My father was fond of saying that line frequently as he observed the wrenching changes during his lifetime from 1914 to 1998. He kept a book on his credenza about the rapid onslaught of change in society as technology advanced and it was a topic we enjoyed discussing together. Some people are terrified by change. I grew up learning to embrace it. Because of my father’s influence, I loved thinking about what’s next and how change would affect our business and our lives.
I hear many people these days voice fear of autonomous automobiles. They regard the idea of self-driving cars as dangerous and the thought of not being in control at the wheel of a car as inconceivable. It’s hard now to imagine that this was the same sort of paradigm shift in the ten years from 1904 to 1914 when people were terrified of the idea of horseless carriages. However, by 1914, 90-percent of the vehicles in New York City had transitioned from horse drawn carriages to horseless carriages, known as automobiles. Few imagined how swift the change would come and be embraced! As you may know, many new cars today already have assisted auto drive systems that keep the cars in the lane and maintains distance from other cars, controls the speed of the car, automatically brakes, and can parallel park or back into a space without anyone touching the steering wheel. All of this technology ultimately makes driving safer. My wife and I had the opportunity last year to take a virtual ride in a real autonomous, driverless car, which drove unassisted from one location to another, including merging with chaotic traffic at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. We experienced an amazing shift in automobile travel that proved it is not only possible, but happening as I write this. Technology is advancing at warp speed!
Many of you surely remember (or learned in school) how in the 1960’s people were terrified that computers would change and come to dominate our lives, as well as eliminate all of our manufacturing jobs. Remember the books ‘1984’ and ‘Future Shock?’ No one knew what would happen, and yet the changes, while monumental, have not destroyed us and in many cases continue to make life better in medicine, education, transportation, and communications. In the 1950’s, the fear was television’s impact (still is…), and in the 1930’s, the airplane was seen as being impractical and also a very dangerous way to travel. How amazing that today we all climb aboard airplanes no differently than taking a bus – to all parts of the world! As a pilot myself I know that on a typical three-hour commercial flight the pilot is only holding the controls a total of five minutes. That’s because the autopilot system is so efficient, safer, and more accurate than any human could be. Many commercial airlines and high-end corporate jets can fly into an airport, reduce power, land and apply the brakes automatically! The pilot is essentially there to program the systems and handle any emergencies.
The biggest barrier to feeling comfortable with change is in taking the time to educate ourselves as to the true capabilities of innovation, or in denying that change is inevitable. Waymo, an autonomous car development company and subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has announced that they are launching robotic taxies in 2018. Other companies are launching their full autopilot cars like Tesla in 2019 and 2020. How will this affect our lives? Mark Fields, then president and Chief Executive Officer of the Ford Motor Company, said last year at a conference in Vancouver that in the future it will be a “novelty” of the wealthy in cities to actually own a private automobile. He said the biggest challenge for city planners is what to do with the parking garages in the center of their cities that are “80-percent vacant” due to autonomous care. Autonomous cars will be the norm before you know it. The only thing constant is change.
All these are examples of the changes my father talked to me about as a young man just entering the commercial real estate business. Attached is a 60-second 60th anniversary video about changes I have experience in our developing cities.