Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Self-Driving Cars

"I'm a damn good driver and I'll be damned if I'm putting my life in the hands of a computer!" This rant has probably been texted from the driver's seat of a vehicle doing 65 MPH down the highway. Or it was uttered an hour after the person uttering it rear-ended a police car while watching a cat video on YouTube.

This is not a self-driving car.
Human beings, for all of our successes, are still clumsy, slow-to-react, and easily distractible monkeys who have no business being on the roads behind the wheel of a two thousand pound rolling battering ram. Cars have served us well for the most part, but with the growing number of them on the road and adding the complication of "go anywhere computing" known as the cell phone, this is a dangerous combination. Sadly, asking people to put down the latter is a lot harder than giving up the former. So, we need self-driving cars.

No, not for some of the people who want them, for EVERYONE. That's the way it has to work. People are dangerous in cars and if there's an accident between a human-driven car and a self-drving car, my money is on the human being at fault. Computers can react a lot more quickly and they don't care about checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social network to see how many people liked that picture of their cat eating a peanut butter sandwich. Cars are better drivers than humans because all they do is drive.

Humans don't just drive. This post was conceived in my mind as I drove to work this morning which isn't necessarily a good thing. We look around, we think about what we have to do when we get to where we're going, we adjust the radio, check our speed, check our phones, talk to our passenger, complain about that guy trying to cut us off. WE ARE DISTRACTED! and we suck at dealing with distraction.

Self-driving cars operating on a mesh network would eliminate the need for traffic lights and stop signs. There is an excellent video by CGP Grey that looks at the fundamental problem of traffic and the possible solution. SPOILER: We're the problem. Self-driving cars are the solution.

I'm not calling humans dumb by any means. Humans have come up with some amazing inventions, and are currently working on self-driving cars. Here's the thing, humans as a collective do everything marginally well, but a computer can do one thing exceptionally well. That's what we want. We want a car that can monitor traffic around it, it's speed, and alter its course on the fly to get its destination in the shortest time possible. That's what all of the cars on the road are doing too. For a self-driving car, that's the extent of its ability. It won't make small talk, change the radio station, or yell at other drivers on the road.

There are plenty of concerns to go along with this idea. There's security and safety, and there's a matter of morality built into the AI. I will get into these in a future post.

1 comment:

  1. My concern is that I have heard too many stories about a GPS steering people wrong. We need humans to ensure that computers work right. I could see humans becoming monitors rather than drivers. I'm OK with that.