In the robot future, only cars will drive

A Google self-driving vehicle. Photo: Reuters

Here's something to fear about self-driving cars! Once they're up and running and insurance companies and legislators realize they're much better at it than humans, you won't even be allowed to drive. Also, the infrastructure is decaying badly and there's no political will to face up to the costs of fixing it, so the roads themselves may end up getting effectively sold off.

Public-private partnerships for roads might begin the erosion of the public right of way. But it’s also possible that autonomous vehicles will all but require limited access to public roads to operate effectively.

Today’s self-driving cars have to be designed and programmed to interact with messy circumstances. Pedestrians, dogs, bicycles, human-driven vehicles, and other obstacles all pose challenges to robocars, and if autonomous vehicles are even modestly successful, avoiding collisions with fallible human drivers will prove a temporary problem. ... The more self-driving cars there are on the roads, the less complex and more predictable the overall behavior of traffic becomes.

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Tesla driver sleeping at the wheel while car drives itself

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Here's a gentleman taking a nap while his Tesla drives for him. From Electrek:

Tesla’s Autopilot requires the driver to always monitor the vehicle and be ready to take control. If the system lacks data to continue to actively steer the vehicle safely, it will show an alert on the dashboard.

If the driver ignores the alert for too long, it will emit a sound and decelerate while activating the hazard lights and moving the vehicle to the side of the road. The vehicle basically assumes that the driver is unconscious if he can’t take control after visual and audible alerts.

In this case, it seems like the Autopilot is still very much in control and therefore is not bothering the sleeping driver – now a simple passenger.

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Resilience over rigidity: how to solve tomorrow's computer problems today

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My new Locus Magazine column, Wicked Problems: Resilience Through Sensing, proposes a solution the urgent problem we have today of people doing bad stuff with computers. Where once "bad stuff with computers" meant "hacking your server," now it could potentially mean "blocking air-traffic control transmissions" or "programming your self-driving car to kill you." Read the rest

Cop pulls over Google self-driving car, finds no driver to ticket

Photo: Zandr Milewski

A police officer pulled over a Google self-driving car yesterday because it was going only 24 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone. But the car had no driver, so he could not issue a ticket. The officer asked the human passenger why the car decided to drive so slowly.

From CNN:

In a Google Plus post, the Google Self-Driving Car Project pled guilty to slow driving.

"We've capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25 mph for safety reasons," the post said. "We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets."

In the end, the officer determined the car had broken no law. No harm, no foul.

And no ticket was issued -- not because there was no driver to whom to issue it but because the car had committed no violation.

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Network neutrality for self-driving cars

David Weinberger's Would a Google car sacrifice you for the sake of the many? explores many philosophical conundra regarding self-driving cars, including the possibility that the rich and powerful might literally buy their way into the fast-lane. This is the premise of my 2005 story "Human Readable," which appears in my collection With a Little Help (there's also a spectacular audio edition, read by Spider Robinson). Read the rest