By on March 8, 2016

Lexus Google car

You’ve probably heard the news: An autonomous Google-Lexus brushed a city bus at about 2 miles-per-hour. There’s been plenty of discussion on the incident, some of it oddly hysterical, but most of it has centered on the idea of the future capabilities of autonomous traffic to operate in traffic as it exists today. In other words, from everything I’ve read, the Google automotive team, and everybody else working on the autonomous-car problem, assumes that their cars will have to deal with the same conditions that you and I might face if we were behind the wheel of that automobile.

If that is truly the case, then autonomous vehicles are in for a rougher ride than anybody yet suspects, because they won’t have to deal with the same conditions that human drivers do. Their reality will be much, much worse.

Let me start with a confession of sorts: As a teenager, I read a considerable percentage of the nearly three hundred books that Isaac Asimov had written up to that point. Asimov was absurdly prolific in both pages and ideas, and his flexible imagination eventually made it possible for him to merge his two greatest series (the Foundation books and the Robot books) into a single, logically consistent universe. Future generations, however, will probably remember him best for his “Three Laws of Robotics.” I’ll reprint them here in case you spent your high school years having sex or going to parties instead of reading books:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The difficulties faced by robots and humans in a world where the Three Laws were widely applied formed the basis for much of Asimov’s storytelling. (If you change the order of those laws, by the way, there are unintended consequences.) Asimov, of course, was not a computer scientist; such a profession barely existed during the bulk of his productive life. Those of us who have some mild pretense to the aforementioned title understand that there was a tremendous amount of what I’ll call “hand-waving” in the Asimov robot books about the workings of intelligence and consciousness. Just to get a robot to the point where it could think about the Three Laws would be a feat far beyond anything we’re likely to accomplish in any of our lifetimes.

The real hand-wave on Asimov’s part, however, had nothing to do with robot nature and everything to do with our own. He imagined that the future would be a sort of updated version of ’50s America, as suggested by Donald Fagen’s song I. G. Y., full of respectful children, intact families, and socially homogeneous groups. As a fervent optimist, Asimov couldn’t begin to envision the kind of human garbage roaming the streets of the United States or Europe in 2016, nor could he have ever conceived of a Western culture that would simply pack up and abandon the future to violent, moronic, and deeply superstitious successors simply because nobody in Finland or Massachusetts could be bothered to have children at anything approaching a replacement rate.

Any truly Three-Laws-compliant robot couldn’t be permitted to leave a house located anywhere more vibrant or crowded than my hometown of Powell, Ohio; it would end up unwittingly assisting thugs on their crime sprees, as in the movie “Chappie,” or it would find itself disassembled and sold for parts. The unfortunate truth is that the robots of the future will have to be permitted to do some harm to human beings just to preserve themselves. It’s not really a problem; you can assume that 20 years from now the “person” known as Google and all of its metallic avatars will have considerably more rights than you do. Such is already the case, as you’ll find out in a hurry should you decide to send your next paycheck to a bank account in the Cayman Islands, but the gap will widen considerably in the decades to come.

Autonomous vehicles will need their own implementation of the Three Laws. Since no Google car is projected to achieve consciousness in the near future, those laws will have to be interpreted as software. I suspect that the software will follow these principles:

  1. The Google car must obey the traffic laws unless obeying the traffic laws poses a hazard. As an example, if there is a stalled car ahead on a two-lane road, the Google car will have to have a set of conditions that allows it to pass on the double yellow, otherwise any stalled car would quickly accumulate a very long line of permanently halted Google cars behind it.
  2. The Google car must yield to aggressive traffic or traffic operating in an illegal fashion. In other words, if somebody speeds up next to a Google car in traffic then forcibly cuts in, the Google car will have to let it in rather than “defending its spot” the way a human driver might.
  3. The Google car must have a set of known responses for extraordinary environment behavior. Five years ago, I wrote a bit of fiction for this site about kids who use airbag inflators and custom-sewn fabric silhouettes to make cars “appear” suddenly in front of autonomous vehicles as a form of social revolt.

Solving for answers to 1 and 2 will be tough enough, but I want to really focus on 3 because that’s where autonomous vehicles will spend a surprising amount of their decision time. There is no way, I repeat, no way that human beings will treat autonomous vehicles with any courtesy or decency whatsoever. Perhaps in Isaac Asimov’s Squeaky Clean All White Middle Class America Of The Future, people might stop at a crosswalk and let an autonomous vehicle pass by; but in the Crapsack World of the foreseeable future, you can guarantee that at least the following things will happen:

  • People will attempt to get hit by autonomous vehicles so they can collect a payday in court. Honestly, I’m surprised that nobody’s engineered a Google-car-on-pedestrian strike yet; the pockets involved are deeper than normal humans can understand and the jury would be hugely sympathetic to any person STRUCK DOWN BY A ROBOT CAR.
  • People will rob autonomous trucks and cars that are carrying valuable goods. There’s virtually no risk. Just roll a disabled car in front of the Google truck and strip it clean before the cops arrive. Or do the same to an autonomous limousine and rob the passengers with anything from a Desert Eagle to a box cutter.
  • Hyper-aggressive drivers will force autonomous vehicles off the road to have their spots. Just imagine the usual two-lane merge situation with one stopped lane and one empty lane. Why wouldn’t you just cruise up until you see a Google car then pull in? The Google car has to let you in. It can’t defend its position. There’s too much liability involved.
  • An entire subset of human beings — let’s call them “teens”, since that’s both media code for “anybody committing a crime who isn’t a member of a country club” and it also refers to actual teenagers, who love chaos — will fuck with autonomous vehicles just because they can. They’ll throw rocks at them, drop things on them from overpasses, shoot at them, spray their sensors with paint, flatten their tires, and perform various other acts of mayhem just because they can. Just think of the hilarity involved in walking down the street and spraying the sensors of every autonomous car you see. Kids will do it because kids like to fuck stuff up and autonomous vehicles are likely to become objects of particular hatred for generations of kids who resent not being allowed to buy an old car and drive it anywhere they want without their helicopter parents or the nanny state soft-fencing them in.

What’s going to happen to autonomous vehicles that travel through South Central Los Angeles or downtown Baltimore? Will their owners and operators simply accept that the “loss rate” for what amounts to a free ton of scrap metal is extremely high in those areas? Or will they place soft fences of their own around those high-loss areas, essentially denying transportation and freedom to anybody unlucky enough to be born in Hamsterdam instead of Fairfax County, VA? In states like New Mexico, where one in five drivers is an uninsured illegal immigrant, what’s it going to cost to insure your autonomous vehicle against hit-and-runs?

No battle plan, they say, survives the first contact with the enemy. And in this case, the enemy is us — the messy, chaotic, mentally ill, undocumented, angry, frustrated, overworked, underpaid, teeming masses of humanity. No sane person can think that autonomous cars can survive in that environment. It’s them or us in a fight to the death for control of the American road.

I’m not such a narcissistic egomaniac that I don’t realize that many, many intelligent people have pondered this question before today and likely come to conclusions that are better-informed but substantially similar to what I’ve described above. So you don’t have to worry about autonomous cars sharing the roads with human drivers and being subject to all of the hazards we’ve discussed. Rather, you can rest assured that our right to drive will simply disappear whenever it suits our West Coast tech elite. If we’re lucky, this unilateral takeover will only happen in places where population density and wealth make it easy, like San Francisco.

If we’re unlucky, however, the new order will simply be imposed upon us nationwide, the same way that Mr. Clinton imposed urban-focused gun control on rural towns where nobody’s committed a violent crime since before the Taft administration. If that day comes and the “Red Barchetta” scenario becomes law, you can rest assured that any power you have to vote or protest against the situation will have been thoroughly neutralized well ahead of time. You can, however, always pick up a rock.

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162 Comments on “Autonomous Vehicles, Malicious Drivers...”


  • avatar

    You are exactly correct sir. Google has deep pockets. I’m surprised an enterprising shady lawyer hasn’t already set up an injury case involving one of these cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I just checked Google’s 4th quarter financials – the latest available. Google has $64,395,000,000 cash on hand. Enterprising shady lawyers will read that as $64 billion available immediately to pay an injury claim.

