AI Self-Driving Cars Could Go From Desirable In Locales To Becoming NIMBY

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:]


You’ve likely heard or seen the acronym before.

Not In My Backyard (NIMBY).

That’s what some people say when there is something they believe to be untoward that is potentially going to be situated near to them.

Oftentimes, people will indicate they favor something overall, and it is the specific placement that concerns them.

A frequent retort to that involves the suggestion that the person does not want to bear having the aspect near to them but seems willing to have someone else have to deal with the matter.

Is it being two-faced or perhaps hypocritical to indicate that you favor something but not in your own backyard?

That’s the claim that some make against those that say yes to something and yet refuse to have it near to them.

This is not to say that there aren’t some that are indeed perhaps being two-faced at times. It could be that there is not a particularly valid justification to refuse having the matter located near to them.

The debate about locating something can be a mixture of rational discussion and heated emotion.

You might have some proponents of locating a matter in your neighborhood that have impeccably logical reasons to do so, and you might oppose it on purely emotional terms.

Or, maybe the proponents are the ones with the emotionally laden basis and you are the one with the rationally logical reasons against it.

Consider the rise of nuclear power plants.

When nuclear power plants were first devised, there were many locales that welcomed having one built in their vicinity.

Eventually, there were various issues that arose about nuclear power plants and it became a kind of pariah to have one in your locale.

Nuclear power plants became the butt of jokes about how poorly run they were and the dangers they created. Some locales that had one were desperate to try to close down that nuclear power plant. Other locations that were approached to have a nuclear power plant built in their vicinity were quick to say NIMBY.

All of these perceptions can change over time.

Consider Amazon’s efforts to find a place to put their second headquarters, often referred to as the HQ2. In some communities, there were advocates relishing that the HQ2 be placed in their city or town. There were some members of that city or town that were likely opposed, and others in the middle, and some that said they didn’t care either way.

Any of those positions on the matter were at times fluid and apt to change.

Now that I’ve covered NIMBY, time to mention its counterpart.

Don’t Neglect The YIMBY


You might not have seen or heard YIMBY, and it certainly is less well-known than NIMBY.

YIMBY means Yes In My Backyard.

It is considered the counterpart to the NIMBY.

On one side of the location issues you might have those saying keep the matter out of their locale, those are the NIMBY, and you might have equally strong advocates that are insisting the matter should be in the locale, the YIMBY’s.

Note that YIMBY is not the only acronym used to refer to those that want something in their backyard, but it seems to be on its way to becoming the most prevalent.

AI Self-Driving Cars And Local Receptivity

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

There are some communities that are eager to have AI self-driving cars get underway on their public streets, those are the YIMBY’s.

There are other communities that aren’t yet in the mindset of the YIMBY, and vary from being NIMBY’s to perhaps the let’s wait-and-see types.

Let’s consider the various aspects about this YIMBY versus NIMBY in terms of the advent of AI self-driving cars.

YIMBY To The Rescue

First, right now, there is much more of a YIMBY that a NIMBY when it comes to AI self-driving cars.

There is an exciting allure about AI self-driving cars. It is exhilarating and offers great promise.

There is a kind of prestige associated with this new technology.

Most things associated with AI are hot right now, and this applies to self-driving cars too.

A community might be eager to try out these futuristic AI self-driving cars.

In one sense, it is a somewhat easy decision to make in terms of YIMBY, because the investment by the community is minimal and the ability to change their viewpoint is highly flexible and can quickly be changed.

Unlike putting in a factory that might require a fixed asset and lots of local monies, the agreement to allow AI self-driving cars can be done nearly without spending a dime by the community.

No special facilities are needed, no costly investments to be made locally.

The auto maker or tech firm might need to establish a base in the community to house the AI self-driving cars, along with the AI developers and those maintaining the self-driving cars. This is a relatively small investment and offers some advantages to the community such as jobs and taxes to be paid, but overall it is not likely going to be much of either one. The odds are that the automaker or tech firm will bring into the community the needed skilled specialists and not much local hiring is likely.

Having the AI self-driving cars in the community might be an attraction for other purposes.

Perhaps the community can become more well-known, if it today is more of a sleeper kind of locale that not many know about.

A prestige factor that can have a multiplier effect on a community.

Having AI self-driving cars might spur the community in other indirect ways.

There are also the potential benefits from a new form of ridesharing.

NIMBY Is A Possibility Too

What about the NIMBY perspective?

Some might assert that the existing driving regulations don’t allow for AI self-driving cars and stand pat that the law is the law.

For communities that are willing to change their driving laws to allow for AI self-driving cars, which might also involve aspects of the state driving laws and federal regulations, this could be somewhat of a cost to undertake.

The cost would also possibly involve “political” capital in that the push to put in place laws that are more conducive to AI self-driving cars might be seen by some as wrong or ill-conceived, and later harm or cause the ouster of local leaders by voting against them or otherwise not welcoming their ongoing tenure.

There is also the specter of class action lawsuits against AI self-driving cars and the automakers and tech firms, for which this might dampen enthusiasm for AI self-driving cars depending upon the outcomes, and if so it could undermine those local leaders that had earlier been a proponent of self-driving cars.

There is a risk to the community that an AI self-driving car might cause or be involved in a car crash, or perhaps strikes a pedestrian, or runs over a dog, or in some manner gets entangled in a matter that causes injury or harm or property damage such as running into a wall or a light post.

There is ongoing debate about the nature and severity of this kind of risk.

One of the most notable examples was the Uber self-driving car incident that occurred in Phoenix, which I’ve extensively discussed and analyzed. The matter involved a self-driving car that ran into a pedestrian that was walking a bike across the street, doing so at nighttime and not in a marked crosswalk. Uber opted to temporarily suspend their trials and performed an internally sponsored review.

What’s Going To Happen

Building trust and faith about AI self-driving cars is a matter that takes a lot of time and attention to undertake.

I’ve predicted that early adopting communities will be quick to change their minds about AI self-driving car adoption if the instances of injury, death, or damages should arise.

This change of heart and mind can occur in an instant, particularly if the incident is severe enough.

Another possibility for the NIMBY is the potential for the loss of jobs.

This might seem counter-intuitive since the advent of ready mobility by AI self-driving cars is considered by some to be a sure sign of boosting a local economy and providing more jobs. The other side of the coin is that transportation jobs are potentially going to dry up, at least in terms of the driving of vehicles. Presumably, no more human driven ridesharing and so the Uber and Lyft of today that provide income for human drivers will no longer be doing so (it will be AI systems instead driving the ridesharing self-driving cars).

What about if a self-driving car goes awry?

Are the members of the community willing to accept that kind of risk?

It is hard for them to likely know what the risk level is.


For a community considering allowing AI self-driving cars to roam their streets, it is quite a toss-up right now as to whether to be on the YIMBY or the NIMBY camp.

We are still in the early days of AI self-driving car adoption.

One bad apple in the barrel can spoil the entire barrel.



Probably the most predictable aspect is that we’ll see communities vacillating from one posture or another when it comes to the initial tryout of AI self-driving cars, and only time will tell which backyard, if any, will be putting out a “Welcome Here” sign or putting up a “Stay Out” sign instead.

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Copyright © 2020 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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