Paris according to a credulous journalist

One of the fun things about living in Paris is reading other people write about it and wondering if they’ve ever been here. Yesterday an article appeared in the Financial Times telling us why Paris will become the first car-free metropolis. Let’s take a look.

In Lima next Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will rubber-stamp Paris as host of the 2024 Games.

Oh, lucky Parisians! Can I be the first to predict pictures emerging in 2028 of a derelict aquatic centre that cost €3bn to build, the pools full of weeds and covered in graffiti captioned with “This is the pool where Michael Flipperfeet won his 38 golds in 2024”.

By the time the Games begin, Paris will be transformed. “Vehicles with combustion engines driven by private individuals” could well be banned from the city by then, says Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor, whose responsibilities include urban planning.

“Could well be”. Those words are going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting in this article, easily enough to win a gold medal in the snatch, clean, and jerk.

“Every inch of that road surface has to be maximised,” says Ross Douglas, who runs Autonomy, an annual urban-mobility conference in Paris. “The first thing the city will want to do is reduce the 150,000 cars parked on the street doing nothing. Why should you occupy 12 square metres to move yourself? Why should you use a big diesel engine to pollute me and my family?”

“Why should the workers have more than one pair of shoes?” said the Commissar. “Why should they eat meat which could be used to feed others?” 

Naturally, it doesn’t occur to such people that those 150,000 cars represent the residents of Paris deciding for themselves what their needs are and how they should spend their meagre salaries after careful consideration. Put it this way, nobody owns a car in Paris unless they really need it; a lot of my colleagues don’t have one, for example. Also, the French are not show-offs when it comes to cars and money, owning a car doesn’t imply status as it does elsewhere. In other words, anyone who owns a car in Paris and parks on the street has a pretty good reason for doing so. And no, they don’t have “big diesel engines”. The average car parked on a Paris street is a small compact with at least three dents in it. A big car won’t fit in the parking spaces.

By 2024, driverless taxis will be making ride after ride, almost never parking.

Firstly, anyone who says driverless taxis will be technologically possible in 7 years’ time is selling snake-oil. Secondly, I seem to recall Parisian taxi drivers rioting, tipping over cars, and burning tyres when Uber came to town, leading to the government caving in by lunchtime and banning the app in Paris. Presumably they’re going to take the introduction of driverless cabs without a murmur.

Paris’s parking spaces will become bike or scooter paths, café terraces or playgrounds.

Oh, so we’re going to replace cars with scooters, are we? There are already about a million of them in Paris as it is, and let me assure you they do not make for a silent utopia where children can frolic freely. Also, a lot of Paris’ car parks are underground. Will they become playgrounds or cafe terraces? Either sounds lovely.

The second reason Paris can change fast: France’s car industry has been steadily shedding jobs since the 1980s. It’s now too small to lobby hard against the future.

Okay, the reason Parisians own cars is not to keep people employed at Peugeot or Citroen. I think the author has spent rather too much time hanging out at the Sorbonne.

Third, France has a 39-year-old tech-savvy president.

You mean he owns an iPhone. What does he know about vehicles?

Whereas his predecessors spent their energy saving dying industries, Emmanuel Macron intends to grab pieces of new ones, such as driverless vehicles.

Oh yeah? Let’s see, shall we. He hasn’t experienced his first strike yet, and he’s already rapidly back-tracking on the promises he made when elected.

Fourth, Paris doesn’t need private cars because it already has the best public transport of any international city, according to the New York-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy.

Then there’s no problem, is there? There’s nothing left to do if nobody needs a car. Only the very existence of those 150,000 cars mentioned earlier seems to contradict this statement somewhat. Like I said, nobody in Paris owns a car for fun, and most would much rather do without. But hey, what do they know? Surely a clever FT journalist knows better!

Visitors from clogged developing cities ride metro trains here goggling in amazement.

