February 10, 2016

Just one of the ways our robot overlords will kill us

I'm puzzled. You are probably not surprised. Nearly a dozen different companies are vying to create a driverless car. Why would I even want a driverless car? I cannot imagine the boredom of just sitting in the car on a long trip. I might as well ride a bus. Perhaps that is the long-term insidious plan: wean Americans from their cars and force them to mass transit.

So your driverless car has a malfunction (call it an error code if you like) and smashes into another driverless car, killing the occupants. Who do the sleazy TV ambulance chaser lawyers sue? The owner of the vehicle, the car manufacturer, the software company that designed the controls? Who is liable?

Can a computer ever make the decisions a human brain does in a crisis? Can it weigh in a split second the choice between swerving to avoid the deer that just jumped in front of your car or have a head-on with on-coming traffic? Will the car know that bumping over a dead rabbit in the middle of the road is permissible but one should avoid running over a dead skunk?

I drive more than the average bear. I logged more than 45,000 miles last year in my company car. I don't know how many more miles I spent behind the wheel of the family SUV. If you have ever driven the flat prairies of central Indiana and Illinois, the roads and highways of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, or either Dakota you know the definition of tedious, boring, uninspired driving. And yes, that is where most of my miles were accumulated last year. Still, I could not think of anything worse than spending those endless miles as a passenger in a driverless car. I can think of no reason I would ever want one.


Ed Bonderenka said...

You could text. :)

Otter said...

What if you are drunk...could you be pulled over for drunk "riding"?

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Oddly, the problem with driverless cars seems not to have been with the driverless cars per se, but with other drivers who keep running into them. Or so we are led to believe by Google. Others point out that the cars drive too cautiously and not "humanistically", so flesh-and-bone drivers have a harder time anticipating what they are going to do in any given situation.

I've not been a fan of any kind of automated driving ever since the 1996 blizzard in DC, when a Red Line Metro train overran the end-of-line station at Shady Grove and crashed, killing the driver and I believe injuring several people who were on the train at the time. Fault was assigned to the automated system not being able to deal with snow and ice on the tracks. It should be noted that the "driver" in a Metro train is more of an "observer" who can take control when problems arise -- and at the time, taking manual control was highly discouraged by MetroRail because drivers tended to slam the brakes, leading to flat spots on the wheels that cost a pretty penny to repair. For want of that pretty penny, a driver's life was lost.

I've also ridden the CTA in Chicago, specifically for this purpose the train from the Loop to O'Hare (Blue Line, maybe? Don't recall), and that was an experience I'd prefer not to repeat; that thing got running 50-60MPH on a track that really wasn't capable of handling that rate of speed. I felt like getting off that train under my own power was a great victory. And a year or two later, there was a big crash on that line, due to (you guessed it) the train running way too fast for the track conditions.

Autodrive isn't going to be a truly viable technology until AI gets a lot better.

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