I think it’s going to be a bunch of minivan and van shapes. Forward seats will swivel around like they did in conversion vans to make a “living room.” There will probably be a table that extends out of the floor so you can work/eat on it. Car travel is going to become a lot more like private jet travel - you sit in the passenger cabin doing whatever you want and let someone else worry about the driving.
That’ll be for the long trips. For short commutes, we probably won’t own cars anymore eventually, and it wouldn’t surprise me if manual driving in and around city centers is at some point made illegal. At that point there will be shared cars which take people to bus stops and light rail stations and people will get to work on public transit.
And while that sounds expensive, imagine how much money we’ll save when we no longer have to maintain large 8-16 lane highways all over the place because the traffic volume on them has decreased. Also imagine how much we’ll save when we aren’t sitting in traffic jams caused by idiots anymore, because the computers controlling the vehicles aren’t going to drive selfishly to the detriment of every other vehicle.
Of course, there’s going to be significant shakeups economically as well - for one thing, governments that rely on speeding tickets and red light tickets as a source of revenue are going to have to find a new source of revenue, because computers won’t commit either of those crimes.
Body shops are going to dwindle because computers won’t get into as many wrecks. Fuel stations will also become much fewer in number, because instead of needing a gas station between me and work, my car will figure out when it needs to fill up, and drive off to get that taken care of while I’m at work. If I retain ownership of my car, by the way, I can probably hire it out while I’m at work as a taxi cab and make some money off of it without having to do anything.
But the biggest shakeup once self-driving vehicles are commonplace is that the economy is gonna crash, because everyone who has a job as a vehicle driver today is getting fired. Truck drivers, pizza delivery drivers, limo drivers, cab drivers, bus drivers… They’re all going to be out of work, and that’s a lot of people - there are about 3.5 million truck drivers alone in this country, and it’s going to be one heck of a hit on the economy when millions of people instantly lose their buying power.
And it’s not just drivers - a lot of people tangentially related to actually driving are going to be out of work. DMV employees, traffic enforcement cops, driving instructors, all fired.
And even worse than that is that self-driving car research is propelling computer vision research forward. Vision is the weak link in a lot of automation. If your robot can see, it can do a lot more things. It can visually check the food order at a restaurant, it can see where to put the food on the customer’s table without knocking the lady’s purse over, etc. So, a lot of human-done jobs that aren’t related to driving at all are also going to disappear as automation takes them over.
Couple that with the AI research they’re working on and even doctors and lawyers are on shaky ground if you go far enough into the future. I’ve long suspected that, ironically, the most worthless degrees today from a career earnings perspective (liberal arts degrees like theater and music) are going to be the most valuable ones in the future, because people will be fine with robots doing all the work, but they probably aren’t going to want to watch Les Miserables performed by a bunch of droids.
So in short and largely thanks to self-driving cars, the economic future is pretty bleak for most people and will continue to be so until we figure out a way to shift our economy to one that does not require people to work in order to earn a living.