They do? Shit, even the French complain about it, and I know: I work in a building of 3,000 people, many of whom use it to get to work. I have spoken to people from KL, New York, Caracas, Moscow, Istanbul, and a dozen other cities all of whom complained about the Paris Metro. It’s usually two things: the lack of air conditioning in summer and (more importantly) that it’s extremely difficult to access with a pushchair. Most of them prefer the London Underground which has improved massively over the past 10-20 years, particularly in regards to disabled and pushchair access. The Paris Metro isn’t bad, particularly Line 1 which uses driverless trains, but let’s not pretend people ride it “goggling in amazement”. I’m wondering if the author has actually used it himself. You can be damned sure deputy-mayor Missika gets chauffeured around in a massive car, and will do so long after the plebs have their own cars confiscated.

Already, nearly two-thirds of the 2.2 million Parisians don’t own cars, says Missika.

Yeah, which implies the third who do actually need them.

True, the 10 million people in the suburban towns outside Paris rely more on cars. But, by 2024, most of them should have been weaned off.

Should?

Wander around almost any suburb now, and somewhere near the high street you will find a billboard saying: “We are preparing the metro site.” Grand Paris Express — Europe’s biggest public-transport project — is going to change lives. It will bring 68 new stations, and thousands of homes built on top of them.

Yes, they’re upgrading the Metro – but to the extent nobody in the far-flung suburbs will need a car while adding thousands more homes? This is rather fanciful.

The Olympics will help ensure it’s delivered on time.

Because nothing speeds up complex infrastructure projects in major, developed cities than adding a giant politically-driven infrastructure project which an inflexible completion date to the mix.

New electric bikes will allow suburban cyclists to cover two or three times current distances, making long commutes a doddle.

Should be fun in winter with two kids to take to school.

The Périphérique — Paris’s ring road, which now cuts off the city from the suburbs — will become obsolete, predicts Missika. He looks forward to it turning into an urban boulevard lined with trees and cafés.

Because Paris is short of urban boulevards lined with trees and cafes. And has he actually been along the Périphérique? It goes through some of the worst areas imaginable. Who’s gonna want to sit there drinking coffee?

By then Paris and the suburbs will have merged into a single “Grand Paris”. Missika points out that the Olympic stadium and athletes’ village in 2024 will be outside Paris proper, in Seine-Saint-Denis, one of France’s poorest departments — just five minutes from Paris by train, but currently a world away.

Would that be the same Saint-Denis that was supposed to be rejuvenated in 1998 by the FIFA World Cup and the building of the Stade de France? The one which nobody wants to go anywhere near unless there’s a game or concert on, and the modern office blocks built nearby remain mostly empty? So what will be different this time?

Missika says, “For me, the Games are above all the construction of a Grand-Parisian identity.”

That’s all the Olympic Games ever are, a manifestation of a politician’s ego, funded with taxpayer cash.

I asked Missika if he expected Brexit to benefit Paris. He replied that he considered London and Paris a single city, “the metropolis”. You can travel between them in less time than it takes to cross Shanghai. Anyway, he adds: “I have the impression Brexit won’t happen, since the English are pragmatic. The moment when they say, ‘We were wrong, we’ll take a step back’ will be a bit humiliating, but it will be better than doing Brexit.”

At least if all these grand plans go horribly awry we won’t be able to blame it on hubris, eh? Such down-to-earth people these French politicians, aren’t they? But we knew that already. The real question is, why is a British newspaper felching them so?

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50 thoughts on “Paris according to a credulous journalist

  1. Driverless cars will kill car ownership for everyone other than those wishing to indulge in conspicuous consumption.

    However, anyone who thinks they’re coming to the streets of a complex European city by 2024 has been enjoying the stuff the French gave Popeye Doyle.

  2. Socialist utopian bollocks. Either people are allowed to have personal transport (ie in a free society) or they are not (commies). All very well to mandate one type of personal transport power system – but it needs to be commercoially and economically viable. The utopianists will have a reckoning with the voters when they try for real to take something away and not make the offered replacement just as good.

