I’m often asked who is going to win the self-driving car race, so in my last column I explained that self-driving isn’t a race, but a game. Thinking that games are races is what kids do when they don’t understand the game being played, like my divine 3-year old baby angel Coco. The first time she saw the tiny silver car sitting unused in the Monopoly box, she took it, marched over to where the adults were playing, drove the car around the perimeter of the board, raised her arms and yelled “I WIN.”
Racing a toy car around a Monopoly board is a perfect analogy for how some view the self-driving business, like the Tesla fans who say that once Elon has “solved” autonomy, it’s game over. But a game isn’t solved, it’s played, and everyone has a different spin on why they’re “winning.” Some are impressed with driverless rides late at night in a quiet neighborhood, yet others have been doing that during the day, for years.
It makes no sense to compare companies based on their confidence, or the picking of low-hanging fruit, or how long they’ve been in the game. None of the promises, milestones, or beliefs teach us anything about what’s actually happening, because they lack context. It’s not clear what game(s) most self-driving technology companies are playing, or think they’re playing. Is there one game that might give us that context, and maybe even predict the industry’s future? If so, what are its rules? What are its victory conditions?