March 27, 2018

Mr. Uber loses his license

"I think my favorite model is an Uber with manual and automated controls. When possible, it uses automated control but in bad weather or a very complex environment it behaves just like today's vehicle." -jk, December 21, 2016.

I didn't remember that quote. I only went searching for our debates about autonomous automobiles (auto-squared?) where I predicted the problem with self-driving cars is the limitations of software. Never, however, did I imagine it would rise to this level of incompetence.

Thoma Hall's comments have been about clarifying a lidar array's role in the driving task; namely, that even when the lasers detect an object, "it is up to the rest of the system to interpret and use the data to make decisions. We do not know how the Uber system of decision-making works." If Uber's software doesn't process the data properly, then it doesn't matter what the lasers register.

When Arizona citizen Elaine Herzberg was caught jaywalking across a wide thoroughfare last week, the Uber behaved just like an ordinary vehicle when its operator is more interested in something below the windshield than in front of it. Uber struck the woman at cruising speed (44 in a 40 zone if I remember correctly the initial report) killing her.

Now the involved parties rush to deflect their own liability. And this is just the problem, isn't it? A sentient being can be held accountable. Problem is, all of the involved sentient beings have an excuse:

The software ignored our sensor.
The software I designed was controlling the car, not me.
The car was in automatic mode, so whatever happened was its fault.
As a pedestrian, I have the right-of-way and cars must yield to me.

Who will be satisfied when accidents are explained with the phrase, "The vehicle in question had not yet downloaded the latest firmware update that corrected that bug?"

Ah yes, Ms. Herzberg is statistically irrelevant. Maybe to the Governor of Arizona, but not to her two children. Consequently said governor has revoked Mr. Uber's license.

"He calls fatal crash 'an unquestionable failure' of the technology." (I think he meant unquestioned but you get the drift.)


The letter strikes a dramatically different tone from late 2016, when Ducey invited Uber to his state with celebration, saying "Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads."

Internecine Technology Posted by JohnGalt at March 27, 2018 2:57 PM

I've been expecting this. And suppose it is deserved. It's a rare event had it waited tem more months, the cars would look good, had it happened six months sooner, vicious killers.

You know who else died that same day in car crashes? Statistically about 100 people! Statistically, I bet some of them had children as well.

You can do a little more searching and see where I said these vehicles would be flawless. But I don't think you'll find it. Over time, they will be better, en toto, than human drivers. And they will improve and be further refined.

A tragic and sad setback. Engineers will point fingers but lawyers will effectively find those to blame. But for now, you get your wish: the hundred who die every day will die at the hands of human incompetence -- huzzah!

Posted by: jk at March 28, 2018 10:10 AM

My intent was to be humorously ironic more than harsh. But I think we agree that the rush to market inspired by the race to be first does real harm to the movement. It has the effect not of replacing human accidents with fewer (or even far fewer) AI ones, but adding them to each other. As stated in this tech journal, "self-driving technology costs real lives while saving statistical lives."

I won't say that government should regulate this more than it already does, but I do believe the liability judgments against the makers and operators of killer robocars should be in the billions. There needs to be a real disincentive for them to use all of us as their unwitting crash test dummies.

Posted by: johngalt at March 28, 2018 2:29 PM

No doubt I deserved worse.

But the "she's not a statistic! She has children!" cri de Coeur puts me in mind of the currently ascendant wrong side of the gun debate. "Not one more Mom or Child must die!" I am told, so you must accept whatever overreaching policy prescription I'm peddling.

The other 90 (Reason corrects my math but not my philosophy) people dying without a rewrite of Arizona's traffic laws are no less real and no less loved by their families.

Ninety a day, every day. It seems short-sighted to not consider 35,000 against one whose name we know.

Posted by: jk at March 28, 2018 4:00 PM

Fair cop. That was an easy argument, but a specious one. Allow me to reframe:

I would like to see each robocar company CEO stand in front of every one of her cars - literally.

Posted by: johngalt at March 28, 2018 4:55 PM | What do you think? [4]