  3. “Fourth, Paris doesn’t need private cars because it already has the best public transport of any international city, according to the New York-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy.!”

    I don’t subscribe to the FT so not sure if there is a link but 5 minutes on the ITDPs website didn’t reveal that data.

    It may be 10 years since I stopped travelling internationally for work but I find it hard to believe that Paris is better than Zurich and HK when it comes to public transport.

    Zurich is the best integrated system I’ve come across with tram and train timetables being closely linked.

    The HK MTR is functional and just does what it says on the tin.

  4. I love it where he says “Vehicles with combustion engines driven by private individuals could well be banned”. Notice the qualification “by private individuals”. Assume the unwritten interpolation “but of course I’ll be OK because I am important”.

    These shits are all the same aren’t they.

  5. Paris has an insane Deputy Mayor.

    Setting aside the idea that this is a completely partisan article by the writer, it is strange that the British are so completely credulous and fawning when the subject is France.

  6. @ Peter

    Yes this one has them all, restricting freedom, controlling transport corridors, bigger state, less choice, no fun and more surveillance, on yer bike.

  7. @”He replied that he considered London and Paris a single city, “the metropolis”. You can travel between them in less time than it takes to cross Shanghai.”
    This is not true is it?

  8. This is not true is it?

    Well, Paris to London is 2 hours 15 minutes by Eurostar. I have no idea if it takes longer than that to cross Shanghai, but I do know that you can easily find yourself stuck on the Périphérique for that amount of time if some dickhead on a scooter has decided to undertake a truck and gone under its wheels (a weekly occurrence). In other words, it’s a pointless comparison.

  9. @Rob “Paris has an insane Deputy Mayor.”

    Sadiq Khan has some pretty draconian transport plans for London as well, including a distance based fee where the rich will be the only ones that can afford to drive. No wonder they are linking the two.

  10. Sadiq Khan has some pretty draconian transport plans for London as well, including a distance based fee where the rich will be the only ones that can afford to drive.

    And the fee will be waived for those deemed important, of course.

  11. ‘Setting aside the idea that this is a completely partisan article by the writer, it is strange that the British are so completely credulous and fawning when the subject is France.’

    As Napoleon said, ‘When the enemy is making a mistake, the last thing you should do is interrupt him’

  12. “Why should you use a big diesel engine to pollute me and my family?”

    Because an earlier generation of dirigiste fuckers preached, and incentivised, the purchase of diesel-engined cars.

  13. The reason the FT fawns over France, etc., is its increasingly shrill pro-EU bias. This is part of that “the Continentals have it right” and us Brits don’t attitude. Much of what passes for journalism in the FT these days is now partisan rubbish. I put it down, partly, to the change in ownership and the overly left-wing bias inherent in journalism (not just evident in UK, but elsewhere).

  14. You can travel between them in less time than it takes to cross Shanghai.”
    This is not true is it?

    No it isn’t true. If you pick say Jiashan SW of Shanghai and some convenient spot on the island NE of it Mr Google says it takes 1h 45 to get from the one to the other driving (it refuses to give me rail directions)

    https://goo.gl/maps/5m4xCLr1Z6K2

  15. “I put it down, partly, to the change in ownership and the overly left-wing bias inherent in journalism (not just evident in UK, but elsewhere).”

    As Napoleon said, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

  16. “Driverless cars will kill car ownership for everyone other than those wishing to indulge in conspicuous consumption.”

    Self-driving cars are this generation’s techno bullshit, as unrealistic as flying cars in the 60s or the predictions about how space shuttles would mean we’d all be doing that in the 80s. A real self-driving car (as in, one that I can get in, go to sleep in the back and go home) isn’t going to happen in our lifetimes.

    Stop listening to “technology correspondents” who have BAs and have never built a piece of technology. They have no idea what they are talking about.

