Sven Gábor Jánszky

Sven Gábor Jánszky

  • Sven Gábor Jánszky is a trend rese­ar­cher and founder of the futu­ro­lo­gical rese­arch insti­tute “2b AHEAD ThinkTank”. For the last 17 years, he has orga­nised an annual congress that brings toge­ther 300 CEOs and inno­va­tors from the German indu­stry. They
    map out future scen­a­rios and make stra­tegy recom­men­da­tions for the coming decade. Jánszky is the author of three German books. His latest one “2030 – Wieviel Mensch verträgt die Zukunft?” will be published in June 2018.

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With 2b AHEAD you explore the mobi­lity of the future. What will change most decisi­vely by 2030?

The bottom line is that mobi­lity will be almost free. By 2025, there will be self-driving cars, and by 2030 the cost of a taxi will approach zero. When we talk about free mobi­lity, what we futu­ro­lo­gists mean is the range achieved by self-driving cars, either within a city or between cities, such as from Berlin to Cologne. We do not mean flying, which is also beco­ming cheaper, though not without its costs.

Why will taxi rides be free? What will cover the costs of e.g. fuel and main­ten­ance?

Statis­ti­cally, cars spend 96% of their time parked. Just imagine that car manu­fac­tu­rers continue to produce as many cars as today, but those cars drive them­selves and do not park – self­dri­ving taxi fleets in urban areas operated by car manu­fac­tures, rental car compa­nies, airlines, public trans­port opera­tors, and other large compa­nies. The maths is quite simple: rapidly increa­sing supply with constant demand drives prices down. Money is then made follo­wing the Google model. The main product is free, but while the customer sits in my car, I can present them with indi­vi­dua­lised offers, from ads to films to shoes and groce­ries.

In Cali­fornia, cars without a stee­ring wheel are already allowed on public streets. You diffe­ren­tiate between the German and American views of self­dri­ving cars. What’s the diffe­rence?

I spend a lot of time with carma­kers, and there is a huge but simple diffe­rence. The Germans think a car is for the driver, whereas the Ameri­cans think a car is for the passenger. If you’re buil­ding a car for the driver, then you get a contem­porary German car – some­what fast and comfor­table, with of course a stee­ring wheel and all the controls within the driver’s reach. But if you see a car as a moving space for passen­gers, then this doesn’t make any sense. You do not need a stee­ring wheel or a driver’s seat, because the person sitting there does not want to look ahead. That’s a waste of time. They want to sleep, have a dinner for two, play with their children, or work. Accord­ingly, the inte­rior must adapt to the customer’s needs.

You say taxis and conven­tional public trans­port will disap­pear, and that national rail compa­nies like Deut­sche Bahn will also come under pres­sure. Who are the winners in this mobi­lity of the future?

The average person, of course, speci­fi­cally in three ways. First, we all will have more money if mobi­lity is cheaper and maybe free someday. Second, self-driving cars will cause far fewer acci­dents than human-driven cars. Curr­ently, 3,300 people die from cars every year in Germany. Human error is the cause of 92% of these acci­dents, with 8% due to tech­nical defects. Tech­nical fail­ures will of course also occur in self-driving cars, so they will still be involved in acci­dents. But the other 92% of acci­dents disap­pear. The likeli­hood that you will even­tually die in a car acci­dent will fall drama­ti­cally. The third thing people get is time, which is not yet so well appre­ciated. I think about it like this: I have a job where I drive an average of two hours a day. That means I spend a twelfth of my day sitting in the car, where I mind­lessly look ahead with a stee­ring wheel in my hands. If you sum that over the year, that’s a whole month. Self­dri­ving cars give you time back and you do not even have to pay for it. I think that’s the biggest win for self-driving cars.

So, there won ́t be any cars with stee­ring wheels left by 2030?

There will still be a small luxury market for people to actually buy cars with a stee­ring wheel. But they probably cannot be driven on any street, as they would repre­sent a traffic hazard. Rather, they will be driven on the weekend at race tracks or on closed serpen­tine roads. Put simply, a Porsche sportscar, with its stee­ring wheel and rapid acce­le­ra­tion, won’t change. It will persist as a luxury product that many people cannot afford. It’s like when you drive vintage cars nowa­days. Cars with stee­ring wheels are slowly but surely beco­ming those vintage cars.

In your study on future mobi­lity, it says people will get from A to B by orde­ring self-driving taxis via mobile app. Are custo­mers open to this even after the data scan­dals at Face­book and other compa­nies?

You decide for yourself if you want to disc­lose your data. Of course, you can also use a self-driving taxi without sharing your data, then it just costs money. But most people won’t do that, because they will parti­ci­pate as soon as they can openly weigh the costs and bene­fits – I gain mobi­lity in exchange for some data. After all, people use Face­book and Google, even though ever­yone knows that their data is being evaluated. The only problem with all these data scan­dals is that people suppo­sedly did not know what was happe­ning with their data. Pres­um­ably, they all agreed to, but did not read, the terms and condi­tions.

Recently, there was the first fatal acci­dent invol­ving a self-driving car. A pede­strian was struck and killed, but someone was behind the wheel. Someday a self-driving car without a driver will get in an acci­dent. Who is to blame then?

If we are talking about 2030, then the car. My insti­tute is quite sure that sooner or later there will be a new kind of liable person in our legal system. Now, they are called elec­tronic persons. The car is legally culpable in criminal cases. You can sue your car, and it can be sentenced to perhaps be repro­grammed or deco­m­mis­sioned. That sounds a bit strange from today’s point of view. But in 2030, self-driving cars and other deci­sion-making compu­ters will no longer be comple­tely prepro­grammed. Instead, they will start with a basic struc­ture, a neural network similar to a human brain, and then be sent off into the world. Cars start in beginner mode in which they learn by obser­ving other cars, intern­ally simu­la­ting various deci­sions a million times and only then perfor­ming actions. When a car has been learning for say five years, no one knows what the car knows, not the manu­fac­turer, not the owner and certainly not the passenger. You cannot blame them for the car’s deci­sions anymore. That is why there has been a very intense debate over the last year in the European Parlia­ment on whether to incorpo­rate the elec­tronic person into the legal system. They have decided to ask the European Commis­sion to lay the ground­work for this. Of course, this is not the final verdict, but in our view, there is no getting around it, because the legal system would not work if it does not conform to our tech­no­logy. For civil cases, manu­fac­tu­rers like Volvo are already buying insurance poli­cies for this scen­ario. If someone dies in an acci­dent, the insurance can cover the manufacturer’s compen­sa­tion to their family members.

How do you commu­ni­cate with people who consider this smart tech­no­logy, which is learning more and more, as terri­fying?

Honestly, I do not think people find it terri­fying, because they will benefit. The compa­nies that I work with and that develop these inno­va­tions are totally oriented towards customer bene­fits. However, I also meet people who are surprised by what I say, but I am not just making stuff up. We are talking about self-driving cars right now, because they already exist. They are in the testing phase and the big auto­ma­kers say they will be in serial produc­tion from 2021. To scep­tics I say, no one will be forced to do anything. You can keep doing ever­y­thing the same, it will just get really expen­sive.

How vulnerable will this smart tech­no­logy be to hacking?

As vulnerable as perhaps today’s energy grid is. If someone managed to para­lyse the global energy system, we would really have a problem, but nobody has because the secu­rity measures are too big. The number of daily hacker attacks on German banks is really crazy, thousands of attempts daily, but they are blocked by secu­rity systems. A self-driving fleet will be well protected.

Then only computer scien­tists can steal cars.

Exactly. Also, only computer scien­tists can then fix cars, but that is probably already the case with most modern cars.

By 2040, there will be ten billion people on the planet. If ever­yone is travel­ling for free by self-driving taxi, does this mean there will still be lots of cars on city roads causing traffic conge­stion?

Yes, road traffic remains. I have read studies saying traffic will decrease signi­fi­cantly. In my opinion, that’s not correct. I think there will be just as many cars on the streets, but what will decrease are cars in parking lots. The only reason to park a car nowa­days is if the driver is unavail­able. It makes no sense to park a self-driving car. It can keep driving. Cities can elimi­nate almost all the down­town parking areas, and you could build houses or parks or do other inte­re­sting things.

What will muni­ci­pa­li­ties do without the income from parking tickets?

Not one of them has cons­i­dered this. They indeed lose revenue from parking and traffic fees. If you bought a self-driving car and went shop­ping, you wouldn’t pay €20 to park it. Rather, you would tell the car to drive around and be back in an hour. On the other hand, many cities spend a lot of money on public trans­por­ta­tion, which is usually a loss-making busi­ness. They won’t have to do that anymore, because it won’t exist. In my new book, I suggest cities each set up their own cryp­to­cur­r­ency, for example, the ‘Berlin Coin’, which can then be used world­wide. Between the coins, there is compe­ti­tion that makes money.

Can progress solve every problem?

Yes, progress can even­tually solve any problem, but by the time one is solved, two new ones have arisen. From a futu­rist perspec­tive, we have never been so close to solving some of the suppo­sedly intrac­table issues facing huma­nity – namely through tech­no­logy and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. I think it’s quite likely that problems like hunger, access to drin­king water, energy, possibly even violence and wars will be solved or mini­mised in our children’s life­time, if not in ours. As humanity’s past problems are solved, new ones arise. What will huma­nity do when compu­ters become smarter than the average person? How do we behave when we have gene­rated another species that makes better deci­sions?

Then we are all obso­lete.

No, not at all. We futu­ro­lo­gists are certain – and we’re not talking about 2030, but rather about 2070 – that people will let this tech­no­logy into their bodies. This is quite strange from today’s point of view, but we are talking about 50 years into the future. Go back five decades and no one was talking about smart­phones or self-driving cars.

Sven Gábor Jánszky

Sven Gábor Jánszky

  • Sven Gábor Jánszky is a trend rese­ar­cher and founder of the futu­ro­lo­gical rese­arch insti­tute “2b AHEAD ThinkTank”. For the last 17 years, he has orga­nised an annual congress that brings toge­ther 300 CEOs and inno­va­tors from the German indu­stry. They
    map out future scen­a­rios and make stra­tegy recom­men­da­tions for the coming decade. Jánszky is the author of three German books. His latest one “2030 – Wieviel Mensch verträgt die Zukunft?” will be published in June 2018.

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