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Tyler Cowen

Forget Robots. The Breakthrough Technology Will Be in Your Car.

Innovation tends to come in products and services that are already in wide use.

Keeping your eyes on the road.

Keeping your eyes on the road.

Photographer: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Over the next 20 years, what will be the most unexpectedly transformative technology? It’s a question that’s been asked of me more than once recently, and my counterintuitive answer is the automobile — and I am not referring to self-driving vehicles. Often innovation comes most strongly in basic, frequently used services, where the value proposition is already well established. So the car has a distinct advantage over a Mars colony, say, or a hyperloop.

The automobile experience has already improved greatly in recent years, mostly through ride-sharing, which enables new trips or helps people get work done or talk on the phone when they otherwise would have been driving. Ride-sharing has been the biggest technological boost to my standard of living since the smartphone, and the service benefits both drivers and non-drivers. It’s not surprising that two of this year’s most publicized IPOs are Uber and Lyft, with Uber having a potential valuation of $90 billion. And many Americans haven’t even started using ride-sharing, so there is plenty of room for the market to grow.