  17. Peter,

    “The reason the FT fawns over France, etc., is its increasingly shrill pro-EU bias. This is part of that “the Continentals have it right” and us Brits don’t attitude. ”

    The FT has always been more socialist than many people would imagine. Because while they’re about business, they aren’t about markets. They’re about the sort of businesses that want HS2 because they can get rich engineering contracts from the state, or the businesses that want licensing to protect them from competition, like banks.

  18. A relative of mine can’t wait for driverless electric vehicles, operated by Google. Yes, really.

    Of course the cost of batteries to make, charge and dispose of is never a factor in paradise. Nor is the fact that any organisation or ‘authority’ with the power to control will, in fact, do just that. So in this man’s ideal world his speed of movement and possibly direction or even destination is taken from him. Perhaps ‘car sharing’ becomes mandatory so you never know what loony you are going to get in your driverless vehicle however much it may alarm one’s wife and child. Tough luck; you facilitated a no-choice future.

    But he is a good socialist and as such thinks power should only reside with all those people who care so much. Perhaps the deputy mayor of Paris is one such man. I am sure he only cares for the people, so what could go wrong?

  19. First up, good fisking Timbo, you are on a particularly good run of form of late.

    Re: getting from London to Paris vs getting across Shanghai. Based on quite a few visits to Shanghai I’d say that’s BS.

    Paris metro vs metros in developing Asia? Well I’m sure people from Jakarta think the metro is brilliant. People from growing Chinese cities not so much. People from developed Asia (surely the best comparison?) will get back to you once they have finished pissing themselves laughing.

    The FT: it’s always been EUromental and since the Brexit vote it’s gone Full Retard. The collective editorial voice is that of a agitated wino, ranting about the radio in his head controlled by Fidel Castro, whilst soiling himself.

    Missika sounds like a WGCE but no worse than London’s mayor.

  20. When I hear people praising the wholesale, immediate overhaul of some aspect of society that they disapprove of, I like to wish them good luck in the police state such changes would require.

  21. Ye Gods, even the London Underground is substantially better than the Metro. Much quicker – that’ll be not stopping at a station every 200 yards! – and without the Bouquet de Paris, or, as it’s also known, the wonderful all pervasive pong of piss the Metro appears to provide for one’s delectation.

  22. Stop listening to “technology correspondents” who have BAs and have never built a piece of technology. They have no idea what they are talking about.

    Would you consider listening to someone with degrees in engineering and computer science with multiple colleagues working the field of AI and machine learning?

    Reliably self-driving cars will absolutely be here in our lifetimes, and I would bet money within seven years. Their quality is increasing by leaps and bounds annually and is not bounded by processor power. Their final form is going to be defined more by legislation, not the ability – for instance, making it illegal to be asleep in your car while it’s driving, or requiring a human operator for a self-driving bus or truck.

  23. Reliably self-driving cars will absolutely be here in our lifetimes, and I would bet money within seven years.

    Alas, I don’t agree. Two reasons:

    1. SIL Level 3, which will almost certainly be required, is very, very expensive, so much so that the oil industry was trying to limit its application. And no, it’s not an economies of scale thing, a lot of the expense comes from the QA/QC involved.

    2. Computers are terrible at processing visual information. They are brilliant at measuring things but absolutely hopeless at interpreting visual data. Any area in which autonomous cars are operating will have to be so controlled you might as well put it on rails and call it a train.

    One other reason: why aren’t they running autonomous trains yet, outside of city metros and airports? They are far more conducive to autonomy, yet nobody seems interested in applying the technology there. I suspect it’s because a lot of people are making money off the self-driving hype over cars and don’t want their plans scuppered by having serious limitations shown up on trains.

  24. @Daniel Ream

    “requiring a human operator for a self-driving bus or truck”

    We could call them, oooh, I dunno, “the driver”?

