Ghost Road explains where we might be headed together in driverless vehicles, and the choices we must make as societies and individuals to shape that future.
But what comes next? Below, you’ll find links to the most most important source materials discussed in the book, and updates on the fast-changing topics covered.
Think of this as the director’s cut edition of the text in your hands.
Exploring the richness of technological history is one of the most rewarding parts of researching my books. And for Ghost Road, this search went back to very beginning of civilization. This Computer History Museum piece was what gave me the idea of looking at how myths presaged our efforts to build automated vehicles. Similarly, Joshua Freeman’s Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in many years, and the story he threads linking Ford’s River Rouge behemoth and FoxConn’s iPhone megafab shows just how deeply rooted the merger of car and computer is in our industrial economy.
For the most balanced view of the trade-offs between self-driving sprawl and car-lite communes you can’t beat The End of Driving: Transportation Systems and Public Policy Planning for Autonomous Vehicles (Elsevier • Amazon) by Bern Grush and John Niles. Both are big thinkers that get their hands dirty all the time on real urban planning projects. If you are looking for a textbook recommendation, look no further.
This was, without a doubt, the hardest chapter of the book to write, for the simple fact that self-driving technology is complex and fast-changing. The best source material is scattered, but a good primer that covers the bases—sensing, simulation, and automotive control systems—is Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman’s Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead.
Just be sure to steer clear of the autonomist rhetoric on government’s role. It’s on shaky foundation when it strays into policy and social science.
The starting point for thinking about the unbundling of the car is Reinventing the Automobile by Bill Mitchell (my doctoral advisor), Chris Borroni-Bird (a client I worked with at the Institute for the Future), and Larry Burns (whose more recent Autonomy is a mind-numbingly dull telling of the AV creation story.)
The Robot Survey 2019 by my longtime collaborator on all things autonomous, Bryan Boyer at Dash Marshall (with his architecture students at the University of Michigan), is a stunning catalog of the vehicular variety already at play.
This chapter took its name from my 2014 scenario report, which laid out possible mobility futures for four different U.S. regions. For those who want a peek into the inner workings of a shared AV mobility simulation, the OECD’s Urban Mobility System Upgrade which uses Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, as a case study, is the gold standard. Be warned, its a wonky ride. Similary, Alex Rosenblatt’s Uberland offers a deep dive into the ride-hail business, highlighting the chronically problematic relationship between the company and its workforce (which it would love to automate out of existence). Finally, here’s a copy of David Keller’s prescient 1935 short story, “The Living Machine”.
Here in no man’s land, there’s surprisingly little to recommend—one reason why its the pithiest section of the book. The scholarship and business analysis simply isn’t there yet. (Or perhaps its buried under the kipple of content out there on the internet.) However, as COVID-19 wreaks its havoc, more people are paying attention to the last-mile delivery problem and I expect this to change. I’ll update this section as new work comes along.
For now, the meatiest stuff here is the debate around automation, unemployment, and AVs. Don’t trust my take on the task model, the Oxford study, or SAFE’s blue ribbon panel report? Read them for yourself and tell me what you think.
Finally, on the Jevons paradox and the rebound effect, David Owen’s magnificent 2010 New Yorker article, “The Efficiency Dilemma”, is worth a read.
The financialization story is the book’s most speculative, and the one where I’m least certain of my conclusions. Tom Standage’s coverage of ride-hail and AVs in The Economist provoked much of my initial thinking, especially this editorial on the potential for a mobility monopoly. But it was Charles Cheape’s history of the streetcar traction monopolies (free on Archive.org), and Fred Kaufman’s scathing teardown of the market manipulations of food commodities, Bet the Farm, that convinced me this future was more than just some dystopian daydream.
Also, I secretly suspect David King and David Levinson of being closet Rebeccaists. Regardless, their excellent book, A Political Economy of Access was my first encounter with the Rebecca riots, too good a story to pass up. For more on the Rebecca riots themselves, the National Archives will serve you well.
While it’s far from perfect, NACTO’s Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism is a solid starting point for crafting people-first automated cities.
The approach here of illustrations to speak all the words the pages couldn’t hold was directly inspired by my fellow MIT urban planning alumni Vishaan Chakrabarti’s A Country of Cities.
The Bloomeberg-Aspen Initative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles, which gave birth to Ghost Road, produced a ton of material for city buffs and city leaders to study. There’s Taming the Autonomous Vehicle: A Primer for Cities, a great starting point for anyone concerned about making the most of this technology while also keeping it from rolling over us. The Atlas of Autonomous Vehicles in Cities maps case studies of over 130 cities piloting and preparing for AVs. Every one has something to teach us.
I highly suggest going down the rabbit hole of AI futures with Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, which simltaneously manages to be both high-flying and down-to-earth. I read the book as soon as it came out, and well if you’ve read this far you understand the impact it had on me. Read it for yourself, or read The New Yorker‘s CliffsNotes.
I suspect that this passage is going to cost me some old friends and win me some new ones. If you can get past my own prevarications about automobiles, you’ll find the strong influence of the NYU Marron Institute—a community of urbanists whose ideas about the interplay between markets and government have been the subject of great debate over the last decade. Shlomo Angel’s work on urban expansion, Paul Romer’s charter cities concept, and Alain Bertaud’s pragmatic focus on expanding mobility—all of these ideas inform how I’ve approached the dilemma of self-driving sprawl in America. While I certainly don’t agree with everything these scholars argue, they can’t be ignored, especially given that we are running out of time to get things right. Getting the rules for how we’ll build megacities powered by AVs, rather than the designs, is a strategy worth serious consideration.
And if you haven’t guessed by now, I’ll fess up—the alluring coastal town at the end of my ghost road is Cape May, New Jersey. One day, I hope to write a book about this quirky little village at the end of the world.