In the previous post of this new series we discussed self-driving cars, a brief history of the technology behind them, how they work, and what they could mean for our future. In this post we will attempt to expand the scope of our analysis to the challenges of regulating autonomous vehicles. There are all kinds of problems that present themselves after just a few minutes of thinking about this but we will begin with a realistic timeline regarding when these vehicles will become mainstream and how long we have to impose regulations and to keep the roads safe.
WHEN WILL SELF-DRIVING CARS BECOME MAINSTREAM?
This is a difficult question to answer with regards to autonomous vehicles as well as any other form of revolutionary technology simply because safety and ethical concerns tend to slow us down with the implementation process. There is nothing inherently wrong with this since we need to make sure technology helps us without causing safety or ethical problems since modern society is littered with these issues already but it does make it difficult for us to predict how long we have to solve any such problems that may arise.
Currently more than one tech company has created autonomous vehicles that function properly almost 100% of the time. These vehicles can navigate flawlessly, follow speed limits and other rules of the road, properly respond to traffic signals of all kinds, and avoid collisions with inanimate objects. This means we are very close to reaching an implementation stage but that last point didn’t mention an ability to avoid collisions with human drivers.
Therein lies a problem that has yet to be fixed. The biggest reason why human drivers collide with other human drivers is commonly brushed aside as “human error”. This is fine, but the current autonomous vehicles are sharp enough to make this a non issue and they still collide with human drivers more often than they should. This is because human drivers are unpredictable in their behavior. That is the real reason why people cause car accidents and it goes beyond human error.
AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES LEARN HOW TO DRIVE DIFFERENTLY
When driving there are decisions that have to be made while responding to a wide array of different stimuli. There are things you shouldn’t do that break the rules of the road but within the rules of the road there is a lot of leeway when referring to actions you can get away with performing. Human drivers learn what they can and what they can’t do by building an understanding of what works for them and what doesn’t work for them by remembering the past results of the actions they take. Then what happens is human drivers tend to form a lot of bad habits because even while directly breaking the rules of the road it may take a long time for the driver to cause a collision. This is when the drivers would hopefully learn their lesson but by that point it is too late.
An autonomous vehicle is programmed with the basic understanding that if it follows the rules it will never cause a collision, which would be true if only human drivers weren’t so unpredictable. These vehicles learn from the rules that they are programmed with as opposed to humans who learn by figuring out what they can get away with and what they can’t. For example, at a four way stop each driver has to come to a complete stop and proceed in the order in which each driver arrived at the stop. We all know that there are ways to break this rule without actually causing a collision which leads a lot of drivers to form bad habits. The autonomous vehicle has no good way of predicting whether each driver it encounters at the stop will actually follow the rules because they don’t possess general intelligence.
ACCIDENTS WILL SLOW DOWN THE ROLL OUT OF SELF-DRIVERS
This example can be applied to many different scenarios that are commonly encountered while driving. The self-driving vehicle gets tripped up when humans decide to do whatever they want instead of what they should do. People will always do things that they want to do as long as they believe they can get away with it and driving is not exception to this. The only real solution that comes to mind is that at some point only self-driving cars will be allowed on public streets.
People in general might not like this solution but it would be for the best. Every time an accident occurs that was clearly caused by a human acting in an unpredictable manner the technology is unjustly blamed and the roll out of autonomous vehicles becomes more and more delayed. However, given the fact that the technology has already been perfected and there are many large corporations that want to see autonomous vehicles on the road it wouldn’t be far-fetched to predict that they will become mainstream within the next 2 decades or so.
PROBLEMS IN CITIES
Because more and more people will move to cities in the coming decades there is another problem that must be taken care of before self-driving cars can navigate city streets safely. The issue is with jaywalking. At the moment it’s not that big of a deal, if you cross the street when you aren’t supposed to any drivers that possess any common sense at all will see you and stop. If they don’t stop and run you over then they are held liable instead of the pedestrian who was walking where they shouldn’t. This has caused pedestrians to become extremely careless especially when smart phones became big about 5-7 years ago. Law enforcement also has been very lenient when it comes to jaywalkers. This will have to change.
We have already established that autonomous vehicles have a difficult time dealing with the unpredictable behavior of humans. If there are not strict penalties in place for jaywalking we will see a rise in pedestrian deaths in cities correlated with a rise in the number of self-drivers on the road. One might hope that the powers that be will understand that the technology is not the problem despite all the accidents. However, most governments of first world countries are so far behind the 8 ball when it comes to technology in general, let alone Artificial Intelligence. That is an interesting topic for another post but its important to note that the more legislative entities slack off when it comes to laws and regulation the more unpredictable the effects of any new technology become.
Technological change is quickly descending upon us. Anyone who wishes to survive in a world that has been shaken by the Artificial Intelligence Revolution needs to adapt quickly. Autonomous vehicles rank extremely high on the list of AI driven technology that will drastically change our day to day lives. We must be aware of any risks and seek to mitigate them before things get out of hand. That includes creating laws and putting regulations in place that we may not like.
The next post in this series will dive into the effects the self-driving cars will have on our labor force. These effects will be extreme in nature but by no means catastrophic. Like everything else, it will simply require vigilance and adaptation by the members of the workforce. What do you think about all of this? Leave your comments down below.