July 5, 2017

Why I can't coexist with a robotic driver

Having just read Vox's latest article on self-driving cars, I'm more convinced than ever that I don't want one. You see, there are two different approaches - driver assistance or complete autonomy.

In the first approach, the car monitors the road and, just as importantly, the driver, and the most common autonomous action it will take is to nag the driver to "keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road." Think of it as a back-seat driver that never backs off.

Tesla's approach to self-driving -- one the company has doubled down on since Brown's death -- is for cars with partial self-driving capabilities to pester drivers to pay attention to the road.

Waymo is unique in that it has decided human drivers (read: "owner" or "passenger" or "reason for the device's very existence") can't be trusted to take control in the rare (and growing rarer) instances when HAL doesn't know what to do. So they omit all of the driver controls and work tirelessly toward a 100-percent bug-free machine (while interacting with a less than 100-percent bug free environment.)

That works out to one disengagement every 5,000 miles, a four-fold improvement over 2015, and by far the best showing of any company testing on California roads. At that rate of progress, it'll take a few more years for Waymo to surpass human levels of driving safety.

I do appreciate driver assistance tech, but if it becomes a real-world manifestation of Harcourt Fenton Mudd's 'Stella' largely, I might imagine, because of corporate liability attorneys, then I'm not buying without a mandatory "Shut. Up." feature.

Internecine Technology Posted by JohnGalt at July 5, 2017 3:29 PM

I'd like to open a new line of inquiry. It strikes me that opponents of automation are "good drivers" (at least by their own estimation).

I'd suggest that we all consider not so much replacing ourselves with robots, but the gooberload of less skilled, less-attentive, overaggressive drivers we encounter in our daily travels. The true "less than 100-percent bug free environment" is created by unexpected actions of other drivers.

Driver assistance offers some safety advantages, I suppose and I take your concerns at face value. Complete automation is my Holy Grail. I've bored you with my productivity dream, but let me add efficient use of roadway.

Regularized speeds and reduced lane changes enable higher densities, thereby requiring less construction. Just as GMOs optimize land use for agriculture, automated transport would optimized land and resources required for roads.

Posted by: jk at July 7, 2017 10:18 AM

You paint quite a rosy picture of automated transport. What's not to like? Well, there's the human element. This utopian vision takes my mind to a slightly less rosy place. Miranda.

Once thought only to be fictional, Miranda in fact was an experimental colony where the Alliance tried to chemically modify its populace to be peaceful. This worked too well; it eliminated violence, but in the process it had a fatal side effect. The inhabitants lost all ambition; they stopped doing any work, stopped talking to each other, stopped reproducing and eventually stopped even feeding. For 0.1% of the population it had the opposite effect and caused extremely violent behavior, beyond mere psychosis but animalism. The "survivors" of Miranda were the Reavers who started to menace the Rim planets.

The Alliance managed to cover up their mess fairly well, erasing all official records of the planet. Those who had heard talk of Miranda heard false tales that terraforming was attempted but ultimately failed, and that the planet was an uninhabitable Blackrock. Of course, being in the heart of what was to become Reaver space, not many people made the trip to see if it was true or not.

And the money line:

When the Alliance recording was discovered, it became the perfect example of what would happen if the Alliance sought to interfere with self-determination.

I too would like to open a new line of inquiry. How is a world of automated transport different from state-sponsored mass transit? The similarities outweigh the differences, and those differences serve primarily to make it enticing enough for us to play along.

Posted by: johngalt at July 8, 2017 1:20 PM

It is a tool. We automated bank tellers and got ATMs because some "pained a rosy picture of banking on evenings and weekends," we released elevator operators to more productive endeavors. I'll see your Joss Whedon and raise you a Hans Rosling.

Curiously, we assimilated all those productivity innovations without inaugurating dystopia.

Posted by: jk at July 9, 2017 6:49 PM

I still maintain that "mass transit" is a unique case. It's productivity (and other) enhancement is in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by: johngalt at July 11, 2017 3:42 PM | What do you think? [4]