Tag Archives: Autonomous Vehicles

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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An Emperor’s New Clothes Tale about Uber and Their Autonomous Cars, Or, When I Began Driving Autonomously at Sixteen Years of Age

photo Uber's March 2015 "Not At Fault" Crash
Uber’s March 2015 “Not At Fault” Crash

When I began driving autonomously at sixteen years of age (i.e. without my father in the passenger seat guiding me and keeping me in compliance with the California driving laws for teens), Dad came home one night from work incredulous at the words of one of his business associates, who also had a new to driving kid.

Removing his tie, Dad shared with my mom, “So, Mike says to me: ‘My son at seventeen only driving eight months and already has six accidents. Six. But, none of them his fault.’ ”

My mother shook her head as my sisters and I listened in.

“Can you imagine?” my father was laughing incredulously now. “Six accidents! None of them his fault!”

 

I could not help but remember my father’s dinnertime story as I read about Uber’s latest auto-driving accident. Last week a car in Tempe Arizona and an automated Uber SUV collided in an intersection, and the Uber vehicle wound up on its side (photo above). Within hours all Uber cars on the roads in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Arizona were pulled from the streets until the accident could be reviewed.

But within just a few days all those Uber vehicles were back on the roadways, because it was determined that the other driver failed to yield to Auto-Uber. The driver of the human driven vehicle was also cited for causing the accident.

I’m sure that the Uber owners are dancing gleefully at having been vindicated and proven innocent of any auto car mishap.

It wasn’t Uber’s fault.

 

How many more “none of them his fault” accidents will Uber endure before the Naked Emperor is unmasked?

Because all American drivers know the way probable scenario that actually occurred here:

On US roads, we human drivers are called on to yield to other drivers by little obscure right of way laws and by ubiquitous red (sometimes yellow) “YIELD” road signs. We human drivers know that, more often than not, even if we are the Yieldee, the Yielder is not actually going to yield to us. YIELD signs and laws are a nice sentiment, but Yieldees all basically ignore them, since we know that most Yielders will – in favor of avoiding crashes.

Uber can build all the actual traffic laws it wants into its autonomous vehicles, but it will never catch up with the unwritten laws, and law nuances, that all us humans know. Nor will it ever properly assimilate all the cultural laws specific to any city in the US. Those variations make it very difficult for even humans to drive safely – or without annoying the heck out of other drivers – when they attempt to drive in a new city.

Take for example, the Los Angeles rule of two cars waiting in the intersection and making their  left turn move on the yellow light. When a car sits behind the white line waiting for on-coming traffic to somehow miraculously disappear, we honk, knowing they must be “a damn LA foreigner.”

Some years back one of my nieces was driving down a country road in northern California when another car pulled up to a stop sign at a small crossroad. My niece continued on knowing that she had the “right of way.” Unfortunately, my niece was a young driver and had not yet assimilated the wisdom of her grandfather, who had warned all his descendants to always assume that every other driver on the road is stupid and about to do the unexpected. Sure, enough, the other driver made the incomprehensible decision to  pull onto the highway just as my niece’s car reached the crossroad; my niece and her car ended up in a tree (she was, miraculously, not injured). Can Uber and other auto-car makers build Other Driver Stupidity and Illogic into their computer code?

 

Okay, so back to Auto-Uber. Just about any American driver who read the news story about “not our fault” Uber was shaking her/his head afterward. We all know that one of the primary ways we avoid accidents on our roads is by knowing that few if any drivers will ever actually yield to us when they have a YIELD sign and/or the right of way. Get real! We all know that we must be prepared to yield to the yielder – even if we are legally the yieldee.

Auto-Uber may be in his legal rights. He may be dancing right now (can autonomous cars dance yet?), knowing he was let off the hook. But how many Auto-Uber  “not his fault” accidents need to occur before we wake up to realize how truly far away we are from safely sharing our human designed roadways and laws, and cultural nuances, with artificially intelligent vehicles?

 

 

 

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