By Ryan Wibberley

Uber driverless Ford Fusions sit in the Uber Technical Center parking lot on September, 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The self-driving car craze seemed to come out of left field. In just the last few years, the idea that cars could pilot themselves around cities and along freeways went from science fiction to a genuine possibility.

In August, Uber rolled out their very first batch of 100 driverless taxis, with Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, proclaiming self-driving cars are inevitable (Uber currently operates the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, a facility dedicated to mapping and driverless technology). Kalanick is clearly not alone. Major car and technology companies including Google, Toyota, Honda and Apple are investing too, in what equates to a land grab for who can get self-driving cars to market fastest. Google and Tesla have arguably made the most progress to date. Google says it currently has 1.5 million miles of self-driving, while Tesla says it has about 140 million miles.

But what’s driving the demand for self-driving cars? Is there an enormous citizen outcry we never seem to hear about?

Cities says self-driving cars offer a number of traffic, safety and fuel efficiency benefits. According to a study by Eno Centre for Transportation, if about 90% of cars on American roads were autonomous, the number of accidents would fall from 6 million a year to 1.3 million, and auto-related deaths would fall from 33,000 to 11,300. Clearly, better safety is desirable.

Proponents of autonomous vehicles also say they would give people more free time, which would seem desirable. But do citizens even want cars that can drive themselves? The impact on everyday life shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are obvious concerns about giving up control (even with assurances that the computer is an expert navigator, I’m not sure I’d willingly let go of that wheel at 70 mph), the possibility of losing the right to drive altogether, and the distinct chance of people losing their jobs. Automation isn’t something that should be feared. History tells us we should embrace change, with a number of jobs disappearing due to developments in technology. But, ask yourselves this, how many of those jobs would you bring back? Giving up control definitely takes a leap of faith, but it’s the step that future generations will look back upon and wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.

Are companies pouring all this money into self-driving car research thinking long-term? Sure, self-driving cars might be fun occasionally, but will they still be desirable after the novelty wears off? What if people don’t like them, or don’t use them? Will all that investment go to waste? These are the questions that I think have yet to be answered. I feel that this trend is likely to catch on in the bigger cities, but not so much in more rural areas. Many people, myself included, love to get behind the wheel of a car and enjoy the drive. I just don’t see someone who is a car enthusiast getting behind this futuristic mode of transportation.

Security is another concern. Sensors and other so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices have been in the spotlight recently as cyber criminals learn to harness them to launch massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, such as the one aimed at Internet provider Dyn in October. Could the technology used in autonomous cars be compromised as well? Last year, security experts proved in a controlled test that they could use the Internet to take control of a car as it was driven down the road. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles consequently recalled 1.4 million vehicles to fix the software defect enabling hackers to control multiple vehicle functions.

In October, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued proposed guidance designed to help improve motor vehicle cybersecurity. The goal is to protect against breaches and other security failures that could compromise motor vehicle safety.

“In the constantly changing environment of technology and cybersecurity, no single or static approach is sufficient,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “Everyone involved must keep moving, adapting and improving to stay ahead of the bad guys.”

That’s not very reassuring given the potential danger a self-driving car can put its passengers in.

Whether you imagine yourself ever using a self-driving car or not, it appears car manufacturers are determined to make them part of our future. There are definitely a number of hurdles to get over before theory becomes reality, but with cars becoming smarter every year, technology proponents are predicting autonomous vehicles will be a reality by around 2020 – just a little over three years from now.