    Look- there’s a tonne of shit being spouted about autonomous ships at the moment- honking great big ULCC/ULBC/ULCS’s being driven by robots, and whilst the glossy renders of silvery technophalluses from BAe and Rolls Royce look great, no shipowner I’ve spoken to wants to buy the fuckers.

    Cheaper and easier (at 100million dollars) to let someone else do the hard learning and keep paying Filipino crews buttons.

    Now, bearing in mind ships only need to be accurately positioned to within 10 metres (or whatever- berthing still seems to be expected to be handled manually) and the tech seems unlikely to turn up quickly- how can a car (that requires to be accurately placed in terms of centimetres) that exists in a far more dynamic environment expect to cope?

  25. “Reliably self-driving cars will absolutely be here in our lifetimes, and I would bet money within seven years.”

    What size do you want on that? I’m tempted to give a price.

    See Tim’s point 2. What used to be Nokia’s maps arm has a full API, effectively for all the sensors which a self-driving car is envisaged to require. That (as of last year, I think) includes calls to the vision system , for current speed limits and the like. So the car is going to be reading the current installed base of road signs.

    Now, go for drive, and keep an eye out for the signage. It’s late summer now, and there’s an awful lot of road signs, round here anyway, that have been at least partially obscured since late spring.

    Whatever you want to do to fix that, won’t be completed in seven years.

  26. So the car is going to be reading the current installed base of road signs.

    My BMW does that quite well, but it’s more the strange stuff. Is that a bin or a kid about to step out? Is that a shadow or a hole? Humans are brilliant at intuitively interpreting visual data to identify hazards, or dismissing something which isn’t important. Computers are crap at it. I have a theory, based on nothing whatsoever, that the human ability to do this is more linked to aesthetics than measurement, i.e. it’s the same skill which allows us to compose music, paint a picture, or write a poem which a computer will likely never do to any standard.

  27. There is so much hype and nonsense around autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles, that is “a vehicle usable solely by someone who does not know how to drive”, are a long way away. If your ‘autonomous vehicle’ needs a licensed, trained and experienced person to be on hand at all times, it isn’t autonomous, hell the lifts in my building are more autonomous than that.

    The problems are all human factors related and will not be easy to solve as the desires of users will be contradictory.

    Even if you had fully autonomous trucks, you’d still need to pay a security guard who would also have to be a qualified driver. Petrol tankers traverse some pretty lonely roads in the UK let alone in less densely populated countries and the ‘AI’ will have to stop for people in the road.

    Cost per trip, this will have to be cheaper than current options or why would I bother, and you have to add in the opportunity cost of not having instant access to a vehicle. This cost is going to change significantly depending on how long you are prepared to wait for a car to show up among other things. Especially if it delays the start of a 5 hour drive to take the wife to see her father in hospital suffering heat failure.

    How many different companies will be licensed to operate these services, Will governments decide how many cars are allowed or will there be many different companies?

    Where are these fleets of autonomous vehicle going to be parked up when not in use? How are you going to spread them about the country so people can use them without waiting a long time?

    Oh and what if you have kids, who provides the approved, certified car seat(s)? That it should be the parents would seem reasonable, but then they’ll need to take the car seats with them at the other end of their journey so the autonomous vehicle can be released for use otherwise what’s the damn point, might as well own a car. Not a great selling point.

    What about family camping vacations to remote parts of the country? Many campsites have no coverage e.g. most off the beaten track campgrounds in Canada. Oh and yea people like to bring their caravan/trailer/boat etc.

    Talking about Canada, when this wonderful age arrives when the autonomous vehicle picks me and my shopping up from the supermarket, will it just drop me at the curb in -30 or will it park up in my underground car park or my garage so I can unload my shopping in comfort?

    I have some experience of these type of challenges as I’ve lived in central downtown Calgary for 8 years, 6 of them without owning a vehicle. Taking transit, short term rentals with Car2Go and longer rentals for holidays and bulky shopping trips are OK for a while but not forever.

  28. “bearing in mind ships only need to be accurately positioned to within 10 metres”: except for the US Navy apparently.

  29. There is one inconvenient fact that most Warmists forget in their noble quest for electrical and now autonomous vehicles which is the exponential growth in power demand that has resulted in the plethora of digital devices, servers and clouds in this digital era, we haven’t seen anything like this rise in energy demand since the advent of travel by aircraft and some say the power surge is only just getting started as the developing world leap frogs in starting with smart phones.

    Then when you strip it back to what is happening since Walter Cronkite, Americas most trusted man first warned us all of the imminent threat to society due to the coming man made Ice Age way back then in 1970 on the occasion of our first Earth Day we see two interesting trends emerging.

    Firstly, despite the trillions of dollars in investment that have been thrown at renewables they have only managed to take up 1% per decade of fossil fuels market share. So maybe they will get there in about two hundred years and a further two centillion of dollars, it is possible.

    Secondly, when you look at the rapidly growing developing world and where their fuel source for the exponential growth in power demand growth is going to come from, we see that it is coal.

    Yes, it is still coal, sure you can make an absolute motza investing in small cap Australian Lithium miners and best of luck with it, but the big end of town still is and always will be coal and hydrocarbons. Just look at what the digital era is doing to hydrocarbon extraction efficiency in shale oil, which is only made worse now that renewables have reached the point in their evolution where they have made their greatest technological advancement and they now start their phase of diminishing returns.

    Trump the party pooper really did rain on their parade by not signing the Paris Climate Agreement.

  30. “Would you consider listening to someone with degrees in engineering and computer science with multiple colleagues working the field of AI and machine learning?”

    I have 30 years working in software development. Building robust systems where you make sure nothing falls down a hole. Thinking of every situation and handling it. Many of my resolutions are simply to create a manual step. Things are too obscure or too complex or require human skills. But your 100% self driving car can’t do that. Everything has to be handled in software.

    For example: you’re driving along and an ambulance comes up behind. You have to pull over. But there’s nowhere to pull over. But there’s a roundabout up ahead, so you floor the pedal so that you can turn off. Is the AI going to figure that out ? There’s a horse in the road, but it’s gone a bit scatty. You know that the best thing to do is either to turn off and take a different route, or to hang back. Is the AI going to do that? If I’ve parked at the bottom of a hill and it’s a 1/5 incline, is the AI going to know that the best thing to do is to turn the car around, flip into reverse and drive up backwards as that’s a lower gear than first? Will it handle part-time signals on roundabouts, or maybe read a sign on a rather temporarily erected French one (like I saw this year) that the traffic joining had priority? Will it slow down around an ice cream van and keep a really close eye on those kids? Will it detect speed bumps? Will it detect a flooded road and slow down?

    And if the answer is that it won’t do all that, what’s the process? Do I have to still keep an eye on the road in case something arises the AI can’t deal with? Will the car just stop? Will I have an accident?

    Human beings are really good at adapting to circumstances. Applying some common sense, using knowledge from somewhere else to sort out a problem. Computers aren’t. Even AI right now is mostly about a carefully boxed and defined problem, like playing Go.

    “Reliably self-driving cars will absolutely be here in our lifetimes, and I would bet money within seven years. Their quality is increasing by leaps and bounds annually and is not bounded by processor power. Their final form is going to be defined more by legislation, not the ability – for instance, making it illegal to be asleep in your car while it’s driving, or requiring a human operator for a self-driving bus or truck.”

    No, you’re wrong. Regardless of legislation, it’s just too complex a problem, too many circumstances to code for. Most of the investments going in are just “greater fool” companies. Someone selling snake oil self-driving technology to people who think they can sell to some other fool who will sell to another fool.

