I must admit, self-driving (or driverless/autonomous) vehicles (let's concentrate on self-driving cars! aka: SDCs) are extremely impressive in their performance so far, but will they ever achieve complete autonomy?
Progress to date
Tesla and Google (Waymo) +5 other companies have made operational SDCs which provide an acceptable performance under controlled urban conditions. It’s well worth viewing the results on Youtube where you can experience an autonomous drive …
Google Waymo … source: The Verge (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__EoOvVkEMo)
Tesla … source: Spawn Point (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofHC-Wlr3qc)
There appear to be two different approaches to the technical design of SDCs, most systems use LiDAR (laser-light scanning), but Tesla have opted for camera imagery with ‘machine learning’. Both systems use powerful artificial intelligence (AI).
The KEY question is … Can artificial intelligence (AI) substitute for the human brain?
My personal opinion is definitely … NO.
At present, the human brain is the most complex ‘entity’ on the planet, with the ability to comprehend and compute visual images, speed, distance, timing to drive safely no matter what scenario is presented. Whereas, AI may see an image but it lacks the human perception and experience to predict the external behaviour of others.
Also, if SDCs become ubiquitous there are secondary negative social effects such as:
- Jaywalking: Pedestrians would rely on the inbuilt SDC safety mechanisms and step across the road (without bothering to check if it’s clear) and force a vehicle to stop. Pedestrian crossings would likely be abandoned and urban city roads would become easily gridlocked. The only reason people presently respect traffic is because the human driver may not stop!
- On arrival in a city centre, the passengers will alight and the SDC may be able to park itself, but if not, it may circulate around for hours waiting to be recalled for the return trip home. So the city centre will become gridlocked again, this time with empty cars!
- The ability to drive as a skill may be lost, which would leave passengers unable to intervene if the SDC systems fail or the AI cannot comprehend a unique circumstance.
- SDCs will no doubt be able to network with other SDCs, hence they will be vulnerable to hacking by criminals for all sorts of evil uses, such as, creating city chaos, redirection (to perpetrate theft from passengers), kidnap, injury, or even terrorism (an anonymous bomb delivery to a city centre maybe?).
- Insurance: If an accident did occur then who would be liable to pay compensation to the victim? … the SDC owner, the travelling passenger or the SDC manufacturer? … a veritable legal minefield.
I believe the prospect of self-drive vehicles on non-pedestrian restricted routes would be very useful, for example, buses at airports can transport passengers from the car park to the terminals very efficiently. Also, motorway travel would be safer than today, indeed the travel time could be used to catch up on a book or maybe learn a new language, but I believe that SDCs have little prospect of safely displacing a human at the wheel anywhere within an urban or countryside area: where pedestrians are uncontrolled and random in their behaviour.
If what we say strikes a chord, your help to cover our costs with the price of a coffee would be most appreciated!