I have just finished reading an article self-driving cars written by John Markoff for the on-line version of The New York Times. The article is titled, "Collision in the Making Between Self-Driving Cars and How the World Works" and is available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/technology/googles-autonomous-vehicles-draw-skepticism-at-legal-symposium.html?_r=2 .
Reading the article reminds me that the growth and development of an innovative tech system or medicine is often more dependent on cultural, legal, and economic issues than it is on advances in technology or know how. Societal inertia has often stalled or thwarted new innovations. As an example, healthcare facilities would be much better off if they all adopted and properly utilized the latest EHR systems (complete with clinical practice guidelines, decision analysis tools, data collection features, POE systems, etc.). However, the implementation rate has been painfully slow and this is due more than anything else to cultural and economic factors which are specific to the healthcare industry. At the same time, some technologies which look really cool on the drawing board or in a research lab prove to be uneconomical (or a huge liability issue) when the attempt is made to utilize them in real world settings. Hence, the self-propelled walkways that figured prominently in science fiction stories of the 50s and 60s are by and large restricted to airports. Sometimes a society adopts a culture too quickly; its citizens (and leaders) don't take the time to assess the technology's impact on cherished ideals or time worn work patterns. This situation routinely impacts corporations; they buy a new software package or automated system, or some other technology believing it will save them money. In reality, these companies becomes more inefficient once they implement the change because their employees do not alter their workflow patterns to successfully handle the changes (or sometimes because the employees rebel at the changes forced on them as a result of the new tech). These issues certainly provide food for thought.
Clip art courtesy of Microsoft Office