Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

18Nov/18

My Disbelief in Automated Cars Gets a High Profile Advocate

For quite some time I have been preaching that autonomous cars are a boy toy fantasy myth. A tech progress fantasy used to lure literally billions of dollars from tech faithful investors, money that they will never see returned. My principle premise: artificial intelligence (AI) is not even close to being ready to join automated vehicles with humans on human playing fields.

Why? Let's start with the fact that image recognition is in a very primitive state and not close to allowing vehicles to fend for themselves on the roadways - or even in parking lots. I've already posted about the infamous examples of horrible accidents caused by not-ready-for-prime-time autonomous vehicles - that we ignore at our own peril: one car ran into a turning white truck because it saw the white as sunlight; another killed a pedestrian walking a bike, because it could not see well enough in the dark, and did not have "pedestrian walking in front of me with a bike in the dark" in its image recognition database.

In a white paper I wrote for the cities of Glendale and Burbank (in my tech consulting capacity), I talked about the moral and ethical questions that loomed for automated cars that we also ignore at our own peril. AI thinks, "Should I kill the kid or the person in the wheelchair, I'm in a tough spot here, but I gotta turn right or left immediately as there is another car bearing down on me driving the wrong way in my lane."  AI 2 thinks, "In order to get on this freeway between all the cars, I am going to have to exceed the speed limit, but I don't have any code to tell me when it is okay to break the law." Oh, and how about the idea of every car company in the world writing it's own ethical and moral guidelines for automated cars, because we have no social or governmental system in place to deal with these questions - where that would take us is anyone's guess.

This week my skepticism of automated cars received a big endorsement from a tech luminary, none other than the co-founder of Apple Computer, Steve Wozniak. Steve announced that he has "lost faith" that self-driving cars are going to see widespread use in the near future.

Wozniak does not believe that the artificial intelligence systems needed for self-driving vehicles would be able to cope with the realities of driving on roads alongside manually operated vehicles.

Uh, yeah. . . .

"I don't believe that that sort of 'vision intelligence' is going to be like a human," Wozniak shared.

He came up with another problem area for these only artificially intelligent vehicles: impromptu signs being put up by police near roads.  "Artificial intelligence in cars is trained to spot everything that is normal on the roads, not something abnormal," he said. "They aren't going to be able to read the words on signs and know what they mean. I've really given up."

Good one, Steve.

Wozniak has not always been a doubter like me. In May 2017 he claimed driverless technology was the 'biggest, most obvious moonshot" of current times.

I have to wonder what exactly changed his mind. Maybe he actually sat down and thought it through?

Because to anyone who actually has, the NOT future of autonomous cars is obvious. They are not going to happen. Not for decades perhaps centuries. If ever. Their introduction demands that societies contemplate the ethical and moral questions they raise. Who is responsible for the accidents they cause? That is not an idle question,

And any responsible society should be contemplating changes to infrastructure that might accommodate these vehicles - if we are going to eventually introduce them - like their own lanes, or their own tracks.

My biggest objection to them however has to be the fact that for all their proponents' claims that they are the future of transportation, the ultimate in tech progress, the whole idea of autonomous vehicles is really antiquated, and I am standing like the kid in court claiming the Emperor Has No Clothes! Autonomous cars point backward to the world of selfish individuality, where everyone must have their own personal vehicle. Our future, if we are to regard the desperate state of our planet due to the burning of fossil fuels, the over-crowding, the lack of community and attention to the Commons –  and do something about it –  needs more public-mass transportation, not private-individual transportation, less sprawl, more walking, more biking, more foot and bike paths to accommodate those things.

Nobody I know of ever called for autonomous cars. They were a myth of progress created by the techies whose current jobs depend on them to drive industrial progress - even if it's a progress no one needs.

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