Nothing exists in isolation. Everything is interconnected. That's the basis for a concept called “the butterfly effect” the idea that small things can have impacts on a complex system. “The concept is imagined with a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon.”


I'm not smart enough to understand if this relates to physics, philosophy, or perhaps both. I'd guess, however, that most of us would agree that oftentimes one thing leads to another or a seemingly simple decision sometimes results in unforeseen consequences. (


The North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week got me thinking along these lines. “Self-driving cars are gaining as much attention as new model announcements.” Self-driving vehicles are certainly on our horizon, whether we like them or not. This opens up a whole range of topics. 


Take auto industry jobs, for example. Right now: “There were no big gains in auto employment in 2017. And sales will come in below 2016...GM confirmed a net loss of 3,500 hourly manufacturing jobs in 2017...economic analysts note that (the jobs) Fiat Chrysler plans to create will go to autoworkers whose jobs will have been eliminated at other plants.”


Forget about a revision in the corporate tax code creating more auto production jobs. "Companies are fulfilling peak demand with existing capacity. No one is going to duplicate capacity for tax purposes." Supply and demand, plain and simple. (


Will there be more of a need for autos in the future (which will lead to more employment)? A Detroit News editorial put an interesting spin on this question. “ “Is car making still about putting together iron, rubber, glass and sheet metal to produce a rolling work of art that fuels the imagination. Or is it about utilitarian boxes that plug into the wall and come when you summon them, take you where you want to go, then go away leaving the passengers indifferent to fit, finish and performance? If I’m not actually driving the car, will I care about horsepower and handling? If the vehicle I own a time-share in isn’t sitting in my driveway, do I care whether its design gives me goose bumps when I look out the window? If it’s electric, as it’s bound to be, will I even care about what’s under the hood?" (


Apart from auto manufacturing jobs, what if I told you that within the next seven years self-driving vehicles could eliminate the most common profession in 29 states? “A report by the International Transport Forum projects a scenario in which roughly 1 million heavy-truck drivers lose their jobs by 2025. McKinsey Global Institute offers an even more dramatic possibility: 85 percent automation, or nearly 1.5 million jobs lost, by 2027.”


“This revolution threatens every single job in heavy trucking – 1.7 million in all...More than 3.7 million Americans make a living behind the wheel, and 3.1 million of those jobs are at risk. A report by Goldman Sachs found that when autonomous vehicles reach peak deployment, 25,000 drivers a month will be out of work.”


If this does not seem like it could actually happen, consider the development of autonomous trucks. “The first Tesla Semis will not roll off the production line until 2019. PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch and Walmart, among others, have reserved nearly 300 trucks.” (


Of course, all of this depends upon rock-solid, foolproof technology. This has been a point of concern at the Auto Show. “We're taking computers and teaching them to do something much better than a human could do," said Danny Shapiro Sr., director of Automotive NVDIA Corp., a software company.” 


A panel pointed out, however, that: “Training a car that's smart enough to take over the wheel requires massive amounts of data repeatedly drilled into the car's systems. For example, a smart camera maker in Germany fed thousands of photographs of stop signs into its autonomous driving program so it would learn to instantly recognize a stop sign. The stakes are high when a software glitch can cause a traffic accident and passenger injuries or death.” 



How about a very stark reality question: Who dies when the car is forced into a no-win situation? “There will be crashes,” said Van Lindberg, an attorney who specializes in autonomous vehicle issues. “Even as self-driving cars save thousands of lives, anyone who gets the short end of that stick is going to be pretty unhappy about it.” 


“Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, co-authored a study last year that found that while respondents generally agreed that a car should, in the case of an inevitable crash, kill the fewest number of people possible regardless of whether they were passengers or people outside of the car, they were less likely to buy any car in which they and their family member would be sacrificed for the greater good.”


This leads to other questions. Who decides these ethical considerations? The auto company, software developer, government, the courts? Who gets sued if something goes wrong? You might own the car, but you have nothing to do with driving it? Did the computer guidance system violate the law? Thorny things to think about, eh? 



This is not to mention some guy in Moscow whose job is to create destruction and panic in America. “Automakers and suppliers are making progress in protecting vehicles from cyber attacks, but the car-hacking threat is still real and could get increasingly serious in the future when driverless vehicles begin talking to each other."


"A worst-case scenario would be hackers infiltrating a vehicle through a minor device, such as an infotainment system, then wreaking havoc by taking control of the vehicle's door locks, brakes, engine or even semi-autonomous driving features. There are very skilled hackers out there who can beat through a lot of medium and low levels of robustness in terms of security that is present in a lot of cars’s really hard when you are making something as complicated as cars, and you are buying components of the cars from vendors to get everyone to fix their security and get on the same page.”


Will software updates be timely and effective? Does you car shut down while waiting for an update? If you have ever had an update on your computer or device not only fail to correct a problem but actually make it worse you may be skeptical. 



Whether any of this will come to pass is up for debate because no one can acurately predict the future. However, Michigan plans to be in the forefront. Legislators are currently working on the bipartisan Self Drive Act. “This first-of-its-kind legislation would prioritize protections for consumers, enhance cybersecurity protections, reaffirm the role and responsibilities of federal and state governments, update Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to account for advances in technology, and maximize opportunities for research and development here in the U.S.” (


Stay tuned. Self-driving vehicles could be just the first flutter of the butterfly's wings. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at and