I do enjoy our running discussion about autonomous vehicles. So many of our contretempses are based on opinion and abstract theory, but on this I enjoy being 100% right and the rest of you being 100% wrong. It feels good.
But, in fairness, I am sitting on some inculpatory information. This Sunday will see a five-star, glowing Review Corner for Tim Harford's Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. It is a brilliant book that affects music, art, politics, business, technology, and personal lifestyle choices.
Don't wait for Review Corner: buy it or at least listen to Russ Roberts's EconTalk podcast with the author.
I'll have a lot to say and might miss "Chapter Seven: Flight 447 and the Jennifer Unit: When Human Messiness Protects Us from Computerized Disaster."
Recall that Earl Wiener said, "Digital devices tune out small errors while creating opportunities for large errors." 21 In the case of autopilots and autonomous vehicles, we might add that it's because digital devices tidily tune out small errors that they create the opportunities for large ones. Deprived of any awkward feedback, any modest challenges that might allow us to maintain our skills, when the crisis arrives we find ourselves lamentably unprepared.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb [Review Corner] would appreciate the fragility element. I don't think it substantively undercuts the argument for autonomous vehicles, but it is a concern that the computer -- as in Flight 447 -- does the easy stuff and then hands it off when things get bad. That is a legitimate concern: "oh we're all gonna die, you better take over."
UPDATE: I meant to include one more excerpt:
With fly-by-wire, it's much easier to assess whether the trade-off is worthwhile. Until the late 1970s, one could reliably expect at least twenty-five fatal commercial plane crashes a year. In 2009, Air France 447 was one of just eight crashes, a safety record. The cost-benefit analysis seems clear: freakish accidents like Flight 447 are a price worth paying, as the steady silicon hand of the computer has prevented many others.
Still, one cannot help but wonder if there is a way to combine the adaptability, judgment, and tacit knowledge of humans with the reliability of computers, reducing the accident rate even further.
Harford, Tim. Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives (pp. 198-199). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
What a relief that the latest "most important election in our lifetime" is over and we can get back to important debates, like the one over self-driving cars.
I don't know the maker but the operator is identified as "Uber." Right there at the ten second mark, Uber's self-driving Volvo wagon drives right through an intersection against a red light that a human operated car had already stopped for. Barely missing a pedestrian!
In its defense, Uber said the incident resulted from "human error." Rilly?
According to Uber, the cars aren't yet ready to be hit the streets without someone monitoring them, meaning someone from the company was likely behind the wheel. A statement issued by Uber Wednesday afternoon attributed the red-light being run in the video to an error by the person monitoring the car.
"This incident was due to human error," the statement read. "This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. This vehicle was not part of the pilot and was not carrying customers. The driver involved has been suspended while we continue to investigate."
But, if self-driving Ubers are safer, why do they need a human monitoring them from behind the wheel in the first place? Perhaps that human driver isn't the only entity who warrants suspension.