How does Disruptive Technology affect Communication?

Oct 28 2015


In the past decade society has made leaps and bounds towards integrating technology into our everyday lives. With each new leap we are challenged to redefine how we interact with technology and how it redefines our interactions with each other.


As the Internet began to pop up in more and more homes we replaced post with email, telephone calls with video chats, and in some ways got closer to friends and family which we rarely got to see due to distance. With Twitter and Facebook the dynamics of social interaction changed forever; for some, connections became more sterile and for those that mastered the new social proprioception physical contact became less forced as the awkward catching up period was avoided. The latest toss into the mix comes courtesy of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors (“Tesla”).

For some time Tesla has already been challenging the status quo with its all electric plug in cars. In some ways it has been divisive, putting petrol-heads against eco-warriors, techies against road warriors; but Tesla has forced the industry as a whole to take a better look at the future. The cars, in addition to being electric, pack more technology into a 17 inch central touch screen than most manufacturers have spread across multiple buttons, knobs, and switches all across the dash. Over the last month Tesla threw a new hurdle for the auto industry to aim for.


In October Tesla released, first in the US, Version 7.0 of the software that powers the Tesla Model S Sedan and its upcoming Model X crossover. New in this software is a system called Autopilot which not only affects how you interact with a car, but how others on the road interact with you. Autopilot is designed as the next leap in driving aid systems, and takes lane-assist, collision avoidance, and automatic parking to the next limit. The system can now operate steering at speed, keeping the sedan in its lane for extended periods and distances with only limited input from the driver. Using cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and GPS for input, the automobile allows the Sedan to drive itself and change lanes with a tap of the turn signal. The system does alert you if you go hands free for too long, and if you don’t take the warning seriously the car is designed to pull over onto the shoulder and stop.

But let’s step back. Even with all this new and impressive technology, driving on the road is, in a way, a conversation between drivers. Attitudes and style translate into subtle driving motions we see between cars on the road. Using our own experiences and skills, drivers create a baseline to try and predict the behaviour of other drivers. We converse with subtle changes of speed, or less than subtle car horns. All these cues make for a conversation between drivers; a conversation that in many cases keeps us safe because of what we trust others on the road to do and not to do. But now you have to wonder, when you see a Tesla Model S in front of you on your drive to work, are you conversing with the driver, or the very smart computer with the latest and greatest software from Elon Musk’s clever engineering team?

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