Deng Wendy: Speculative Everything Anthony Dunne at Resonate 2013.

Road Hackers in 2030?

Traffic, Not Only Driving Will be Based on Software

March 22, 2017, Tapio Mäkelä

When there will be cars without drivers, it is inevitable that all vehicles on the road will be monitored, and if necessary, taken over by software that runs the entire road traffic system. Reasons for this are quite pragmatic. Different AI algorithms driving cars may conflict and a meta software must exist to prevent crashes. Where there is software, there will be hackers, who can hack the cars, and what the car AI thinks are roads.

Traffic systems in the future will be object oriented complex software systems that control robot cars as well as manually operated vehicles. Traffic itself will become software and a marketplace, where companies and individuals can purchase different speed limits and time slots. Such possible future scenario has been discussed by design theorist Anthony Dunne.

Turning traffic into software will create resistance, and those who will go to great lengths to hack the system. Traffic or road hackers could be hired for example to help a car flee after a robbery, or to drive without paying fees.

Companies like Google and Tesla compete to build autonomous vehicles that can navigate roads without driver input. This is no doubt a necessary step in the development towards traffic that is driverless.  

It is highly likely that autonomous cars made by a myriad of companies could not be the basis of future traffic, or at least not without synchronisation of their decision-making algorithms. Imagine for example a conflict of interest situation between two autonomous cars about to collide. If they both make the same choice, yet cannot communicate with each other, they will either crash or stall.  

Anthony Dunne sees software based traffic system as a new kind of economy:  

“It will be a bit like economy airlines. Once there is a technology that can control access to the roads as a limited resource, it will be used to maximize revenue in an extreme way with still some humaneness.” 

Dunne foresees governments leasing road use rights to companies like Google or Amazon, who in turn divide the asset amongst consumers and companies. Depending on how much one pays, it gives more access (quantity of vehicles, seats or tonnes) or speed, where part of the traffic is slowed down while some sped up.  

Traffic as software will enable reduction of traffic jams as companies and their employees can begin to manage arrival times to work and minimize time spent in traffic.  

Toll roads with expensive collection systems are a forerunner of privatization of roads and traffic rights. Whether traffic in the future is based on individual moving vehicles or more collective units such as trains and buses or a hybrid of these as today, remains to be seen. 

Given that cars are not driven by people with their emotional way of driving, software controlled vehicles can function in a software based traffic system seamlessly. Role of Artificial Intelligence, especially deep learning algorithms will be vital to create an adaptive system that learns about needs of both transported humans as well as transported goods.  

Without co-coordinated software that provides a traffic system between autonomously moving vehicles, the entire industry could fail. It is likely that companies that now excel in software like Google will focus on software rather than vehicles themselves. Traffic as software will require major investments, legislative efforts and collaboration between companies developing cars and their support systems. Traffic as software can become a major new field of business - and controversy.


Futures Platform is a proven online solution to explore future trends and drivers of change. Access a new era of future knowledge with AI-driven foresight and trusted content crafted and updated by futurists. Start your foresight work today with Futures Platform Free Trial. 

Leave your comment below: