Voltaire and the autonomous car

This morning’s Observer column.

The best is the enemy of the good,” said Voltaire. It’s a maxim that has a particular resonance for tech designers, because it highlights the intrinsic tension between ambition and pragmatism that haunts them. Many perfectly viable products have never made it beyond the prototype stage because their designers felt they fell too far short of the ideals they had set for themselves. One of the reasons why Steve Jobs was so remarkable as a company boss is that he was the exception that proved Voltaire’s rule. He was a perfectionist for whom the good was the enemy of the best. Which is why working for him was such an exhausting business and also why Apple’s products became so distinctive.

As it happens, Voltaire’s maxim may also be useful in explaining what will happen in the field of autonomous vehicles, aka self-driving cars…