Trusting & mocking the cars of the future

Google is taking journalists on test rides in its self-driving cars. It is a necessary step as it tries to shape public opinion in favour of a digital experience which requires far greater user trust than anything it has attempted previously.

In a fascinating insight into the stages of building trust, this Reuters article records how members of the public react upon seeing the cars:

Other drivers who spot the self-driving car often swerve in front of it and tap on their brakes, hoping to gauge the Google car’s reaction, according to the two Google staffers in the car’s front seats. Another favourite involves car drivers waving their hands in the air, in an attempt to get the Google driver-seat staff member to take his or her own hands off the wheel and prove the car is really steering itself.

This behaviour is revealing. It points to users who do not fear the headline features offered by the cars, but rather the unknown aspects of how they’ll behave in unexpected situations. There’s an almost primitive quality to it, like watching people experimenting with fire or stone for the first time, probing the limits and qualities of the tools.

An object like a car, with its attendant dangers, amplifies this behaviour but it can also be observed in the way users play with the UIs of new apps and devices as they explore the foundations of trust.

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