    • 0 avatar
      ckb

      Those cars are recording everything so you’d have to be very smart about it. I think its unlikely the “average” person that would devise a con that involves breaking their own or some patsy’s bones would have the resources to case googles autonomous fleet enough to defeat all of the car’s pedestrian safety mechanisms while still looking innocent on multiple videos. And then they’d have to defeat googles lawyers and investigators…and their search history which will probably include “how to get hit by cars”.

  • avatar
    Dirk Stigler

    “If we’re unlucky, however, the new order will simply be imposed upon us nationwide”

    And nobody will argue, because the real crapsacks in our crapsack world are all the people who chortle about e.g. Trump supporters and think they’re part of the cultural elite, without realizing that the real elites hate them, too.

    Nobody will even want to vote against going into their Matrix battery cells, because they’ll be eagerly awaiting the safe virtual life of the future and laughing at the retrogrades who want to live in the real world.

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    Weird concept of “virtually no risk”, given that the same could be said of, for example, robbing a closed store. Autos will have cameras and be able to uplink your theft data even faster than the store could. I certainly don’t call that risk-free. Or do you believe dash cams do *nothing* when it comes to calling out illegal activity today?

    Bonus points for the xkcd reference, though!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I was reading this yesterday about the way police enforce laws in California today. Remember, California is the future:

      https://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/the-origins-of-trump-nihilism/?singlepage=true

      ” I doubt that CNN morning anchors have woken up to an abandoned Crown Victoria in their yard that swerved and went airborne in the night—its driver (who spoke neither Spanish nor English but a dialect of Mixteca Baja) found in the shrubs still sleeping it off.

      The police who arrive much later have zero interest in doing much other than lecturing one that the car cannot be sold to pay damages. And the driver most certainly will not be turned over for deportation in a sanctuary county. Just writing all that is, for an elite, proof of one’s xenophobia and nativism.”

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        This is great prose, and I doff my hat to you:
        “… nor could (Asimov) have conceived of a Western culture that would simply pack up and abandon the future to violent, moronic, and deeply superstitious successors simply because nobody in Finland or Massachusetts could be bothered to have children at anything approaching a replacement rate.” The smartest, most progressive people I know are indeed either childless or stopped at one.

        I’ve low expectations for the human race – and with America leading the charge off the cliff it’s shaping up to be a dystopian Idiocracy / Orwellian mashup that must have Asimov spinning in his grave. Consider that in 25 years the GOP has gone from having smooth-talking William F. Buckley, Jr. as its mouthpiece (and Dan Quayle as an embarrassment!) to … I don’t have to name names. Or the many candidates who actively disavow science, who scoff at man-made climate change, who would rewrite textbooks to include creationism and relegate evolution to “just a theory” status when it’s canon. People who unironically compare gayness to bestiality and think that if we’d just look hard enough we’d find the Ark in the Himalayas. These people are determining our fates – and the lobbyists who fund them are hastening the race to the bottom.

        Ignorance is accelerating too – the internet instead of contributing to literacy and understanding has enabled people to be far more unintelligent, an outcome I could not have conceived of when I got my first collegiate dial up account in the early 90’s. Instead of being the source of bona-fide facts and truth as I imagined – the internet & social media encourage people to sit in their own personal fart-bubble of whatever they already believe in – an echo chamber reinforcing their moronic ideas along with their cadre of like-minded, ill-informed nitwits as a ‘community’.

        Regarding nihilism – when I was a young adult it was expressed by moshing to Black Flag, having a chuckle over the poster insert in Frankenchrist or Captain Sensible literally pissing on his fans at a Los Angeles venue. We’d smoke Camel filterless because we were all doomed to die in a nuclear inferno anyway, right? Today the same lack of faith in tomorrow is expressed by … idolizing an orange colored sociopathic blowhard and perhaps removing the muffler from a clapped out Civic and driving around Tampa FL all night, every night. But I’m spitballing on that one.

        So before I skid this comment too far into the weeds – I agree that our driverless future is incredibly problematic thanks to our increasingly moronic society. John Varley wrote the prescient novel Steel Beach about a human society after the Singularity that’s dependent on its A.I. ruler to keep the proverbial trains running on time, to prosecute crime and regulate everything a government might otherwise do. It’s fascinating – and is the only hope I can summon for a future where we don’t wipe ourselves out à la 12 Monkeys – and even then he proposes that the Singularity might just be schizophrenic when it happens.

        I’ve exhausted my crystal ball. I hope I can survive the winters in Finland.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “I’ll reprint them here in case you spent your high school years having sex or going to parties instead of reading books:”

    I didn’t, but I didn’t read much Asimov either.

    “and deeply superstitious successors simply because nobody in Finland or Massachusetts could be bothered to have children at anything approaching a replacement rate.”

    I really don’t care for this attitude. You make it sound like “not having children” is like “forgetting to do the laundry.” Nobody is *obligated* to reproduce, and if you think they are you should be ready and willing to step up and raise their kids for them.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      You and I will have to disagree.

      Raising the next generation of citizens has been understood as a social obligation since before the concept of society existed. To do otherwise is to abandon to future to the ideas of people who are willing to have kids in your place.

      Full disclosure: I have only one child, so I’m not exactly doing my part.

      • 0 avatar
        Master Baiter

        Feminism convinced women that somehow making Powerpoint slides in a cubicle is more important to society than raising the next generation of humans. Men never believed this; it took angry, men-hating misfit lesbians to promote this garbage; we were stupid enough to go along.. We’re now reaping what feminism has sown.

        • 0 avatar
          bikegoesbaa

          “We’re now reaping what feminism has sown.”

          A two-income child-free household with lots of resources and leisure time to do fun and interesting things?

          Sounds pretty fantastic. Sign me up!

          • 0 avatar
            doublechili

            It does sound great for the 2 people involved, but not so great for the unemployed head of a household who one of the happy interesting-thing-doing spouses beat out for a job, or the worker expecting a pension in old age where there aren’t future workers to pay in and fund it.

            Bloody unintended consequences!

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            If Johnny Breeder can’t beat out my lady friend for an engineering job I’m not going to be too upset about it. I guess he should have worked harder in school or realistically assessed his employability before having those kids?

            Likewise, I’m not going to give up my weekends sleeping in just because somebody erected a Ponzi scheme predicated on multi-generational participation.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            So… now two people to earn the spending power of one. Yes, we will sign you up. Hey are your parents still alive? Maybe they can go in for me tomorrow.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            “A two-income child-free household with lots of resources and leisure time to do fun and interesting things?”

            Nope. A two income, 2x80hr/week, minimal wage subsistence; forced to pay all the measel they make to banksters for a shitty roof over their head. And the rest (extra credit for figuring that one out…) for mandated waiting lists at the doctors office, so that Dimbulb in Chief can alleviate his inferiority complex vis-a-vis som Eurotrash.

            And honestly, isn’t what is hailed as the funnest and most interesting thing one can do with a woman these days, supposed to be so cheap it doesn’t ever require the resources to buy a set of clothes?

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Well, Master Baiter has tried to live up to his handle…operative word being “tried”.

          No, feminism hasn’t sown this. In industrial and post industrial societies, having more kids isn’t an economic advantage anymore, so people have less of them.

          And the industrial revolution predates the feminist movement by about 100 years. In fact, feminism is actually a consequence of the political developments of industrialization and the democratization of wealth. It only makes sense that in an industrial society with actual social mobility, women should be socially mobile too. That means a) women can control their reproduction, and b) having more kids gets in the way of them making more money. None of this happened in a vacuum.

          So if you want to blame lower birth rates on something, try industrialization and economic development. If we devolve to a pre industrial agrarian society, then it’ll make all kinds of sense for families to punch out 10 kids as farm laborers.

          • 0 avatar
            doublechili

            bikegoesbaa, I’m sure the “somebody” (FDR?) in “somebody erected a Ponzi scheme predicated on multi-generational participation” re: pensions (and social security and lots of other entitlement programs) didn’t think they were erecting a Ponzi scheme. At the time it was considered solid progressive policy. But by shifting functions traditionally the responsibility of the family to large employers and especially the government, those policies (among other things) took away much of the incentive for having children (eg., to care for one financially and otherwise in old age). Again, unintended consequences. So now DINKs can enjoy their lifestyles secure in the knowledge that their old age is taken care of by social security, medicare, Obamacare, pensions, 401ks, savings, etc.. Except the first several in that group are running out of money. And perhaps someday we realize that this fundamental shift in human behavior has had other unintended consequences that impact the 401ks, savings, etc., and then the fun and easy lifestyle of DINKs gets a reality check, just like Johnny Breeder got.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            If DINKs can’t save for their retirement, then they’re doing it wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Please, they either knew exactly what they were doing and either thought something better would come along or just didn’t care because now they had a number system for citizens they didn’t have previously. For big government, its kinda nice to be able to keep tabs on folks especially under the guise of “doing something for them” as opposed to go to the camp and get the tattoo.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Bingo.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          “Feminism convinced women that somehow making Powerpoint slides in a cubicle is more important to society than raising the next generation of humans”

          Um, I think you’ve been misled. Feminism is about treating people fairly regardless of their gender. It’s really that simple.

          Maybe get out a bit more? Read?

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          You are indeed a Master Baiter. This was pretty good.

      • 0 avatar
        sproc

        I’d strike a third position: Raising a next generation of citizens ≠ bearing children. Not having children is not a moral failure. Not actively supporting those who do and the development of their offspring into productive citizens most certainly is. That’s where we often fail miserably.

      • 0 avatar
        orenwolf

        Thank the stars for wikipedia and connectedness, and the inability of parents to “instil virtues” on their offspring in a vacuum anymore.

        In my teenage years I would never have seen the number of similarly-aged folks eschewing their religious “obligations” to the level they are today, let alone dating someone of the wrong social / racial / religious / whatever-made-up-division class as I do today. Finally, the reality that parents do not own their children is finally being backed up by information and knowledge and the ability of true independence.

        In other words, it isn’t going to matter much longer who has the children, at least if you are concerned about “ideas”.

        (disclaimer: both me and my SO eschewed our expected places in society by choosing professions our parents HATED and also becoming atheists – something that is a much bigger deal for my jewish-born SO).

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        I realize I’m in the minority here, so yep, agree to disagree on this one.

      • 0 avatar
        hybridkiller

        “Raising the next generation of citizens has been understood as a social obligation since before the concept of society existed.”

        Nonsense – the biological drive to mate is the only thing that has been “understood” since before the concept of society existed. (note to self – reading a bunch of sci-fi novels perhaps not the best education in human nature)

        “Full disclosure: I have only one child, so I’m not exactly doing my part.”

        Sorry, but copping to your own hypocrisy doesn’t somehow magically negate it.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        Socially, it would be best for the most intelligent people to have and raise the next generation.
        In the real world, however, the poor, uneducated, religious and ignorant have the most children, and the well-educated have the least. This does not bode well for the future, but it is a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you only live once. Not having children leaves lots of time and money for living well, and having children results in plenty of bills, stress, responsibility, and problems… and if you are fortunate, terrific children.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      JimZ, I agree. Have children if you want them, but nobody is under any obligation to do so. Frankly, most of what sucks around me – traffic, crowds, pollution, etc. is due to overpopulation, or at least too many people for a given area. One could argue that the offspring might be the ones to solve some of the world’s problems, but I suspect video games will be more entertaining to them.

      Google cars will create quite a problem with the questionable action of others. I, for one, defend the “zipper” religiously. Courteous drivers merge every other car, and if you are trying to wedge your way in because you did not want to wait in line like i did, you will not be doing so in front of me. I can only imagine the chaos caused by impatient jerks forcing their way in front of a Google car, only to have the Google car stop and allow it to happen. The impatient jerks will have a field day while the respectful drivers will be stuck behind a “stalled” Googlemobile.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Watch “Idiocracy”, and then come back to us.

        Full disclosure: I live in Massachusetts and I have 3 kids.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          https://xkcd.com/603/

        • 0 avatar

          It’s a great movie and I feel like I’m living in it sometimes.

          One factor that Idiocracy doesn’t consider is the high birthrate among traditional Christians (I’d include orthodox Jews, but they’re too small a population group to impact society at large). They also send their kids to schools where they’re less likely to have their heads filled with PC mush.

          I’d also guess that the demographic that Idiocracy portrays as having lots of kids also has a fair number of abortions.

          This is the reality in any age. Half of everyone is stupid. That’s the word we use for less than average intelligence. The other half of humanity, the smart ones, are responsible for the worst ideas in history.

          Yet somehow democracy seems to work.

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            Right, they send their kids to school to be filled with religious mush. Which is in many ways worse.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            @bike: Someone I know (well, used to know) recently just left their parents’ house and burned all their bridges, but she left something behind on the whiteboard in her room.

            “I am no longer a slave to fear, for I am a child of God!”

            I’m sorry, but that sounds crazy to me…

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            the way I like to put it is:

            “Ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge.

            Stupidity is wishing to remain ignorant.”

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        If you’re in the continental US and find your surroundings to be crowded then the chances are remote that those crowds were caused by your fellow citizens having large families. They almost certainly are a large influx of immigrants.

        The Americans that are having families are in the wide open spaces of flyover country.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Seems like one of those inverse things, where the responsible people who might actually raise a child well aren’t having any for financial reasons.

      The irresponsible people who raise children poorly and don’t give a sh-t are having kids for welfare financial reasons.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        That’s an incredibly _STUPID_ comment .

        You obviously have never bothered to check into any aspect of welfare .

        -Nate

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Even “responsible” people have babies they ultimately can’t afford, Corey. I’m a prime example. When I had mine, no problem affording them. Then my ex went Dark Side of the Moon, and I ended up unemployed off and on for the better part of a year and a half during the financial crisis.

        Divorcing my wife and all her financial craziness (not to mention criminality) made things a lot better but it’s still a challenge even now.

        Like the guy in Juno said, “This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet.” It can happen to anyone, even a smart, college-educated, professional guy like me.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Goodness, now I just feel nosy and want to know what sort of criminal stuff your ex turned to.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            She’s been arrested twice for check fraud, and goes on trial in April for it.

            Hopefully they put her away this time. She’s screwed over so many people…my kids included. I’ll leave it at that.

            Here’s praying for a nice little stretch in prison for her, where she can stage her own little episode of “Orange Is The New Black.” Maybe she’ll end up someone’s prison wife. I’d enjoy that.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks for your candor. Sounds like a real piece of work. I also have a relative who’s taken advantage of their child (financially), and it’s very unfortunate to watch.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      People choose to go with fewer children or no children because they do not have the resource to afford them these days. Kids cost a lot more and income per capita is a low less after inflation is factored in, so both parents have to work.

      Feminism isn’t to blame. If you don’t want to raise a kid in a bad neighborhood and running in the street with thugs, and you don’t make big money, the obvious choice is 2 working parents and fewer kids.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Them’s be my thoughts as well. With a disappearing middle class, it is a bit harder now for one breadwinner to provide home and health for one’s family. Combined with the recession demonstrating just how easy it is to lose a job, and it seems rather unwise to have your entire material well being resting on just one breadwinner if you can avoid it.

        Besides, my wife actually likes her career. She chose it for a reason. Not everyone just makes powerpoints in a cubicle for a living.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Wonderful compilation of the likely scenarios. Yes, I read all of Asimov 50 years ago.

    The thought that some private outfit like Google could get regulars banned is chilling. It’s like the dispute resolution tribunals in free-trade deals that are above the existing laws of the land. A country signs away sovereignty to capitalists without a second thought. So the Google scenario is believable.

    Thanks for broadening the discussion to real fundamentals.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Not only have I read pretty much all of The Good Doctor’s fiction works (and quite a bit of his non-ficton), but I had the wonderful fortune of spending a great deal of time talking to him during the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. Not that big a deal when you’re attending 8-12 science fiction conventions a year around the country, and spend your evenings in the quieter, soberer literary parties, rather than the media, filksinging (not a mis-spelling), or midwestern poker parties.

      Dr. Asimov may have written of a nice well-behaved, 50’s future where things are clean and orderly, be he was hardly unrealistic as to where society was going. By his own (repeated) admission, he was writing fiction. And just because he came up with this neat, nice society, didn’t mean he was convinced that’s how society was going. That world just suited his narratives.

      Actually, in fandom back then, he was known for something more profound and honest than the Three Laws of Robotics. It was informally called Asimov’s Dictum:

      “People are stupid.”

      And, on a mental frame, you have never really lived until you’ve spent two con-going weekends back-to-back. The first with Dr. Asimov. The second with Harlan Ellison.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    “Fairfax County, VA”

    Woot!

    Though I live in Loudoun County. I just work here.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    I’m fairly sure ‘teens’ is a different sort of euphemism.

    Start saving for your ticket to Elysium, folks.

  • avatar
    John

    Folks who get worked up about autonomous vehicles might want to think that many of the functions of conventional vehicles today are autonomous, from engine management, shifting gears, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, radio tuning, climate control, cruise control, collision avoidance, parking for some cars, lane monitoring, headlight dimming and windshield wipers in some cars, the list goes on and on of functions that used to be controlled by the driver, but are now controlled by onboard computers.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “…then autonomous vehicles are in for a rougher ride than anybody yet suspects…”

    Not me. I’ve been calling BS on this technology from day one. You point out many good reasons why it’s BS.

    The only way this will work is to build completely separate, smart roads designed for autonomous vehicles. And we can’t seem to build anything in this country anymore, so it won’t happen.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    mcs

    If you eliminate human and animal hazards, you still have to deal with environmental issues. Salt spray blinds sensors. Water pooled on roads or flooded underpasses aren’t easily detected. The full level 4 cars are much further out than most people think. Typical software developer underestimation of the amount of problems that need to be overcome in order to produce a proper product. For reference, read this article from CNET published in September of 2012:

    http://www.cnet.com/news/googles-sergey-brin-youll-ride-in-robot-cars-within-5-years/

    Here is an IEEE article on the first of what I’m sure of will be many hacks:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/self-driving/researcher-hacks-selfdriving-car-sensors

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Jack points out some interesting challenges for autonomous cars. However, for every challenge, there is a means to overcome.

    Challenge: crooks will fake accidents to sue Google
    Answer: Goggle doesn’t own the car, I do. You can sue me, but know that the vehicle has more cameras on it than the Super Bowl, and you will lose.

    Challenge: an autonomous car driven in a crime-ridden neighborhood will be vandalized or stolen.
    Answer: Don’t drive there. I don’t drive into lousy neighborhoods at the wheel, so why would I allow my car to drive there on its own? I wouldn’t.

    Challenge: Aggressive drivers will cut off autonomous cars, even drive them off the road
    Answer: So what? autonomous cars don’t have egos to be bruised. They move on without the road rage. This is a good thing.

    Challenge: kids will mess with the autonomous cars.
    Answer: Don’t drive around teens. Limit your cars activities to running errands at stores in safe, well lit areas; to commuting, and; to picking up younger kids from school, soccer practice, etc.

    Yes, we’ll have to figure out how to live with autonomous cars. But we’re smart people; we’ve got this.

    • 0 avatar
      BiturboS4

      Car ownership: Irrelevant. The litigant will be suing the owner of the software. As a car owner, you would be the licensee, unless you wrote your own autonomous car code. The entire point of an autonomous car is that the passenger isn’t driving the thing, so why would he be liable if it hits someone?

      Bad neighborhoods: “Don’t drive there” isn’t a solution. As Jack alludes to in his piece, much of the promise of autonomous cars is that they won’t be owned but rather leased on an on-demand basis as ride-share services. Think of hailing an Uber when you want to go somewhere, except that Uber doesn’t have to pay a prole to drive the thing for you. If autonomous cars can’t operate in bad neighborhoods without being vandalized or destroyed, these services simply won’t operate in those neighborhoods. Imagine how the Community Reinvestment Act folks would view that.

      Bullied autonomous cars: sure sucks to be the passenger in an autonomous car that is stuck in a traffic jam because the car keeps getting cut off by self-interested humans.

      Don’t drive around teens: see the above

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    So a Google car is traveling along the highway- will it cruise at maximum of 100KPH as the law permits, or maintain the same speed as the flow of traffic at 120? Because at 100KPH it’s just begging to be the cause of a high speed mishap.

    • 0 avatar
      NOSLucasWiringSmoke

      I think Google cars travelling 100 km/h in 100 zones where most other traffic is doing 115-120 (401? Autoroute in Quebec?) will be less of a hazard than the idiots who are either (1) weaving around everyone else so they can go a bit faster, or (2) parked in the left lane at 115 and staying there “because they’re going straight through”.

      Most of the dicey traffic situations I encounter in regular driving between Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal is caused by the idiots. Drivers that want to do 100-110 and stay to the right are not generally a problem.

      The average driver who behaves like these idiots is simply bad and inconsiderate, thanks to decades of laxity in licensing and enforcement that lead them to feel entitled to act like an @$$ to save 10-20 minutes on a medium-length trip, or 5 minutes on a local one.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      That’s easy: it “tailgate” another car in traffic at 120 and as long as it is not the 1st one, it is not likely to get into accident.

  • avatar
    Willyam

    Awesome stuff. Like self-checkouts, they seem to invite base behavior, but suburban stores are now full of those anyway. The problems seem to have been solved by the placement of a single, minimum-wage “watcher” at the end of the aisles. Giant Gatsby eyeglass billboards, anyone?

    A natural human tendency is to “meander”. We “meandered” all over the globe, according to the genome project, till we pretty much ran out of places that would support us. Then we made Vegas.

    What happens to that behavior when we can’t just “go for a drive”, as the autonomous vehicle requires a destination before starting out? Imagine if the inability to get Siri to understand our destination becomes an inability to go anywhere without an irritating argument with Jeeves? Humanity will cope and adapt, but what will this do to the business landscape as drive-by random traffic is replaced by screen-watching movie cubes on wheels?

  • avatar
    stryker1

    I predict that self-driving cars, like most of Silicon Valley’s recent “innovations” will be popular in parts of SF, maybe Manhattan, and anywhere else that affluent people want servants, but recoil at the prospect of employing anybody for more than an hour.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      As someone in the valley, I think it would be the opposite: it would be used by industry to cut labor cost by having 1 human leading 5 automated vehicle on the rural interstate highway between truck stops. Human would be used to move these vehicles for the last miles.

      Another 1st use would be parking in a parking structure after you drop it off at entrance on the 1st floor. Auto vehicle would double park and avoid blocking any vehicle permanently.

      • 0 avatar
        stryker1

        My point is more that it will be a trendy toy for affluent urbanites, and revolutionize driving the same way wash.io is revolutionizing laundry doing.
        For almost nobody.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Well, for starters, I think autonomous cars will turn the concept of “ownership” on it’s head.

    And there are plenty of workarounds. “Obstacle ahead- wait or proceed?” “Proceed” – and with that, the car executes your command, rendering YOU liable for whatever comes from it. Google uses those instances to continue to learn and automate, etc etc.

    It’s a big change, but I think much of the resistance to autonomous cars is without merit.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “and with that, the car executes your command, rendering YOU liable for whatever comes from it.”

      At that point we just have “normal” cars with an advanced turn-by-turn cruise control system. It doesn’t match a future many bring up where the blind, infirm, drunk, tired, etc. Are whisked around the world in communal pods without a steering wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Telling a car w/no steering wheel to proceed around a stalled car hardly equates to a regular car with advanced turn by turn cruise control. Plus the more commands the cars get the more they can learn how to deal with new situations in the future.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I was surprised no mention of I Robot, where the Three Laws were the whole pivot point of the movie.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “He imagined that the future would be a sort of updated version of ’50s America, as suggested by Donald Fagen’s song I. G. Y., full of respectful children, intact families, and socially homogeneous groups.”

    Yes, because Jim Crow was just so awesome.

    As for your scenarios:

    “People will attempt to get hit by autonomous vehicles so they can collect a payday in court.”

    We already have that without autonomous vehicles.

    “People will rob autonomous trucks and cars that are carrying valuable goods.”

    We already have that without autonomous vehicles.

    “Hyper-aggressive drivers will force autonomous vehicles off the road to have their spots.”

    We already have that without autonomous vehicles.

    “(Teens, etc. will) throw rocks at them, drop things on them from overpasses, shoot at them, spray their sensors with paint, flatten their tires, and perform various other acts of mayhem just because they can.”

    We already have that without autonomous vehicles.

    The key difference is that a party who is almost never liable for crashes now — the OEMs — would own virtually every crash. That’s the key reason why I expect that driverless cars will never truly be driverless; putting the corporate balance sheet on the line for every traffic fatality and serious crash is pure folly.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      …or we (via government) will decide that ultimately autonomous vehicles are safer than human piloted cars. Therefore it makes sense to give automakers and software vendors some legal immunity for the accidents that do happen as a sensible trade off for the many lives that are saved.

      We did this with vaccine manufacturers not long ago to ensure that vaccines continue to be produced. A compensation fund was set up for the few children truly hurt by a vaccine, but it is not a financial jackpot.

      The liability problem is easily solved, but the trial lawyers will not let go of their current business model without a fight.

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      “We already have that without autonomous vehicles.” x4

      Thank you Pch.
      This was my first (and only) thought regarding the entire article.

      Once again, “…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The balance sheet won’t be on the line. Just as with every other dangerous product made, the insurers will decide when the risk can be underwritten without threatening *their* balance sheets, and then they will underwrite the risk and pay the claims.

  • avatar
    Vipul Singh

    I had read the Foundation series before doing the Empire series. After finishing ‘Robots and Empire’, I re-read the last of the Foundation series novels (Foundation and Earth).

    To me, the moment when Daneel says to Travize and Palorat: “I am that Robot, it is not a myth”, is the definitive achievement of futuristic fiction.

    IMHO, those considered Asimov’s ‘equals’ (like Clark) don’t even come close to Asimov’s brilliance or genius.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Nice avatar, Vipul!

      Live long and prosper…

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I only hope that you’re old enough (50’s or 60’s) and fannish enough to have attended SF cons forty years ago, and gotten a chance to meet the man. He was a hell of an experience.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Roddenberry? I would loved to have met him.

        However, I did meet Shatner and he’s a first rate douche.

        • 0 avatar
          Vipul Singh

          @FreedMike: likewise! :) :)

          @Syke: no chance of attending a convention being in India! The Original series has had three TV runs here, and TNG has had just one. So I bought the DVDs from Amazon USA to fuel my vice

          The real genius of Roddenberry (apart from what he is usually given credit for) is that he imagined a society which had access to:
          1) An abundant and powerful energy source, waaaay beyond even nuclear fusion
          2) A method of reliably converting energy into matter and vice versa

          This concept alone, if it ever materializes, has the power to set humanity on a significantly different goal and path. Asimov’s concept of utopia was based on robots working for humans, but Star Trek goes well beyond that in this respect

  • avatar
    dwford

    I can’t for the life of me understand what problem autonomous cars solve. I don’t need a machine to drive for me (though I guess you could argue some people do), but the idea that at some point the cars will be completely driverless and shared among people doesn’t really solve anything, you still have motor vehicles traveling the roads taking up space. Maybe decades in the future no one will own cars and we will all have a subscription to a mobility pod service and have thousands of identical pods roaming the streets so we can catch a ride at a moments notice.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Humans are the cause of virtually every crash. Eliminate the human element, and there shouldn’t be many crashes.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        If we could only get our autonomous cars to drop off our autonomous shopping bots at Wal-Mart, then every cart would be lined up neatly traveling the aisles, no one cart interfering with another. Wouldn’t life be perfect?

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          Well, you asked the question, and that’s the answer. Humans cause crashes.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            dwford,
            We must lead very different lives. I would LOVE for a car to drive me to and from work every day, so I could spend the 2 hours productively – like by doing actual work.

            I would LOVE for a car to pick up my kids everyday and take them to all their lessons and practices, so my wife and I can get a little free time and I don’t have to hire another au pair (the last one got into 4 accidents in 1 year!)

            I would LOVE for my mother to be able to go to the doctor’s office without my poor sister having to take off work every time to drive her there.

            And I would LOVE to go to dinner or a bar and not have to limit myself to 1 drink, because I know I’ll be the one driving home.

            I would LOVE for goods to be cheaper, because we don’t have to pay truck drivers, and I’d love for millions of people to be freed up to devote themselves to careers more creative, engaging and productive than merely driving around all day.

            You really don’t get this?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Computer simulations indicate that when 20% of the cars are self driving traffic is eliminated. Almost all traffic is caused by humans being unable to manage the “pressure waves” that cause traffic.

      http://www.smartmotorist.com/traffic-and-safety-guideline/traffic-jams.html

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        That only helps to explain non-recurring events.

        Recurring traffic is caused by overutilization of roads. We can try to use tolls, mass transit and driving restrictions (i.e. keeping semis off of highways during rush hour) to ease this, but at the end of the day, we end up with other traffic coming in to take the place of those who deferred or stopped their driving.

        Traffic in urban and suburban areas is like a gas: it will take up the space that is available to it. If autonomous cars work as promised, then they should make driving easier, which will mean that there is more driving, which should mean that there would be just about the same slog as there would have been otherwise.

        • 0 avatar
          redmondjp

          You are still missing the point. Self-driving cars allow for a much higher utilization rate of the roads (cars per mile per minute) than is humanly possible. Why? You can have bumper-to-bumper traffic flowing along at 85mph with no accidents and every car in communication with each other, all knowing that they will gradually slow down by 5mph in the next half mile to account for the cars merging into traffic, which will also happen seamlessly.

          Where I live, a great majority of traffic issues could be resolved simply by teaching mergers and mergees how to do it properly.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You’re not going to have bumper-to-bumper traffic moving at 85 mph because the car still needs to have adequate reaction time.

            If anything, you’ll end up with **lower** peak speeds due to the cars not speeding or tailgating, so there will be **more** space between cars because the cars would be doing what they should be doing, instead of tailgating as impatient humans choose to do. On the other hand, that provides the benefit of fewer crashes and other wave events, so that aspect of things should improve traffic flow (even if the benefit is lost due to others getting on the road because making driving easier should encourage more driving.)

            What traffic engineers have figured out is that traffic flows are improved by reducing conflict points, not by speeding things up. That’s why we have metered offramps in urban areas (without restricting the flow of traffic into the merge points, you end up with more bottlenecks) and why modern roundabouts (which deliberately slow traffic down) work far better than rotaries (which were an attempt to move traffic through junctions without slowing it down.)

            So no, I get it, thanks.

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          The elimination of pressure waves dramatically increase the throughput of the a given road. The demand to go from point A to point B at 8:15 isn’t unlimited as a result traffic is almost eliminated.

          For your theory to be true there would need to be vast numbers of people who want to be driving to work at 8:15 but are not.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            It isn’t my theory. A traffic engineer would tell you this, and that’s where I got it.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            “A traffic engineer would tell you this”

            The studies are pretty conclusive.

            http://news.mit.edu/2013/algorithm-could-mitigate-freeway-backups-1028

            Keeping in mind that’s with only radar cruise control not fully autonomous vehicles.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Again, there are “recurring” and “non-recurring” causes of traffic. That only addresses the “non-recurring.”

            When you try to put two gallons of water into a one gallon jug, you end up with a lot of water on the floor. That spilled water is your recurring traffic jam.

            And we end up with a lot of recurring traffic jams because we have a high tolerance for sitting in traffic (even if we dislike it.) We would rather crawl in traffic than move to the middle of nowhere and have easy commutes to lower paying jobs in places where we don’t know anyone.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            “That only addresses the “non-recurring.””

            You have it backwards. It addresses the recurring traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            My apologies for my reversing of the terminology, but my point otherwise is still correct. Driverless cars cannot fix the traffic caused by excessive demand for roads, nor is there is anything that can fix this due to the nature of demand for roads.

          • 0 avatar

            @Pch101: seems to me driverless cars could reduce traffic in cities if people call up cars when they need them, rather than owning them. Thus, no need to park, and no need to circle until you find a parking place.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            If driving is easier, then there will be more driving.

            And I don’t know where this idea comes from that cars won’t need to be parked.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “I can’t for the life of me understand what problem autonomous cars solve.”

      it takes the piloting of 4,000 lb hunks of metal out of the hands of poorly-trained, impatient, inattentive, inebriated, and just plain incompetent humans.

      ‘s why I like one of Simon Pegg’s lines in Hot Fuzz:

      Danny: “Why aren’t we supposed to call them ‘accidents’ again?”
      Nicholas: “Because ‘accident’ implies there’s nobody to blame.”

      though most collisions are unintentional, virtually every single one can be traced back to some idiot meatsack doing something wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      The “problem” is labor cost… Buy a autonomous vehicle once vs hiring a driver for the time you need.

      Get it?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Actually, I can, and would love having my Kia Sedona reto-fitted with the equipment that could do the job.

      This past weekend my wife and I drove from Ashland, VA (about 10 miles north of Richmond) to St. Augustine, FL on a Thursday for a 17th century reenactment, then did the return drive that Sunday. 9-1/2 hours each way that we really would have rather spent reading than winding our way thru traffic. Once we reached the Atlee/Elmont exit (86) on I-95, we would have switched off the autopilot and driven the remaining mile and a half to our house.

      In my conservative technology world, this is where I see autonomous vehicles shining. And also see it as the only really practical use of the technology in the next 10-15 years. Despite the limitations, I really want it to happen. NOW!!!!

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        17th Century reenactment? What, did you pretend to kill Native Americans all day? Burn witches? Starve to death? Sounds like a ball.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Nah, he gets the choice of reenacting the Polish- Ottoman War or playing a corpse in the Great Plague of London.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish%E2%80%93Ottoman_War_(1620%E2%80%9321)

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Plague_of_London

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “I can’t for the life of me understand what problem autonomous cars solve.”

      Two problems:

      1) Human drivers kill each other, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists at a rate of about 35,000 annually. (That is, a bit more than ten 9/11s every year, or, if you prefer, about one of every 8000 people in the country dying from a car crash every year.) All but a very few of those are totally preventable and would be prevented by ever-vigilant, never-reckless robot cars.

      2) Young, old, and disabled people can’t drive, and are reduced to staying at home or relying on the generosity and schedule of others. A robot can drive them.

  • avatar
    jmo

    “People will attempt to get hit by autonomous vehicles so they can collect a payday in court.”

    People can do that now by jumping in front of a UPS struck. Why would it happen more with an autonomous car?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Whom would you rather have as a witness against you in court: a hard-working UPS guy in his company uniform or a “technical expert” from Google?

      Hint: Imagine you’re a jury

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        “Our analytics from time of impact show there’s only a 32.14% chance the plaintiff would experience whiplash and a broken collar bone. Thus, Google Inc. very generously rounded up and offered to pay 35% of plaintiffs medical bills.”

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Alternative: autonomous truck is loaded with dozens of cameras that record the scam from the start. Yeah, I’ll go with the cameras.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          You’re short on imagination here.

          All you need is two parties. Party the first sprays or blinds the camera. Party the second immediately suffers accident afterwards. No correlation between the first and second is provable.

          It’s like you’ve never been on the receiving end of a thoroughly sophisticated con game or insurance scam. If that’s the case, congratulations.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Eyewitness testimony is also unreliable.

            You’re engaging in a classic logical fallacy: You’re presuming that one case is inherently superior because the other one is flawed, failing to subject both alternatives to the same criteria.

            Every system can be gamed. The current system can be gamed, and the future could be. But it will probably be more difficult to game the future than the present, since the current system is depending upon the successful actions of rather flawed humans in order to make it work. The automated car will be a better witness and have more backup systems that allow it to be a better witness.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            If someone sprays the cameras (thus is on camera doing so) then that’s spoliation of evidence, and I don’t think it’s too far fetched to believe that a jury would see through that.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo

            How is this any different than doing that to a UPS truck?

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I’m thinking that someone spraying the camera would show up on a video record…thus making their case more than a little fishy.

            I can think of a lot of arguments against autonomous cars, but but not this kind of stuff.The same kinds of things that happen today with non-autonomously driven cars.

            Now, the idea of a car taking control from ME and doing something I don’t tell it to, even if the car is theoretically a better driver than I am…there’s an idea I’m not terribly comfortable with.

            Plus it’s just not something a real man would let happen…

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @Jack “You’re short on imagination here.”

            How about this…

            a Class3B infrared 850mW laser against the cameras ccd array. Mounted to a servo controlled pan/tilt mechanism and a couple of stereoscopic IR cameras (or maybe just one?) you can automate the aiming which is critical.

          • 0 avatar
            05lgt

            What if there’s more than one autonomous car in the area? Google isn’t who want to count on not being able to find the relevant video from another car.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The autonomous car should be more likely to be able to avoid the crash because it will do a better job of anticipating risk and acting accordingly.

        Again, I would suggest that the main distortion here is that the OEM is now on the hook. That provides common incentives to the owner and insurer of the striking vehicle as well as to the pedestrian to lay the blame on the automaker.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        I’d go with the radar, laser, visible light, gps, testimony of the car.

  • avatar
    mmdpg

    I went to the 1964 Worlds Fair as a 7 year old and seem to remember flying cars, highways in the sky, jet powered cars. 50 years later how many of us flew to work today? I think the same thing will happen with fully robotic cars. They won’t exist for years, if ever, but the technology that will make traffic and driving safer, smart cruise control, lane departure etc will continue to evolve and improve.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Right now nobody is even attempting to solve super basic problems, like, how can you make an autonomous car that will drive on unmarked, unscanned gravel roads? How do you tell it where to park in a big open area? How will it handle situations where it’s on that unmarked, unscanned road when it’s covered with snow?

    Unless the powers that be plan on legislating away all housing away from the suburbs and in areas where the weather gets bad, I doubt Jack’s nightmare scenario will come to pass. And I suspect that autonomous cars will remain in the future until neural networks get so overwhelmingly powerful that they can figure out answers to these questions on their own, so despite my general axiom that saying that technological change is far away is folly, in this case, I’m pretty sure it’s quite far away. Nobody’s coming for our Ultimate Driving Machines just yet.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      In theory, I’m guessing you’d be able to take control of the car personally in instances where the computer went all blue-screen on you.

      Still doesn’t make it that much better of an idea, tho…I’d be comfortable with a car driving itself autonomously through Kansas on I-70, but in everyday traffic? No way. I’d want control for sure.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        “In theory, I’m guessing you’d be able to take control of the car personally in instances where the computer went all blue-screen on you.”

        Yeah, just what we need – a nation full of people who only drive in the most dangerous, low-visibility, ambiguous circumstances!

        Plus, I’ve talked to guys working in this field, and the problem is that there’s no easy middle ground between “lots of assists”, current S-Class style, and “Home, Jeeves”-style total autonomy. The transition points between autonomy and user control just can’t be handled properly, not because of the lack of software, but because human beings are crap at making those transitions. And full autonomy means FULL. In drive throughs. In car washes. In big parking lots. At race tracks with strange infield layouts not on any map (Where shall I tell my car to go? Calabogie, and park near the red Freightliner with silver hubcaps and an awning with an orange Miata under it?). On long driveways. In your yard under a tree while you wash it. In bad weather. When snow piles up and changes the contours along the road. When snow piles up and turns a two-lane into a one-and-a-half-lane through a city street. When a water main breaks and there’s one construction dude making eye contact to shunt you to the other lane. When signals fail, when cars stall, when accidents happen, when some lady is driving along with a tree stuck in her hood.

        The problem is that these things are each individually unlikely, but if you drive for even five hours you’re likely to see at least one, probably more situations that aren’t even *being planned for or researched* by SoCal-living, urban tech utopians. And they all have to be solved, 100% of the time, with zero transition time between assisted and throw-out-the-steering-wheel level autonomy, because our own wetware won’t allow half measures.

        That’s the real devil in this problem.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    What a fun article and comments .

    I read Asimov and managed to get laid a lot too , there’s a Son out there somewhere who’s approaching 50 .

    Robots Rules of order , I love it .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you Nate, this has been fascinating and fun. (And the middle part of your comment got a big laugh out of me.)

      I don’t know whether autonomous cars would be vulnerable in the way that Jack suggests, but I can imagine this would be great for terrorists, who could just walk out onto the highway to stop traffic, and tie up whole cities, and it would also be a great arena for civil disobedience.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    Why do many people fear flying when it’s statistically so much safer than driving? I assume it’s at least partly the lack of control – surrendering oneself to the flight crew with no escape if something goes wrong.

    Self-driving pods will be fine when that’s all there is (and moneyed enthusiasts get their fix at racing country clubs), but the transition could be messy. The interesting thing will be when the first news story hits about a glitch that causes a pod to roll into the path of a Semi and everyone inside is flattened.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “Self-driving pods will be fine when that’s all there is”

      I’ll be glad when the deer that roam my neighborhood get self-driving pods. They think they own the road.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    A scary an dysfunctional scenario indeed. I thought of this a few months ago. The solution is simple. The autonomous car streams video and data in real or time-delay mode. They will report injustices not just to itself, but also recording video and data evidence of other drivers breaking the traffic laws. There will be nowhere to hide for the jerks, except when they’re alone on the road. Rather than bullying autonomous cars, this will almost completely civilize our roads.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Okay you just invoked IGY… Now I’m gonna be humming that tune the rest of the day.

    And thanks for reminding me how stupid I was not to jump on the groupon last week to see Steely Dan and Steve Winwood live for $20 a ticket. :(

  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    The vibe I’m getting is that a severe dearth of the happy, shiny white middle-class people is dooming the world to be inherited by the lesser black and brown hordes. People are more worried about the potential for Google Cars to be found atop scrap yard piles and on blocks in seedy Baltimore back alleys than they are about our current and future collection of international nutters deciding an ethnic pruning of said lesser hordes is in order.

    As for how autonomous vehicles will fit into society, the truckers will probably be among the first casualties. Autonomous vehicles will get their official real-life start as tractor-trailer drones to be “shepherded” by a human driver. Then the wealthier municipalities will start cordoning off road space for autonomous drones that deliver goods and ferry said shiny happy white middle-class people between home, work and spin class.

    When autonomous vehicles finally hit the mainstream, I imagine ownership to be based on an Adobe CC-like subscription model where instead of leasing the car itself, you’re leasing the right to use one of those drones. Whoever can afford to use drones will use them and the roads will be cordoned off even more for their exclusive use.

    Meanwhile, the poor won’t have any Google Cars to strip or steal from because they won’t service those areas, period. In fact, those Baltimore rowhouses might be one of the last refuges of the non-autonomous vehicle, as those areas will be “drone deserts” just like today’s “food deserts”. It’s not like they’ll have the money to pay for the service, anyway.

  • avatar
    b787

    You raise some good points, but in my experience, our society is not nearly as bad as you make it in the article. I’ve never been to the US, but I can’t imagine it’s that different than for example Germany.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      I’d say you need to work a little more on your imagination. While vast areas, indeed the majority of the US, are more or less as civilized as Germany, there are islands of truly lawless chaos.

      Spend some time in Detroit, where you may very well get car-jacked or just come back to your parked car to find the wheels stolen, where the copper wiring and plumbing get stripped from buildings just for their scrap metal value and many other tales of dysfunction quite unlike anything you’d find in Germany. I can’t really imagine autonomous cars surviving long in places like Detroit.

      • 0 avatar
        AoLetsGo

        Detroit, Detroit, Detroit it’s always Detroit.
        I actually think Detroit would be better for autonomous cars than several other places. Downtown and Mid-town are fairly safe, and much of the rest of the city is unpopulated, vacant land.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    1. If you live in a city w/expensive downtown parking, lots of dead-heading cars will clog up the street….why pay $40 to park, just send your car home, then call it back.

    2. One car for a family of four….sounds fine, then watch that one car make lots of empty trips as it shuttles both parents to work and the two kids to school. Creating 7 one-way trips when there might have been only 5 before.

    3. the loading zone at your local Mega-Low Mart will be a cluster$$$$. The parking lot will have to be restriped for a better traffic flow.

  • avatar
    AoLetsGo

    “the messy, chaotic, mentally ill, undocumented, angry, frustrated, overworked, underpaid, teeming masses of humanity. No sane person can think that autonomous cars can survive in that environment. It’s them or us in a fight to the death for control of the American road.”

    This pretty much sums up my theory about why there is so much anger at road cyclists, Amish buggy drivers, and even Sunday motorcyclists.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    44-Year-Old Man Shakes Fist at Sky, Sounds 74

    “People will attempt to get hit by autonomous vehicles so they can collect a payday in court. Honestly, I’m surprised that nobody’s engineered a Google-car-on-pedestrian strike yet; the pockets involved are deeper than normal humans can understand and the jury would be hugely sympathetic to any person STRUCK DOWN BY A ROBOT CAR.”

    As pointed out above, the car will have video, and if the car’s video apparatus is not working it won’t drive. Juries are not going to be sympathetic to someone throwing themselves at the robot car. Watch some dashcam videos of pedestrians trying to get hit; they’re hilarious.

    Sure, someone will find out some crazy trick around the edges to hack the process of getting hit. But most people aren’t nearly that clever or technically inclined, and when it happens once defenses will be developed. Robot car security isn’t going to be that different from information security generally.

    “People will rob autonomous trucks and cars that are carrying valuable goods. There’s virtually no risk. Just roll a disabled car in front of the Google truck and strip it clean before the cops arrive. Or do the same to an autonomous limousine and rob the passengers with anything from a Desert Eagle to a box cutter.”

    Robot armored trucks will have armed guards riding inside, just like an armored truck today has at least one armed guard in addition to the driver.

    If someone wants to rob a limo’s passengers badly enough, the presence or absence of a driver doesn’t mean squat.

    For robot cars operating in bad neighborhoods, I’d expect some sort of central security service (OH NO BIG BROTHER). Also don’t forget the robot car will have video and anyone who attempts to disable and disassemble it will be recorded.

    “Hyper-aggressive drivers will force autonomous vehicles off the road to have their spots. Just imagine the usual two-lane merge situation with one stopped lane and one empty lane. Why wouldn’t you just cruise up until you see a Google car then pull in? The Google car has to let you in. It can’t defend its position. There’s too much liability involved.”

    Plenty of drivers don’t bother to “defend their position.” Believe it or not (and maybe this is alien to a driver as aggressive as you come across in your writing, but it’s still true), they get where they’re going! They may or may not be delayed by a few seconds. If the robot car gets cut in front of the world won’t end.

    I’m in New York today. I flew into Newark at rush hour and so rode through the usual crazy jockeying for position approaching the Lincoln Tunnel. The driver of a Grand Cherokee cut my cabbie’s Crown Vic off so close that I was very surprised not to hear cracking plastic. Of course, we passed him while he waited to turn left onto 41st.

    “autonomous vehicles are likely to become objects of particular hatred for generations of kids who resent not being allowed to buy an old car and drive it anywhere they want without their helicopter parents or the nanny state soft-fencing them in.”

    On the contrary, kids will generally love robot cars, because the robot cars will allow them to get places without their parents (before age 16) and spend drive time Snapchatting (both before and after age 16). There may be a few misfits who spray-paint sensors, just like they vandalize other property. The car won’t be dumb enough to operate without a sensor unless there’s redundancy, and the perps will be caught or not the same way the kids who blow up mailboxes with cherry bombs may or may not be caught today.

    Look, I will miss driving. But I won’t miss losing people (2 in my life thus far) to fatal car accidents.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that Jack Baruth is kinda racist.

    And he seemed like such a kind soul.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Do you mean “racist” in the classical sense of “this article contains an assertion that one race of people is superior to another” or “racist” in the modern sense of “this article hurts my feels”?

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        It’s not hard to see how someone would get to the former. I think you’re writing in good faith, and just a little sloppy, but I’m not sure I blame someone for reaching the opposite conclusion.

        Let’s have a look at a couple of passages.

        “As a fervent optimist, Asimov couldn’t begin to envision the kind of human garbage roaming the streets of the United States or Europe in 2016, nor could he have ever conceived of a Western culture that would simply pack up and abandon the future to violent, moronic, and deeply superstitious successors simply because nobody in Finland or Massachusetts could be bothered to have children at anything approaching a replacement rate.”

        What kind of “human garbage” is that? Who was on the street in 2016 but not in 1958? The only true answer is immigrants from places from which immigration was mostly forbidden in 1958. That includes almost all of Latin America and big chunks of Asia. It does not include any places where most of the people are white.

        “Isaac Asimov’s Squeaky Clean All White Middle Class America Of The Future,”

        This is even worse. “All white” is “squeaky clean?” Not a wise thing to write.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          “What kind of “human garbage” is that? Who was on the street in 2016 but not in 1958? The only true answer is immigrants from places from which immigration was mostly forbidden in 1958. That includes almost all of Latin America and big chunks of Asia. It does not include any places where most of the people are white.”

          To the contrary. I’m referring, of course, to religious people from traditionally religious areas. It’s still okay to refer to people as “human garbage” because they have the temerity to believe in a higher power and/or practice the tenets of their faith, whether that faith be Catholicism or Islam, right? Because I’m a subscriber to the New York Review Of Books, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and Adbusters, and I see that assertion made all the time by people whom I am assured are my cultural betters.

          But nowhere in this article do I identify anybody in a derogatory manner by race, genetic makeup, historical origin, or anything else. My comment about Asimov’s future can be read both as sarcasm and as a second reference to “I. G. Y.” but last time I checked I didn’t think it was illegal to refer in a positive manner to one’s own race.

          If race exists. I’m a German, not a “white person”. From what I read, according to the US government “white people” includes everybody from Central Americans to Spaniards to Russians. Seventy-five percent of my personal heritage is German. Talk about “white people” doesn’t do much for me. Now, if you say that you want to proclaim the superiority of the German people, I will have to explain to you that we’re not allowed to do that any more, except by example (cf. the Grosser 600, the H&K P7M13, nearly every scientific achievement in human history, Marxism).

  • avatar
    gottacook

    Computers will crash, for (initially) unknown reasons and at unexpected times, as long as it’s humans (or human-programmed computers) who are writing the code. Nor can wireless communication systems be counted on to function optimally at all times; imagine trying to ensure that ANY car could communicate equally well with ANY other car that might be in its vicinity.

    I think the only way forward that promises some measure of real safety is one that requires wiring to be embedded in roads, with devices in cars (possibly retrofitted) enabling them to follow these tracks. When roads are torn up and replaced, they could also have heating elements embedded in addition to the guidance wiring. This would be massively expensive – but think of the savings: no more snow removal, no corrosion damage from snow-melting agents (or pollution of groundwater or streams when these agents drain off), and no need for highways to be two or more lanes in each direction (what would be the point of passing lanes?).

    Years from now, when self-driving is impossible on public roads other than the most rural ones, perhaps there will be racetracks on which today’s future geezers will risk their lives (and lose them occasionally) driving around in hot-rod equivalents. Beats sitting in a nursing home.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    These newfangled automobiles will never take over for the horse and buggy. There’s no place on them to store my buggy whip!

    These DVDs will never take over for VHS because they don’t even have a rewind button!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The buggy whip rack is only available on the SXT, sir.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        And that’s the problem: I can’t order the damned rack on its own, I have to get the fancy SXT package to get it, but then I get a moonroof, which means I don’t fit in the contraption, and 19″ wheels which destroy the ride quality.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          That’s true sir, and I apologize on behalf of [insert brand] motor co.

          Could always get aftermarket wheels…

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Don’t try to pull one over on me with that aftermarket wheels line – I know you upsized the brake rotors too on the SXL package, so I would have to replace those too!

            What, do you think I was born yesterday?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Well not quite yesterday, maybe last week?

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            OK, yeah, it was last week.

            I’ll take the SXT. But I’m not paying a dime more than $800 for the undercoating.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Stem lube and blinker fluid is free for life, sir. Our undercoating is only $795.

  • avatar
    hybridkiller

    …And the #1 reason true auto enthusiasts will NEVER accept autonomous vehicles…
    .
    .
    .
    .
    no manual transmission.
    /s

  • avatar
    JRoth

    154 comments and no one has called bullshit on Baruth’s doesn’t-pass-the-smell-test claim about uninsured drivers in NM? Sure enough, the link embedded in the claim doesn’t support the claim: the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association says that 1 in 5 NM drivers is uninsured; it says nothing about immigrants. It does say that, nationwide, 1 in 8 drivers is uninsured, and I think we can safely say that the vast majority of those are good old, red-blooded Americans, since undocumented immigrants constitute less than one in 30 residents of the country.

    So even if you make the assumption that the entirety of the difference between NM rates and national rates is down to the undocumented, you’ve got perhaps 1 in 12 NM drivers an uninsured immigrant. I wonder why he picked a much higher, much scarier, but completely bogus, number?

  • avatar
    JRoth

    By the way, the overall thrust of the article, political posturing aside, is correct: autonomous vehicles are nowhere near being ready for primetime, and the combination of hype and swift regulatory action should concern people, because Google (and Uber and the rest) aren’t spending all this money only to shrug their shoulders and say, “Never mind.”

    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/03/google_self_driving_cars_lack_a_human_s_intuition_for_what_other_drivers.html

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Likely due to my naivete, I wasn’t convinced of Jack’s view that the tech ‘elite’ will soon dictate societal norms. But I just listened to this week’s Smoking Tire podcast.

    Guest Dan Neil made two interesting observations.

    First, in a voluminous discussion of his role as a consultant for a sequel to Cannonball Run film, he repeatedly states that cars are an environmental, financial, and temporal (due to parking, maintenance, etc.) ‘burden’ to Millennials. This ‘burden’ explained both the lack of millennial purchasers and the new world of micro-leased uberized transport suitable to a low wage gig economy. He further indicates that his views are shared by the film’s producers because the movie needs to be a hit. The story line will thus feature cooperation and renewable energy in a world where gas is outlawed.

    The second was his utter contempt and derision in referring to a visit to the University of Oklahoma recruiting center where – heaven forbid – the athletes have the gall to pray three times a day.

    Simply stated, it is clear Neil and his Hollywood supervisors firmly believe Millennials find personal freedom ‘burdensome’ because it requires concerted effort, costs money, and a focus on your own needs. They have no tolerance for anyone who fails to conform to their view. This terrifies me.

    With the tone set by Hollywood – and a general lack of interest in critical thought among Millenials – it won’t be too long before voters start banning any action contrary to society’s best interest to ‘protect’ others exploiting the vacuum left by the abrogation of societal norms.

    This is a long way of saying I won’t take my kids to see the Cannonball Run remake or other movie with Neil as a consultant, but will willingly pay Mr. Roy to watch 32:07 (once released) and buy the Collectors Edition DVD.

    • 0 avatar
      hybridkiller

      I remain perplexed by the relentless efforts of some to characterize an entire generation based on the assumption that they are a monolithic group, all with the same values, preferences, and ambitions (or lack thereof).

      But alas, making broad social generalizations from one’s living room, office, whatever is, I suppose, simpler than actually dealing with the real world in all its messy diversity…

  • avatar
    jxpatt

    So… did “The Good Wife” get this plot line from you? Great article, read it earlier and thought “that’s fresh”; now watching telly tonight and there’s a re-heated version on my screen…


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