The future, as one ex-Google employee sees it, could involve cars that not only drive themselves but own themselves, too. The idea, Mike Hearn tells the BBC, is to create "the most moral, socially minded capitalist possible." The cars wouldn't actually think, he explains. Instead, in his thought experiment, you'd use your phone to log into what he calls "Tradenet," a non-proprietary system on which cars would offer their best prices for your journey. (Tradenet wouldn't just be for cars—it's a broader system for all kinds of commerce that Hearn, who is also a leading Bitcoin software developer, laid out in a 2013 video.) Once you'd chosen the car, you could pay more to use shortcuts or fast lanes. The cars would even be programmed to pay human engineers to improve their code, the BBC reports.
The cars' money—paid via a digital currency like Bitcoin, which doesn't require banks—would go to fuel, insurance, and maintenance, as well, perhaps, as funding factories to make more such cars. There could also be cars putting themselves out of commission when not needed, "or you could get immigrant vehicles driving to another city looking for work." How likely is the whole scenario? "I can't see it happening," an auto industry researcher tells the BBC. "There will still be economies of scale in production and in purchasing," and "there will still be these big groups that operate fleets. And they would be able to out-compete individual self-owned vehicles." Hearn acknowledges economic hurdles, calling for a "more technology and radical decentralization" to beat out giant companies. (Read more self-driving car stories.)