Self-driving cars and self-flying aircraft will revolutionize the design of cities and roads. They will vastly improve the efficiency of agriculture and public safety by providing new sources of real-time information at minimal cost and reduced human risk. And by enabling low-cost deliveries, they will further the revolution in retailing that began with the first e-commerce sites. But federal, state and local regulators are already swooning at the prospects, with a paralyzed FAA missing every deadline for integrating drones into U.S. airspace. How can we redesign the rules of the road on land, sea, and air — a body of law that has grown around the assumption that humans are inconsistent, easily distractible operators? What kind of police will we need? What kind of insurance? And how will we manage the transition from one transportation paradigm to the next, taking lessons from the clumsy shift to “horseless” vehicles a century ago?
Downes is co-author with Paul Nunes of “Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation” (Portfolio 2014). He is a project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy.