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Self-Driving Cars Are Not a Perfect Solution

Computers cannot act out of self-preservation—they do not care if you crash or die.

by
Becky Graebner

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May 7, 2013 - 9:00 am
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We have a new rivalry: the Google self-driving car vs. the General Motors “Super Cruise.”  The tech world is all revved up about autonomous cars; it’s like Minority Report meets Back to the Future!  But before we start singing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, we need to take a step back and evaluate the feasibility of the implementation of the technology.

Cars are already available with semi-autonomous features: cruise control, automatic breaking (for objects that enter the car’s sensor fields), parallel park assist, and new features that guide cars back into their lane if they veer too much. The new Cadillac “Super Cruise” is attempting to one-up these features: it can steer the car within the lane, and will make the driver’s seat vibrate if the car veers out of bounds.  It can also brake and accelerate to maintain a “selectable distance” between the car and those in front of it. Proponents of semi-autonomous, and future (fully) autonomous, cars argue that this technology will lead to safer roads, less accidents, better gas mileage, and less need for mistake-prone humans to be driving. I disagree. What about the imperfect nature of our new chauffeurs: computers?

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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There are two basic models for self-driving cars: cars that really are autonomous and cars that are controlled from a central computer system.

I've read several science fiction stories where a future Earth has big central computers who supervise all the automobile traffic. After selecting the destination(s), everyone in the car just sits back while the central computer plots the route and controls the car. If the central computer decides that you are wanted by the police, it stops your car and parks it on the side of the road, locking you inside until the police arrive.

I'm more attracted to a truly autonomous car. I've read that real experiments are ongoing (in private facilities and test tracks, NOT on the public roads) with computers that are within the car itself. There is no central computer in the picture at all. The computer within the car monitors your driving and keeps a safe distance from other cars and obstacles. Again, the driver has very little to do beyond choosing the destination(s). Or at least I think that's the ultimate goal.

I think statists will want the big central computer running everything so that the people who program it can keep control and put a lid on anything that makes them uneasy. I think individualists will prefer the autonomous cars with their own internal computers or will simply drive manually if that isn't outlawed.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Quite the contrary, I think self-driving cars will prove to be far safer than human-driven cars. It is true that software bugs and virii can cause problems. But these problems cause a small percentage of the plane crashes, most of which are due to pilot error. Likewise, 95% of all car crashes are also due to human error. Only 5% are due to mechanical failure, most of which a result of poor maintenance which is also a form of human error. Self-driving cars will reduce and eventually eliminate human error as a cause of car crashes, making the highways and roads far safer than they are now. Indeed, I think manual driving will eventually be banned on public highways for safety reasons.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Self-driving cars are a stupid idea. I don't even have to read this article. The stupidity of the concept should be self-evident. From the headline I see that the author agrees with me in general. Good.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Typical ignorance of technology. Your car is already run by a computer (assuming it's less than 20 years old). How often does that fail? What about your power (not counting downed lines)? Hospital equipment? All run by computers. There are a couple of orders of magnitude between commercial service reliability and critical service reliability. Kieth's car would, if properly designed, fail to start and show a "Return to dealer for service" after any intrusive maintenance is performed.

Autonomous cars don't need to predict humans. Thanks to their faster clock speeds and simpler set of actions they're able to observe the actions of humans and respond appropriately before the human has completed the action.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is no perfect solution. But having just had a car wreck caused by my fainting at the wheel, I wish the car had been driving at the time.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wish you'd gone to the doctor - in a cab - rather than driving if you aren't in good health ;-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The computer-driving cars have involved in a 50 cars pile-up. Oops, a glitch in the most popular software, a bug in the Chinese-made motherboard.

I want a car that screams warnings to the human driver.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
i see the "terminator" factor in this but if the autoautomobile could improve the driving skills of the huge majority of dunderheads then maybe...

if the autoautomobile knows how to merge properly, not loaf in the left lane, not brake excessively (as opposed to just removing foot from accelerator,) etc., then possibly...

but taking into account who would and to what standards the cars would be programmed i do not see this ending well at all
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
On autonomous cars, I really have to go with Top Gear's opinion on this.

"We know that half of all airplane accidents are caused by pilots. So if you remove pilots from the equation, you would halve the number of accidents. We also know that planes can take off, fly, and land by themselves. This is a fact. That being said, would you get into an airplane without a pilot?"

"Now, this (the autonomous car) is a marvelous piece of engineering designed by a brilliant man. But one day this is going to be bought by someone called 'Keith', who gets it in his head he can service it himself."

I should have to say no more.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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