One nice thing about Christmas is that you get to spend time catching up with relatives. Inevitably, this leads to conversations where you ask each other questions expecting “expert answers.” My sister-in-law is an author of children’s books, and thus I got to know a bit about her writing process. In return, I got the question “When will we have self-driving cars?”

I looked at her and thought about my own car. 12 months ago I got a new car with all the latest driver-assistance systems, e.g., adaptive cruise control, lane assist, etc. Driving this car has changed my perspective on the prospects of self-driving cars. Cruising south on the freeway has me just holding the steering wheel and letting the car “drive.” Thus, I was inclined to make an optimistic prediction.

I then thought about a recent ad from a major German car manufacturer describing the evolution toward self-driving cars in a couple of phases, from holding the wheel to looking at the road to just ignoring the surroundings. It gave me the impression that the step from me holding the wheel to not looking at the road is a huge one that will take some time. Thus, I was about to be more conservative in my prediction.

Moments later my 12-year old nephew burst into the kitchen and I concluded: “He will never buy a car.” Then my eyes fell on my 3-year old niece sitting next to us and spontaneously said: “Well, she will never need a driver’s license.”

My sister-in-law gave me a doubtful look, and a conversation ensued filled with counter-arguments. I am not sure I managed to convince her that in 15 years my niece will be able to just get into a thing and tell it where to take her and she will swiftly be brought there.

This happened before I got an e-mail asking for volunteers to a real-life pilot test of self-driving cars, courtesy of Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project. It turns out that after nine years of work, they are ready to hit the road for real in Phoenix, Arizona. So, my niece could theoretically ride around Phoenix alone in a “car” already this year!! I guess my prediction was far too modest.

I’ll return to the IoT-specifics of this fascinating project in a follow-up post, but for now, it suffices to say that this progress illustrates the challenges of predictions in our modern world. Outsiders who leverage digitization “horizontally” in disruptive inventions challenge the evolutionary “vertical” innovation of existing industry stakeholders. It also illustrates the danger of making forecasts based on limited amounts of observations!

IoT is both an enabler of this digitization and a provider of the big data needed to make the long-term analyses and predictions needed. As our increasingly complex world is becoming more challenging to maneuver in, we need horizontal and vertical data from multiple angles to make our prediction. We need more predictions. Just as we as human beings parallel-process information from all our senses, while moving, the self-driving car has to do exactly the same. As organizations, we have to do the same.

Personally, I am sure I will gather more input to my predictions on self-driving cars, moving the time span back and forth. For now, I am content with the answer “Soon!”