Comments: In Fairness

Indeed. Even "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" the computer was an aid, or adjunct, to the human pilot. Not a replacement. And that held for ordinary run-of-the-mill X-wing Fighter pilots, not just those who were blessed with the a personal connection with "the force."

I may be mistaken but as I recall my very first objection to autonomous vehicles, and the basis for my standing as my blog brother's principal foil in the AVC (autonomous vehicle contretemps) was that the Googlemobile had NO human controls. It wasn't merely that it didn't hand over control until a fiery crash was inevitable - it didn't hand over control, period. Or even permit control. I thought I might get some sympathy from my libertarian blog brother but, and again my memory may be erroneous, I did not.

I can see where enthusiasm might have whisked him past this delicate point and into the bigger issue of automating the mundane. And, in fairness on my own part, I have held that AV's must be perfect before they be permitted to operate "in the wild." This is perhaps unfair, but at the same time may not be dismissed out of hand. Flawed as they are, human drivers have the capacity to learn from mistakes. From what I've gathered to date, AV's don't even have the power to recognize mistakes. I suspect the Ubermobile would blow that red light ten tries out of ten, under identical circumstances.

And then there is Asimov's "survival instinct." Human drivers have it, and are sympathetic to the wellbeing of other humans in their environment. AV's may have a global variable definition "bi-ped=priority 0" somewhere deep in their lukewarm, silicon little hearts, but I'm still not convinced one of them would lose any dreams of electric sheep if it were to mow down all four of the long-haired lads in the crosswalk at Abbey Road.

Posted by johngalt at December 19, 2016 2:55 PM

Too. Much. Fun.

I'll allot some sympathy for your emergency override. I believe you'll find me very agnostic about implementation. My fulsome devotion is to automation qua automation. I want two things, and I'll let you pick the details.

First, I want the productivity. Reading The Most Important Graph

First, there is no obvious reason why growth should not continue indefinitely—although future growth will likely be more dependent on technological change than in the past. In the West, for example, we cannot replicate the growth boost that resulted from the entry of large number of women (50 percent of the population) into the labor force.

I want that slope. Watch the TeeVee News' Helicopter view of a traffic jam -- even in modest little Denver -- and imagine those man-hours returned to productivity. Gimme that and you can design the rest of the box.

Secondly, I want the reduced body count. Even Harford admits a 25 to 8 reduction in fatal commercial plane crashes per year.

As for our unfortunate pedestrian (who didn't know he was 30' from certain death until he saw the clip on YouTube...) You want 100% I think my engineer buddy knows there is no 100%. But what if we get the same better-than-3X improvement that aircraft achieved? If you were 1/3 as likely to get hit by a computer than a person -- wouldn't you take that?

(And I bet they will not be popular until they are more like 10x, but why not start at 2:1?)

Posted by jk at December 19, 2016 5:41 PM

It's not fair. Neither of us may like it, but that's the way it is. Robots don't get a free pass for "human error."

How about a compromise? The autodrive feature automatically disengages unless you are on a freeway or an onramp? Wouldn't that solve your traffic jam issue while leaving the complicated city driving to the higher level state engine?

Posted by johngalt at December 19, 2016 7:19 PM

Wow -- I think we have the essence of our disagreement -- the proverbial crux of the biscuit! It is "Higher level state engine."

I have zero doubt that automated drivers will be far better than a great percentage of their human counterparts. Computers will be in the 90th percentile and not susceptible to inattention when a really hot human of favored gender is visible.

I accept your concern that you're a 95th percentile driver (curiously, everyone self-reports somewhere in there, but I'm not quibbling) and fear you are "stepping down." That is actually legitimate.

I also accept the Smithian (That's Will, not Adam) concern of "Enemy of the State" where the government can drive you to the Christian White Guy interment camps instead of Starbucks.

But do you really doubt that autonomous will be a lot safer, statistically, than human drivers? Should that be the case, I don't think we have an argument, they will not be allowed until proven far superior. As long as tort lawyers need Rolexes, natural forces will keep them limited until they are far far superior.

Posted by jk at December 20, 2016 1:16 PM

I stand by my "Summer of oh-one-four" position:

I think I mentioned I love the tech. What I don't love is the implementation chosen by Google for demonstration purposes. I want the Dodge version of this... not the PRT version as envisioned by the DAWG promoting egalitarians at

Empowerment of the less mobile? Yaay.
Faster and safer travel? Yaay.
Legalized texting while driving? Yaay.

Just put my manual controls back in. That's all I ask. Well, and maybe a turbocharged V-something with 8-speed automatic paddle shifted transmission, independent active suspension and a tuned exhaust. Or an electric power plant with a thorium battery. And voice controls.

Posted by johngalt at December 21, 2016 6:10 PM

Okay, we're good (and I seem to hold tightly with my '14 position).

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.

Posted by jk at December 21, 2016 6:38 PM

Now were singing from the same hymnal. How about a convertible? Two-seated? Sporty looks and handling? Sort of a "Mr. Uber?" ;)

Posted by johngalt at December 22, 2016 10:33 AM
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