Forget high speed rail. Driverless cars will revolutionise transport

 
Allister Heath

SOMETHING very exciting is about to happen in Milton Keynes, of all places. Starting in 18 months’ time, the Buckinghamshire town will host the first proper UK test of driverless cars. The trial will be modest by the standards of those happening elsewhere in the world – the hundred self-driving pods will use special lanes to ferry passengers and will be limited to just 12mph.

But it is clear that proper driverless cars – a fusion of the latest automotive research, robotics, computing and learning algorithms, the internet, lasers and GPS navigation – will be the next big, disruptive technology. They will change everything. The impact on the way we live and work may be even greater than anything we have seen so far from the digital revolution.

Driverless cars will reduce accidents by 90 per cent by eliminating human error. They will free up commute time for work, rest, sleep or entertainment, unleashing a huge increase in productivity and revolutionising the economics of commuting and thus of cities. On motorways, they will be able to “platoon” – with vehicles turning into quasi-trains – and drive safely at very fast speeds. Many workers will be able to live much further out and even commute for hours. Driverless cars will be able to drop passengers off and then wait for them at a convenient location, returning to pick them up; it may even be that they will be rented, rather than owned, which could do away with the need for homeowners to worry about parking spaces.

Driverless cars are the real reason why the government’s high speed rail plan is such a waste of time. It is an antiquated technology which nobody will want to use by the time it is finished. The authorities should invest all of their energies in working out how the UK can adopt driverless cars as fast as possible – and ditch HS2 at the earliest possible opportunity.

LET’S EMBRACE ISLAMIC FINANCE

BACK in 1733, Voltaire, a wonderful French thinker, penned a series of letters about England, describing the remarkable going-ons he discovered during his exile to this country. The findings shocked many of his French readers, then as today a statist and anti-capitalist nation. “Go into the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men”, Voltaire wrote. “Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving…some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptised in a great bath in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost …and everybody is happy.”

In that spirit, it makes a lot of sense for London’s financial services industry to seek to grab a bigger chunk of the Islamic finance market – and culturally, it is merely the latest embodiment of our internationalist reality so beautifully identified by Voltaire. The Treasury’s first sukuk bond, when it comes, will be a milestone and will help attract business to the City.

One of this country’s greatest attributes is its openness to foreign capital. Britain is already benefiting hugely from Islamic investments, with projects such as the Shard, the Excel Centre (where the World Islamic Economic Forum is being held, see our daily special on pages 20-21), the former athletes’ village in Stratford, Boris Johnson’s Emirates Air Line cable car, the Malaysian investment in the regeneration of the Battersea Power Station and most importantly of all Dubai’s £1.5bn construction of the DP World London Gateway super-port. London is ideally placed to cash in on the growth of Islamic finance; and trade and investment are always the best way to cement peace and friendship.

allister.heath@cityam.com
Follow me on Twitter: @allisterheath