“The foundation has been laid for fully autonomous,” Elon Musk announced in 2016, when he assured the world that Tesla would have a driverless fleet on the road in 2017. “It’s twice as safe as a human, maybe better.” Promises of technofuturistic driving utopias have been ubiquitous wherever tech companies and carmakers meet.
In Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving, technology historian Peter Norton argues that driverless cars cannot be the safe, sustainable, and inclusive “mobility solutions” that tech companies and automakers are promising us. The salesmanship behind the driverless future is distracting us from investing in better ways to get around that we can implement now. Unlike autonomous vehicles, these alternatives are inexpensive, safe, sustainable, and inclusive.
Norton takes the reader on an engaging ride —from the GM Futurama exhibit to “smart” highways and vehicles—to show how we are once again being sold car dependency in the guise of mobility. He argues that we cannot see what tech companies are selling us except in the light of history. With driverless cars, we’re promised that new technology will solve the problems that car dependency gave us—zero crashes! zero emissions! zero congestion! But these are the same promises that have kept us on a treadmill of car dependency for 80 years.
Autonorama is hopeful, advocating for wise, proven, humane mobility that we can invest in now, without waiting for technology that is forever just out of reach. Before intelligent systems, data, and technology can serve us, Norton suggests, we need wisdom. Rachel Carson warned us that when we seek technological solutions instead of ecological balance, we can make our problems worse. With this wisdom, Norton contends, we can meet our mobility needs with what we have right now.
About the Author
Peter Norton is an associate professor of history in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia. He has authored many articles, book chapters, and the book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.
“This is a bracing challenge to the dogma of autonomous vehicle enthusiasts and a clarion call for more varied and humane mobility solutions.” — Autonorama
"Two decades into the 21st-century, we should heed Norton’s warnings about Autonorama, turn our backs on car culture, and begin the rewarding task of reclaiming urban space for efficient public transit, safe cycling, and healthy and stress-free walking." — Resilience
"Autonorama is a 'road-switch' for a human-powered age, showing that safer, more livable cities will be achieved not by the tech in our cars, but by our actions on our streets." — Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates and former commissioner, NYC Dept. of Transportation
"Autonorama is a timely reminder from a first-class mind that, like the cartoon dog catching the car, realizing the 60-year-old dream of autonomous driving can only ever be a disappointment. Norton demonstrates that the snake-oil promises of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion hide the goal of perpetual and damaging car dependency. He also shows that the urban mobility modes too often degraded and therefore despised—public transit, walkability, bicycling— would bloom if only they were funded with a fraction of the financial love lavished for too long on automobility." — Carlton Reid, Senior Sustainability Contributor, Forbes.com; author of "Roads Were Not Built for Cars" and "Bike Boom "
"Autonorama is a thought-provoking, timely, and profoundly important book that will enable readers to avoid being taken in by false promises of high-speed, delay-free cities for drivers. Peter Norton reveals how the pursuit of self-driving cars is not only unrealistic; it’s a dangerous distraction from far cheaper, healthier, sustainable, and equitable transportation solutions." — Sally Flocks, Founder & Former President, Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety (PEDS)