Why Self Driving Cars Will Fail

If you want the technical reasons why self driving cars will have practically insurmountable difficulties in the real world, I would recommend Artificial Unintellgence by Meredith Broussard. Excellent resource.

But I don’t think the technical challenge will be the nail in the coffin. It will be people’s feelings.

Humans don’t trust robot cars, or the motives of those building them, and have been attacking them with rocks and knives according to the NY Times:

At least 21 such attacks have been leveled at Waymo vans in Chandler, as first reported by The Arizona Republic. Some analysts say they expect more such behavior as the nation moves into a broader discussion about the potential for driverless cars to unleash colossal changes in American society. The debate touches on fears ranging from eliminating jobs for drivers to ceding control over mobility to autonomous vehicles.

“People are lashing out justifiably,” said Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist at City University of New York and author of the book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.” He likened driverless cars to robotic incarnations of scabs — workers who refuse to join strikes or who take the place of those on strike.

“There’s a growing sense that the giant corporations honing driverless technologies do not have our best interests at heart,” Mr. Rushkoff said. “Just think about the humans inside these vehicles, who are essentially training the artificial intelligence that will replace them.”

“They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake,” said Mr. O’Polka, who runs his own company providing information technology to small businesses.

This is just the beginning. Those who think they can win this argument by saying “but robot cars are safer” are missing the point. Lots of safer alternatives in American life are rejected because of the perceived loss of freedom and control. It is safer to not jaywalk, but visit New York sometime. It is safer to not ride horses, skateboards, and motorcycles. It is safer to use a computer not connected to the internet.

The thing that will stop the self driving car will be laws that require that robot actions be backed by humans. Humans who must make moral choices, who must observe.

Driver assist will happen. Machine learning will make driving safer. But jumping to self driving cars is like suggesting that an AI could run a city government, and trying it out on real citizens, before the algorithm can even manage a MacDonald’s successfully first.

As cities begin to pass regulations against self driving vehicles I will detail them on this blog.

Painting by Simon Stålenhag

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