Screw flying cars, I want cars that own and maintain themselves

Autonomous agents in a Bitcoin world

Aaron Batalion


In the future, you will not own a car. You will summon a car using your mobile device, the car will drive itself, and the ride will be free. The car will also own and maintain itself!

Whoa… what? OK. I might have lost you at the end. But the future is closer than you think.

Let’s break it down.

…you will not own a car. You will summon a car using your mobile device…
This shouldn’t surprise most people, but there are a variety of services that allow you to summon a vehicle from your mobile device. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably used this type of service already.

…the car will drive itself…

Self driving cars have been developed with over 300k autonomous miles. Watch this video. This is real. The “driver” is blind.

…the ride will be free.
Patents have been approved on sponsored transportation. This means the passengers will see advertising during the commute. “50% off pizza 2 blocks ahead”. Better than a daily email?

The car will also own and maintain itself!
Now this is where things get interesting. You may say the concept of a car owning itself is far-fetched. However, the technology that allows this has already been invented and discussed publicly.

How is this possible? Bitcoin.

What is Bitcoin?

Unfortunately in recent press, it’s most often described as just a currency, but the most fascinating aspects of Bitcoin are the building blocks on top of which the currency was designed.

Bitcoin is “the world’s first system of digital cash, which allows peer-to-peer value transfer over the internet with no reliance on third parties. It is built on a new invention, the decentralized global asset register. This global asset register is the world’s first decentralized consensus system.”

The concepts of Contracts and Agents on top of the consensus system is what made be relive my childhood of reading sci-fi novels and dreaming about robots. It is finally possible for a truly Autonomous Intelligent Agent, that is a piece of software which offer services and support its own costs, to co-exist in our economic society.

This is now possible, because in the Bitcoin ecosystem:

  • The barrier to participate economically, aka exchange currency for goods/services, was once limited to people able to open a bank account. Now, a piece of software can send and/or receive currency on its own.
  • A decentralized consensus system is required so that money, goods and/or services cannot be double spent. The participants who work together to “validate” transactions in this global asset register are economically incentivized to participate. Because of bitcoin’s dramatic increase in value over the past 12 months, the largest pool of compute power ever assembled is now focused on this task. Without explaining complex cryptography, the important concept to remember is that the sheer compute power of the community keeps everyone honest. That compute power is now ~800X more powerful than the top 500 supercomputers in the world combined.
  • Each transaction is defined via an evolving scripting language, allowing for concepts such as payments, multiple party transactions, contracts, loans, escrow, third party transaction verification, and more.

So how would autonomous vehicles work?

A funding source invests in a vehicle entity via a blockchain based contract. One technique is an dominant assurance contract, in which the vehicle is funded for the public good. In today’s terms think Kickstarter. Another technique is a loan, in which the vehicle entity is given access to the physical good, the vehicle, but repays it over a set # of installments.

The vehicle entity then purchases a self-driving vehicle from a manufacturer and adds itself to the driving pool, from which a consumer can summon the vehicle for transportation. It will receive revenue from consumers and/or a vehicle advertising platform. If the vehicle’s detects malfunction or needs new tires, it will hire a technician for repairs. The mechanic will be paid in bitcoin.

When the vehicle needs power, it will plug itself into a SuperCharger station, that is free or charges a fee in bitcoin. Good thing cars will be 100% electric by then, which will lower operating costs, and pass on those savings to the consumers. If the vehicle can’t make sufficient revenue to support its costs, it may sell itself to a salvage/recycling company or lookup demand in a nearby city and drive there instead.

What company is closest to making this a reality?


Google Ventures recently led an investment round in Uber. Since there is precedence that Google has purchased Google Venture backed companies, lets assume this acquisition occurs. Google will control consumer demand for transportation.

Google is also furthest along on self driving car technology. They also are the company who received the patent on ad-sponsored transportation.

Most recently, they also acquired an advanced AI company, DeepMind, whose technology is so advanced, it’s founders required Google to establish a ethics board prior to acquisition. Advanced artificial intelligence is a prerequisite in building these autonomous software agents.

Finally, much of these ideas have been discussed publicly by a Google employee, Mike Hearn.

Let’s just say, I’m long on Google.



Aaron Batalion

NewCo. Past: Partner, @LightspeedVP. Founder/CTO, LivingSocial. Tweeting at @abatalion