The Coming Connected Car Catastrophe: Will Safety and Security Take a Back Seat to Innovation?

by Jeff Wiener on October 2, 2015

Twenty years ago I would never have imagined that talking about cars would, in fact, be part of the larger conversation about mobile telecommunications and technology. But here we are, on the cusp of yet another mobile revolution, only this time Apple isn’t creating the market like it did with the smartphone or the tablet, it’s trying to reinvent and subsequently dominate an industry that has been established far longer than either modern telecom or mobile tech.

But nevertheless I have to wonder, as the automotive industry prepares to take on Silicon Valley, does the former have any chance of holding off the tide of technological advance? Despite the fact that we’re starting to hear tough talk from the titans of the automotive industry—boasts of how they control the “platform” (i.e. car)—you better believe that the likes of Apple and Google (and Tesla for that matter) see the car as nothing more than a piece of mobile hardware with exciting technological applications.

Yet amidst this fight stands yet another stark reality, the fact that with cars we’re dealing with far more safety and regulatory issues than we’ve ever seen before, and if there’s one thing that technology companies hate, it’s red tape, but this time such pioneering efforts could come with catastrophic consequences.

I think it’s safe to say that the connected car stands as one of the most challenging technological puzzles of our day, for while smartphones, tablets, and a host of other innovative communications solutions have radically altered the way we connect with each other, when something goes wrong (as it often does) you phone doesn’t threaten to smash you into a tree at 60 km/h.

It is these concerns that have the automotive industry urging caution when it comes to this latest technological revolution, prompting regulators to slow things down (in no small part to let the industry catch up to its newest Silicon Valley competitors). This fear about being beaten at their own game recently prompted General Motors CEO to declare that “our goal is to disrupt ourselves, and own the customer relationship beyond the car.” Going on to argue that the advantage auto-makers have is that while Google and Apple fight over software, her company “owns the platform [the car].”

The problem for Mary, and the rest of the automotive industry, is that she has yet to realize that in the collective eyes of Google and Apple, there is no difference between the software and the car; they both stand as interesting technological challenges; in concept no different from the smartphone or the tablet.

But my concern is that as this war between Detroit and Silicon Valley heats up, what threatens to be lost are the very real security and safety issues that already plague the burgeoning connected car. We’ve already heard about the hack-ability of the connected car, and in that regard I happen to think we’ve only scratched the surface, saying nothing yet about our ability as a society to let go of the wheel.

Not only that, but consider the privacy concerns that come part and parcel with the connected car, as again, in the minds of the technology industry, like the smartphone, tablet, or online services, the car is nothing more than a data delivery system, yet another way for companies to collect and compile information about us.

All that to say, given the current trajectory of the burgeoning connected car sector I would guess that we’re heading for some sort of catastrophe, one that threatens not only the automotive establishment, but potentially the safety of each and every one of us as well.

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