Cramer: We're Just Not as Good as the Machines

 | Feb 16, 2017 | 6:56 AM EST
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I was a skeptic about driverless cars, until I rode in one. Now I know the truth. Sure, I don't know when they will be a reality, but yesterday I came away from a drive in a Waymo, the vehicle Action Alerts PLUS charity portfolio holding Alphabet (GOOGL) is building, thinking I should be far more skeptical about human drivers and far more embracing of cars with machine-made eyes and ears. They can be trusted not to drink, nor text, nor tire.

My drive was a short one and always chaperoned by someone in the driver seat. That calmed me as we left the parking lot for the streets around the town Waymo calls home.

Within a few blocks, though, I recognized that we're just not as good as they are -- they being the machines. I found myself thinking that I was being driven by a Hall of Fame Triple A trainer, who was trying to get you to pass the test to get your license. We inched up at stop signs to make sure no one was coming. We didn't floor it on a green light but waited a beat, because most deaths are caused by red light runners. We diligently went the speed limit and avoided bicyclists and drivers who just might not be as good as our machine or had blind spots that we knew that they might have.

I wanted to see this machine with my own eyes because of how many times I have heard about machine learning, autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and all of the other buzzwords that had pretty much lost their meaning until Alphabet let me sit in one and go for a spin.

But then, when you see the statistics for traffic fatalities in this country, up for a second straight year after a 50-year decline largely because of texting while driving, you recognize the urgent need for vehicles that don't have our foibles. Sure, it's terrific to be able to do something other than hug the steering wheel while in traffic. It certainly beats straining to see at night. But the most important thing is that driverless cars save lives. If we can make them cheap enough -- and I believe Waymo will in some way, perhaps with Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) , which has partnered with Waymo to build minivans -- then they will forever alter the auto market.

Right now, I think we have to accept that a driverless car will be more like a plane on autopilot, where the pilot can disengage and run the car any time the pilot wants it to. But after what I saw yesterday, I can say confidently that the safety of these vehicles is so much greater than a humanly piloted car, you would insist that your kid's first car be one of these, and not a vehicle driven by them.

Teenagers simply haven't learned enough about driving defensively to hold a candle to a Waymo, and the trajectory of fatalities makes autonomous driving something we have to hope becomes economic fast enough to prevent the deaths of those at the hands of drivers who simply can't stop texting to save their lives.

What does this mean for a company the size of Alphabet? Right now I think Waymo's regarded as, at best, an abstraction, and there are plenty of kinks that have to be worked out before these go mainstream. But after yesterday, I think autonomous vehicles represent a huge part of the future of this company.

Maybe you just need more skeptics like me to get behind the wheel and do nothing to know exactly how large this market could be. While they may not be ready to dislodge plain old fashioned cars for now, by the next decade it's hard for me to believe they won't be standard equipment for all the automakers.

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