Google recently received a patent for a driverless car that can handle the challenges of the open road. (Story: Google Granted Patent for Driverless Car Technology) I love this story, and the implications.
The NTSB’s proposed ban on texting will require a rewrite. Unless my autopiloted car and my smartphone are sharing computing power or connectivity, I’m assuming my texts sent while underway won’t impact safety. Of course, by the time this system is operational, texting will most likely have become passé.
The field of play for telematics is about to get more complicated. Sure, you can track where my car went. But was I at the helm, or was my car driving itself? And what if I get out of the car to let it park itself? Does that still count as me driving, for insurance purposes?
If my car can drive itself, under what circumstances will I even decide to go with it? For example, for many daily errands (e.g., picking up the dry cleaning, grocery shopping, taking the kids to football practice) the main value-adds I bring are navigation and execution of the route. Take those away, and I might choose to do something else.
We’re one step closer to answering one of life’s Big Questions. Namely: Are men or women better drivers? The answer may turn out to be neither, assuming that Google gets the product right. With R2D2 as our chauffeur, my wife and I will have to find something else to debate. Related question: Will my autopilot car stop and ask for directions when it gets lost, or will it just drive around hopelessly? For tradition’s sake, I propose to make that a user-configurable feature. I’d hate to have my car out-perform me in such an obvious manner.
As often happens, a recent conversation with an insurance CIO produced an “ah ha!” moment for me. Why is it that we, as an industry, are so slow to recognize technology user behaviors that have become commonplace? If everybody Googles, why don’t insurance applications?
The topic of discussion was the difficulties that technology execs face in supporting the polarized needs of users. For example, some agents still prefer to take new applications via their trusty yellow legal pads and ballpoint pens, while others take a laptop-centric view of the world and prefer electronic applications. Those two streams may converge at some point (probably on the desk of a field office or underwriting assistant), but there are critical implications for processes and technology.
Even within the subset of agents that is technologically savvy, there are differences. For example, most agents are comfortable generating an illustration using traditional desktop software, which presents a series of data entry fields and spits out compliant presentation materials in about 10 minutes. But what about the agent who is a Google power user, who thinks in terms of a command-line interface to do things more quickly and more directly? Could a Google-based comparative illustration application work?
On a goof, I tried entering the following in Google: “male 44 year old non-smoker 20 year YRT.” What the heck, I thought, go with the I’m Feeling Lucky button. (For the uninitiated, this slightly irreverent option in Google takes you directly to the top search hit based on the other terms entered, rather than presenting you with a list of all hits.)
I’m Feeling Lucky produced no result. Shocking! Apparently, there are no carriers leveraging a pure online illustration package with a Google interface. A regular Google search wasn’t much better—it turned up lots of articles on mortality and insurance, but not what my hypothetical agent was looking for.
The lesson for me is that if the insurance industry truly designed technology to meet user needs and expectations, this application or something similar would exist. The technology is proven, and commercially available.
Is insurance more complex than searching for a JPG of a common house wren? No question. Are there difficult issues with designing a business model around this approach? Absolutely! But technology exists to solve problems, and sometimes to enable radical shifts in how businesses and customers interact. We could avoid a lot of pain and effort by leveraging existing user behaviors, rather than forcing users down the paths that are most convenient for us.