Game theory: pedestrians versus autonomous vehicles

Any well-designed self-driving car will be at pains to avoid killing people, if only to prevent paperwork delays when they mow someone down.

This represents a substantial refactoring of the game-theoretical landscape of drivers and walkers. Every place has its own norms; in London, cars accelerate towards jaywalkers (even ones pushing babies around!), while New Yorkers curse you out as they slow down.

But pedestrians may be able to force self-driving cars to brake with confidence, given the regulatory contours that the cars' firmware will have to conform to. In a paper published last fall in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Adam Millard-Ball lays out three ways this could go: either cities will be effectively no-go zones for self-driving cars as pedestrians blithely step into the road; or pedestrians will be scared off by the cars' cameras and the possibility of getting a facial-recognition-identified cameras from breaking the rules; or drivers will take control over their cars rather than chilling with their smartphones, believing that pedestrians will be scared off by the possibility of a human driver failing to brake in time.

Finally, according to a human driver scenario, the slower travel time incurred by using a self-driving car would outweigh the benefits of a passenger lifestyle. The freedom to check-your email, call-in on a business meeting, or watch Netflix on the drive to work simply won’t be worth taking the extra travel time to get there. Indeed, retaining the advantage in the game of crosswalk chicken will override the convenience of being driven. But, pedestrian-oriented designs only makes sense if most vehicles drive themselves. Ultimately, how neighborhoods evolve to accommodate and incorporate self-driving cars will depend on all the various policy, legal, and technological factors. No matter what scenario prevails, transportation in the future will likely be shaped by the ability of humans to exploit the driverless machines.

Pedestrians, Autonomous Vehicles, and Cities
[Adam Millard-Ball/Journal of Planning Education and Research ] (Scihub onion mirror)

How Pedestrians Will Defeat Autonomous Vehicles
[Karinna Hurley/Scientific American]