    The best way to reduce driving would be to have a container rail network. Automated, self contained (overground tubes as tunnels are too expensive). Private, no unions involved. Entirely feasible, like an airport luggage system on a larger scale. Put a container on at Bristol with a barcode saying it has to go to Manchester and it gets routed through various sections and collected by a truck at the other end for local delivery. That’s a lane of the M6 emptied.

  31. Autonomous vehicles work fine in tightly-controlled environments like a Rio Tinto mine. It’s a bit more of a challenge to add lots of unpredictable humans in the mix though.

    There are plenty of driverless trains at airports, and I’m pretty sure the Paris Metro Line 1 is also automatic.

  32. @Bill

    Its also worth mentioning that in the above mine site scenario its commercial viability and ongoing success depends on it having a “one to many relationship”. So lets say the mine has 30 driverless trucks with one guy controlling all of them from a central office. The required cost saving and increased efficiency is there due to one guy now doing the job of thirty, this type of relationship is not yet available for private vehicles on public roads.

  33. It’s pretty obvious that everyone saying “it’s too hard to program a self-driving car” has no idea of the current state of AI and machine learning (and with all due respect, anyone who’s been in software development for 30 years is very likely dealing in extremely antiquated paradigms). And the “computers aren’t good at interpreting visual information” line – are you serious? AI facial recognition is orders of magnitude better than human. You’re all making the assumption that the car will have to drive exactly the same way a human does, and it won’t.

    Humans won’t be programming the AI. The AI will train itself, and will learn how to drive by experience, and every car using the same AI will be reporting its experiences back to the core system, and those experiences will be updated to all the cars in the network.

    Ducky McDuckface? I’ll give you $100CAD at 5:1 that we’ll have fully autonomous passenger vehicles that can drive as well as the average human by September 11th, 2024. Which is to say the technology will exist. Whether it’s allowed to operate on a public road without irrelevant regulatory certification is a legislative matter.

  34. And the “computers aren’t good at interpreting visual information” line – are you serious? AI facial recognition is orders of magnitude better than human.

    Computers can match faces to a database, provided they get a full on frontal view with no cap and glasses. Humans can ping a familiar face with half of it obscured from across the room.

    Is there a demonstration anywhere of a computer being shown a wide variety of objects and being able to name them correctly? I read about one attempt a couple of years ago and it failed miserably.

    You’re all making the assumption that the car will have to drive exactly the same way a human does, and it won’t.

    It’s more the interaction with other humans and unpredictable bits of nature which will pose the problem.

  35. There are plenty of driverless trains at airports, and I’m pretty sure the Paris Metro Line 1 is also automatic.

    Why, it’s almost as if you read my earlier comment!

  36. Daniel,

    “Whether it’s allowed to operate on a public road without irrelevant regulatory certification is a legislative matter.”

    Err, No. I was thinking of “available for sale or able to be used by the general public, without any further license or qualifications required on the part of the passenger.”

    As otherwise, the technology isn’t reliably “here” in any useful sense.

    Still, 500CAD would come in handy.

  37. @ Ducky

    “Still, 500CAD would come in handy.”
    In seven years time, you might be able to afford a coffee with that amount of Canadian currency.

    @Dan Ream
    “It’s pretty obvious that everyone saying “it’s too hard to program a self-driving car” has no idea of the current state of AI and machine learning ”

    Can I wave my hand at this point? My place is doing machine learning for ship route optimisation/fuel efficiency in the context of local weather and climate models.

    We’ve had a team of scientists and coders on it for a couple of years. The outcome is no better than a BSc in Ship Science could do in excel in a couple of days. That’s OK in terms of our project- we are looking to use this at scale- i.e. aggregated outputs for fleet management, so the level of accuracy isn’t that important. If we are a tonne a day out, it’s no biggie, because we are simply trying to put something in place that’s better than what people currently have (which is nothing).

