I have owned this car for six years now, and I still haven’t been able to muster the necessary courage to press that magic button, the one that is supposed to park my car, completely autonomously. Why not? See Håvard safe testing the parking assistance. Did it work? 3 min 20 sec.

For years now, I have walked the earth, thinking I was somewhat odd and chicken-hearted. I didn't speak loudly about it, felt a bit ashamed, I guess. You see, there is something about the car I drive. It has this button which offers a neat, technological solution to one of the everyday challenges in life: parallel parking.

I guess you have already jumped to the conclusion that this Håvard guy is not just technologically, but also technically challenged, and well, I wouldn’t blame you if you did. However, get this: I’m a trained software developer. I do digital design for a living, and I’m the one everyone in the family calls when the wireless router stops working. Moreover, even better: I’m not alone.

An American survey tells us that new car technologies are often not used by their owners. 35% of the drivers interviewed in the study reported that they never use the automatic parking system in their car.

These are statistics from the US, but is it possibly any different in Norway? I called the firm that imports my vehicle to check the stats, and the answer seems to be no, we’re not that different: If you buy my car brand new here in Norway, it will only cost you about 400 dollars/Euro to add park assist as a feature. And till no more than 8% of the customers purchase this everyday life-improving magic.

Too bad, one could argue, as The American Automobile Association (AAA) has tested the self-parking technology, and it proved to be far better at parking than the drivers themselves. The autonomous technology experienced 81% fewer curb strikes and was able to park a vehicle 10%.

The technology works. By all logical and rational measure, we should make use of it. Moreover, a significant amount of the car buyers and owners, myself included, choose not to do so. The question of interest is why? I’ll get back to it, but let us first take a pit stop (pun intended) by the car industry.
Håvard Sjøvoll

Car manufacturers must have spent considerable resources on developing self-parking technology, probably fueled by a desire to offer their customers better user experience. However, as mentioned, a significant proportion of the consumers choose not to hop into this experience.

This puzzling phenomenon should be of alarming interest to those who calculate the costs and benefits of technological innovation. It should be of even greater importance for anyone with a desire to commercialise machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Back to the critical question: Why don't all the other car owners like myself and I use the magic park assist button? It is about trust and transparency. The car and its park assist system are programmed to show me its decisions and actions, but that’s not enough. If it wants to earn my full trust in it, I need to know more about how it’s thinking, and what it can see or sense.

Just as an example: Does my smart car know that I have retrofitted a tow bar on its rear end? If it doesn’t, I could end up with a socially unpleasant situation and juicy repair cost for not just one, but two cars. The benefits can’t compensate for the unappealing potential consequences. I’d instead choose to park myself. Emotions run over rationality.

To be adopted by the customers, digital solutions must facilitate good user experiences. This is common, valid knowledge now, not just in consumer markets, but even in hardcore corporate markets. In the future, another x-factor will attract growing attention, namely trust. Our houses are becoming smarter, transport solutions are becoming autonomous, and physical or digital robots replace jobs. Pivotal in this technological wave is machine learning and artificial intelligence, often based on mathematical algorithms that are incomprehensible to most of us.

So how do we build trust in digital products and services as they get increasingly autonomous? The most obvious variables that we need to get straight are privacy and security, as well as unnecessary barriers against errors and hacking. Another very important, but far too often ignored feature is transparency as an enabler for trust. When consumers hand over control and decision making to technology, they need to know how the technology thinks, what options it considers, what it intends to do and how it came to its conclusions.

The interaction between man and machine is high on the agenda for those who develop future autonomous transport solutions, i.e. self-driving cars, taxis and buses. They have recognised the importance of transparency and trust in the process of persuading customers to use their hopefully disruptive innovations.
Håvard Sjøvoll

Trust is also what can make me finally press that button in my car, sit back and let this superior to man technology do its job. I, however, that the car will hardly take the first initiative to establish this relationship of trust, so I have decided to take action. With dummy cars made up of cardboard boxes and an empty parking lot as a test site, I’m now going to test the magic button, once and for all, in a safe environment. Most likely, you can guess the result of the test: The self-parking technology cleared of any suspicion, but by then it’s too late for me. You see, the car is on its way into the second-hand market. After six good years, with park assist installed, but never used, I’m now selling it.

Please share your thoughts regarding this topic or any other examples of technologies you don’t trust.

Håvard Sjøvoll is Creative Leader of Digital Design at EGGS Design AS