Unnatural selection

Next year, Minister of Infrastructure Schultz van Haegen will be meeting with the leading automobile manufacturers to discuss the standardisation of self-driving cars. She would like the Netherlands to play a leading role in the technology that will ensure that autonomous vehicles can find their way around without problems.

Although her mission is admirable, there are certain aspects to it that are as touching as they are hopelessly idealistic. ‘It would be a shame for us to develop various technologies for self-guided cars, only to find that they are ultimately incompatible’, she stated recently in Het Financieele Dagblad. The minister would like to avoid having different brands and systems in different countries. She is not alone in this; the Rathenau Institute is in complete agreement, for example. The researchers have distinguished two lines in the field of self-driving: cars that work together and the independent robot car developed by Google. Rathenau has a clear preference for the cooperative approach, and feels strongly that that is what the government should focus on. This is the gist of their recent report entitled ‘Tame the robot car’. Translation: ‘Tame Google’. The underlying assumption is that governments are capable of doing so is, at best, naive. Technologies are not led by policies agreed on by politicians. Some will pass quickly into oblivion, while others meet their demise only after a long and noisy decline. In the end, they always become obsolete. The Netherlands has a problem with this Darwinist aspect of innovation. We are a country of consensus, both literally and figuratively. As a country of merchants and regulators, we believe we will find our way together and we are not comfortable with tech entrepreneurs who enter the fray and forge ahead on their own. ‘Invention is messy and unpredictable’, stated Google director Eric Schmidt, two weeks before Schultz van Haegen revealed her mission. In a speech in Berlin, he outlined precisely how his company regards innovation, technology and the fragile nature of its own existence. ‘History has proven that size and past success are no guarantee for the future. Great companies can be surpassed swiftly. Many of you are skeptical. I get that. You look at Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon and say there’s no way competitors can beat them. I’m less certain’.

Such ongoing scepticism is the first lesson in today’s technological jungle. There’s no time to seek consensus on what the standard should be. Just produce kick-ass stuff that will become the standard simply because it’s the best. ‘Great inventors (…) keep working furiously to create something even better. It’s part love, part necessity. Because if they don’t reinvent their ideas time and again, someone else will – rendering their life’s work irrelevant, or worse still, extinct’.
Schmidt’s speech is entitled The New Gründergeist. Could someone please send a link to the Rathenau Institute and the Ministry?

Photo: Sam Rentmeeste

Photo: Sam Rentmeeste

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