    I would argue that a project that’s being run by good scientists, with funding and support from good universities and being tested with one of the biggest fleets in the world is pretty representative of the state of the art. It’s also an order of magnitude (at least) below what a mainstream self driving car would need just to do a commute.

  38. “Reliably self-driving cars will absolutely be here in our lifetimes, and I would bet money within seven years.”

    Unreliably I would bet, as far as the road I live on goes. It’s sort of dirt track on which drivers have to steer a different line depending on the state of the pot holes in the rain, or the local beck overflowing. Nothing major, but then the ‘road’ is sometimes enjoyed by those cross-country motorbikes without, er, a licence. Can’t see those bikes getting self-drive features any time soon, unless of course m/bikes are exempt from this exciting new technology in which case there will be huge transfer of sporting-minded drivers to bikes.

  39. “…it is strange that the British are so completely credulous and fawning when the subject is France.”

    Francophilia is a disorder that has periodically afflicted certain English people since at least John of Salisbury (d.1180).

    “Because nothing speeds up complex infrastructure projects in major, developed cities than adding a giant politically-driven infrastructure project which an inflexible completion date to the mix.”

    Very droll.

  40. I can just imagine the scene. Woman who has never driven a car is sitting in a self-driving car, which is blocking traffic for 100m behind it because it has judged it to, so far, be unsafe to take a right turn, whereas a human driver would long ago have chanced it. Angry male from three cars back runs up to the first car and has a right old go. Lady panics and calls the cops. At this stage the queue is 300m. Plenty of variations on this theme. Either everybody has a self driving car or nobody does. At least until AI is at least as good as human. Then we’ll have bigger things to worry about.

  41. “(and with all due respect, anyone who’s been in software development for 30 years is very likely dealing in extremely antiquated paradigms)”

    Currently working with software that interacts with solar power devices running on Raspberry Pis. Last project was researching the development of ANPR camera system for car parking. Prior to that, a web system running on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform.

    “And the “computers aren’t good at interpreting visual information” line – are you serious? AI facial recognition is orders of magnitude better than human. You’re all making the assumption that the car will have to drive exactly the same way a human does, and it won’t.”

    Based on what? I’ve tinkered with some facial recognition software. It’s faster at something like “find person in system closest to this face” than a human, but in terms of matching, a “does this person match this photograph” they aren’t as good. The ANPR system I worked on, which isn’t even about faces, but digits, wasn’t as good as a human. But the error rate was low enough and it cost less than hiring a person, so it added up.

  42. I would argue that a project that’s being run by good scientists, with funding and support from good universities and being tested with one of the biggest fleets in the world is pretty representative of the state of the art

    And where do you expect to be in seven years? If you don’t figure you’ll get better at it, why are all these entities investing all these resources?

    Remember, I didn’t say self-driving cars would be here tomorrow. I said “within seven years”.

    “available for sale or able to be used by the general public, without any further license or qualifications required on the part of the passenger.”

    Sorry, you’re moving the goalposts. The debate isn’t about regulation, it’s about technical feasibility.

  43. Sorry Daniel, that’s the entire point. The goal, presumably, is to have self-driving cars for sale, and on the road. Otherwise, “why are all these entities investing all these resources?”.

    You could easily have said, back at the time of the 3G spectrum auctions in the UK (1998 IIRC), that the technology for 3G mobile phones was here. It was, it worked, but you couldn’t buy it, and there was only one test rig in the country. It was crammed into the back of a Transit, driving around Swindon.

  44. The FT has always been more socialist than many people would imagine. Because while they’re about business, they aren’t about markets.

    Yes, they’re corporatists. That’s been obvious for a long time.

  45. Ye Gods, even the London Underground is substantially better than the Metro. Much quicker – that’ll be not stopping at a station every 200 yards!

    Yeah, they do that.

    – and without the Bouquet de Paris, or, as it’s also known, the wonderful all pervasive pong of piss the Metro appears to provide for one’s delectation.

    Ah yes, they do reek to high heaven!

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