry is basically doing what the music industry, the phone industry, the book industry did before: Ignoring change and trying to prevent change. And yes, as usual if you keep doing the same thing, the same things will happen.
We now know what is going to happen to cars. We also know how (at least the German) automobile industry reacts (or fails to react).
So what will happen in Germany in a couple of years?
First the good news:
- Driving a car will become fun.
- Air quality will improve.
- Since cars don’t have to be parked between usages many parking places will be put to better use.
- Less accidents
- Since cars are better drivers there will be less traffic jams.
The not so good news:
- Volkswagen will basically go bankrupt. Probably not actually bankrupt. But they will get either bought by a company like Tesla or Google or they will just produce cars for other companies. This means there will be no R&D like there is today. There will be much fewer models. basically what is left will be the pure production. Which will become more automated then it is already.
- Next to die will be the suppliers.
- Cities like Wolfsburg and Braunschweig or Stuttgart will get into serious trouble with huge rates of unemployment.
- This will affect companies that have no direct link to cars like clothing shops, supermarkets or carpenters because their customers will become unemployed or move away.
- It will even affect software developers. You might think you are save, because you are a software developer and you can work for other companies, right? Well maybe. But remember: Not one but hundreds of companies will go belly up. Many of them currently employ software developers. Sure companies like Tesla and Google will be huge new employers. But lets be honest: If you can’t get a job with Google or Tesla when the economy is healthy, you won’t be able to pull that of once the economy is in free fall and software developers all over the place are looking for a new job.
So what should you do?
- Make yourself as valuable as possible for companies independent of the car industry.
- Cut as many dependencies to the car industry as possible.
Head over to Stackoverflow.com and search for jobs. Don’t look for the jobs you can do right now, but for jobs that will either survive or give you skills that help you find such jobs. Take note of the kind of know how they need. Update your profile to make it current and set the status to looking for a job. If you don’t have the know how start working on the appropriate tutorials, books or Coursera courses tonight. Update your profile with the fact that you started to learn. Start applying for jobs.
You might be wondering: Is he panicking?
No, I already have a job as described :-)
Is he serious.
Is he right?
I don’t know. Nobody really knows. I’m pretty sure the changes will be huge. Maybe we’ll find a way without new full employment. But if I’m right the strategy above might help you secure a well paid interesting job. And if I’m wrong the strategy above might help you secure a well paid interesting job.
Really the only drawback either way is that you need to get moving.
As warned at the beginning this was mainly verbal puking. If you prefer better presented material read the articles of Wait but Why about Tesla. And C.G.P Grey’s piece Humans Need Not Apply. And if you understand German watch Gunter Dück.