A veteran insider chronicles the race to develop and perfect the driverless car, sharing insights into how self-driving innovations will create profound changes in commuting, employment, safety, and environmental responsibility.
With his access to so many players including Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Burns does a masterful job weaving the various strands of his story together. And a juicy story it is, filled with an insider’s first hand experiences and observations. Skeptics beware: you’ll be a lot less skeptical about the imminence of self-driving technology after reading this book.
A bit cheesy? Sure. But it’s purposeful cheese. For a text with intermittent chunks of technicality and calculations, the book has an undeniable velocity, in part because Shulgan, the reporter with a ghostwriting credit, knows how and when to ramp up the narrative stakes. It’s also probably rather important to note that Autonomy radically altered my perspective on AVs, largely because of Lawrence D. Burns ... He makes a number of irrefutable arguments about the environmental, safety, and financial benefits of AVs ... So Autonomy is good. It’s the best AV book to date. It is scenic and reported like the best pop nonfiction. It laces an evidence-based polemic throughout the DARPA [Grand Challenge] narrative. It provides an insider’s account of both Detroit’s 'car world' and Silicon Valley’s 'mobility world.'
This might read like the buzzkill PowerPoint of some progressive transportation think tank analyst. But Burns was, for many years, a vice president at General Motors ... The story he sets out to tell in Autonomy, aided by the writer Christopher Shulgan, is one of increasing disenchantment with the status quo in Detroit ... This is not exactly the realm of The Right Stuff. Here we have slow-moving cars bumbling through parking lots and patiently navigating four-way intersections. But you can sense the excitement in Burns, an engineer at heart ... The book is a passionately argued, you-were-there account of the birth and rise of the autonomous vehicle from an authoritative Detroit voice. Burns, a technological utopianist (and one of the first people to get a cochlear ear implant), makes a number of compelling arguments for why smaller, self-piloted, shared vehicles make sense. But we don’t hear much about that other great engine of the car business: consumer desire. Do people want to be driven? ... A larger question, not much discussed in Autonomy, is how much risk we are willing to accept to have autonomous vehicles. What role should ethics have in the programming: Do we prize safety over speed and efficiency? And who should be the ultimate arbiters of those decisions?