Somehow, society accepted the carnage caused by the automobile. I remember reading that horses likely killed more people per capita than cars, although I don’t know if people were aware of that at the time or if that factored into public acceptance of the automobile. Even though the automobile was overall a good thing, auto corporations behaved unscrupulously to accrue wealth and power, with Ford even going as far as murdering workers for protesting. Later on, when Ralph Nader worked to improve car safety, General Motors paid a private investigator to look for anything that could discredit him.
What I would hope for with autonomous vehicles is competent and thorough oversight from government agencies like NHTSA in the U.S., particularly with regard to rigorous statistical analysis of the safety of partial autonomy and full autonomy. Companies prefer secrecy to transparency, so we’ll need governments to force them to be transparent. If the technology can be solved, and if good government oversight finds that fully autonomous cars are significantly safer than human-driven cars, then I hope the public will understand this and will be supportive of cars with full autonomy. Airbags kill people every year, and yet the public is supportive of airbags.
The convenience of a robotic chauffeur will be hard to resist. People already text and drive even though it’s less safe; what if you could text — or watch America’s Got Talent — while the car drives and be more safe? Driving is boring and annoying and stressful. People don’t want to do it.
Eventually, the average car owner will be able to save thousands of dollars a year by switching from car ownership to robotaxis. For some number of years, robotaxi companies may be able to charge more than the cost of car ownership. But eventually competition and market saturation will drive the price down. So, in addition to convenience, there will be an economic temptation to accept fully autonomous cars.
The triple safety, convenience, and economic superiority of robotaxis will make it hard for most individuals or governments to muster up much resistance to them. It’s one thing to know intellectually that something (like texting and driving) is dangerous yet to enjoy the instant gratification of doing it. It’s another thing to know intellectually that something is safer (like riding in a robotaxi) and to also enjoy the instant gratification of doing it. This is not a case of rationality vs. instant gratification; it’s rationality and instant gratification vs. whatever fear people have of rolling robots.
Robotaxis will likely have a significant positive impact on economic productivity, so independent of direct public opinion governments will have a good reason to permit them.