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As self-driving cars continue to become more of a foregone conclusion, it is time to shift our attention to the ramifications of this revolution in transportation. Specifically, with computers literally taking the wheel, what will driving-less drivers do with all this newly found free time? Until now, ideally, 100 percent of people’s attention was being paid to the act of driving — though in practice it was probably closer to 50 percent, which probably explains why we needed self-driving cars in the first place.

Regardless, anywhere between 50 and 100 percent of drivers’ attention is about to be up for grabs. Considering that 38 percent of cars on the road are single occupants, and the average time spent commuting each day is over 50 minutes, people will be spending a lot of time trapped alone in a metal box doing nothing. Once former drivers have managed to sing themselves hoarse on old Britney Spears tunes, they are going to be looking for other ways to entertain or engage themselves. This represents a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs, particularly those in the AI space.

I know that worrying about the boredom levels of people in self-driving cars might seem like a problem so far off in the future it doesn’t warrant any serious consideration at the moment. Like fretting about preferred architectural styles for permanent homes on Mars (personally I think mid-century craftsman would really complement the Martian landscape well). However, at this year’s CES, Nvidia announced a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to introduce commercially available self-driving cars in the next 12 months.

It would not be a stretch to imagine all major competitors are working on similar offerings.


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I am not the only one who sees connected cars as being inevitable in the not so distant future. Amazon just announced the ability to make voice-activated “skills for cars” in the recent update of their Lex technology. That’s a smart move when you consider the opportunity at hand. Self-driving cars promise to deliver a marketer’s dream: a captive audience of bored, high-earning early adopters.

The first self-driving car buyers will be the perfect target demographic for any new application because the fact that they are using a self-driving car reveals that they are tech forward and love being the first to try new things. The high price tags of such cars would also suggest they are high earners — or horrible at budgeting money, which looks the same in any marketer’s eyes. Add to all this that on average they have more than 50 minutes free during their daily commute to try out all the cool features on their new toy, and entrepreneurs really should start getting excited for the possibilities.

How might clever new startups leverage the connected AI systems onboard to create new user experiences considered high-minded science fiction a matter of years ago?

The system will be connected with your home AI agent, so it can know you are running low on toilet paper and remind you to buy some on the way home, hopefully when you don’t have friends in the car with you. Since Amazon might be actively involved in creating your car’s AI applications, maybe it will simply suggest you order it from their service and then see if you can’t beat their delivery drone home.

The car AI will also be actively aware of its surroundings and everywhere you normally stop, which will inevitably lead to it making predictions about what new restaurants you might like. Or might these predictions be hijacked by some forward-thinking restaurant chain? In the future, we might see this:

The 2019 Ford Fiesta brought to you by Taco Bell. See you for dinner at six, whether you like it or not!

That’s a bit of an exaggeration for cheap comedic effect, but it isn’t hard to imagine a system like Yelp, where sponsoring restaurants receive preference in recommendations. If people ask their car where is a good spot for Thai food on your way home, it may recommend the No. 2 rated spot, because No. 1 didn’t pay for premium placement within that 5-mile radius of car queries.

Now consider how a car might solicit feedback on how it did with its predictions. It may seem laughable now, but it might soon be commonplace that when you get back in your car, it asks you what you thought of the movie or dinner. Your trip home might be spent gabbing away about how you can’t believe Kevin Costner keeps getting work, as you might to a good friend, but instead, you are alone describing your sentiments to a dashboard.

This raises the question: Aside from self-driving, will we expect connected cars to have personalities?

This isn’t as big of a leap as it may seem. After all, people have always personified their cars. My first car was a 1978 Camaro that was about as technologically close to AI as a screwdriver with a flashlight on it. Despite the lack of sophistication, I heavily personified this car. Her name was The Skunk, both for her black exterior with white racing stripes and the unpleasant smell of the aging cloth interior. On cold days, her faulty carburetor meant we would have long encouraging discussions on why she should start, and thanks were given when she finally saw fit to compromise.

It is just part of human nature to want to endow the inanimate with human-like qualities, but what happens when these objects can actually act like humans?

At CES Toyota unveiled its Concept-i UX car, which has a built-in AI called Yui, which gets to know you and can read your emotions. The headlights can even wink at you, which seems suggestive, though for the life of me, I truly don’t understand what it would be suggesting.

While neither the ability to crunch massive amounts of user data to make uncanny recommendations nor the insightful sentiment analysis to determine emotional states is new territory, what is groundbreaking is simply combining these well-tested traits into one piece of property that people were already talking to like a close friend. Soon your car will start speaking back.

Will your car automatically integrate with third-party bots to deliver a seamless user experience? It will become the expert on you, your preferences, and your emotional state to make connections to other services effortlessly. Its personality will evolve over time to better suit you, its humor will be fine-tuned to what makes you laugh, and this proprietary store of data could conceivably be used by carmakers to increase brand loyalty. As in: “No one knows you like your Toyota.”

Is this the natural next step in connected cars? Will personality be a differentiating feature in marketing self-driving cars? Will your car know you better than your spouse does? We have all probably had moments when you go for a drive because you want some privacy to talk about a problem with a close friend. Soon that close friend might very well be your car itself.

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