Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Self-Driving Cars

Now in Pittsburgh, Uber's "self-driving" car!
I'm a huge fan of self-driving cars.
For those who know me well, this may seem counter-intuitive to my general belief in free will and independence, but I would give up the independence of driving myself to the promise of a safer, traffic-free future with consistently predictably travel times and the ability to utilize time currently spent driving.
I believe the automobile industry and the infrastructure supporting it are in for a massive change in the coming years.
Here are a few quick of my thoughts on the topic and I would love to hear yours in the comments section below.
1. Every year, thousands of people are injured or killed in automobile-related accidents. The majority of these are the result of operator-error and could be avoided if cars were more intelligent.
For example, Google's fleet of self-driving cars have been in relatively few accidents. However, almost all of the crashes were not the fault of the Google car, rather operator-error on behalf of the other cars (and people) involved.
Also, as CPG Grey explained, human nature works against us when driving and actually causes more traffic and build ups at the slightest stimulus.
The point I'm trying to make is that people are terrible drivers and automating that aspect of life would make things safer and less stressful for everyone.
2. Every car must stand alone with limited interconnectivity to other cars.
Early concepts for a self-driving utopia focused on a central computer that would monitor and control all the cars within its system. Obvious now, this is not viable option as the computing power necessary to do this would be immense and the hand-off between systems (whether it is towns, states, or countries) would be complicated.
The advances in machine intelligence have made it possible for each vehicle to independently have it's own "mind" and ability to think for itself, reacting much like each person does, but at a much higher rate with more logical decision-making.
There are several companies working on their own vehicles to solve this problem, the most notable being GoogleUberTesla, (potentially) Apple, and the numerous established car manufacturers who have either partnered together or with other tech companies.
It is still very early, but it will be interesting to see how these different strategies play out and if there will be a consolidation of platforms/software. If so, who will win?
3. While creating the next generation of cars with self-driving capabilities is important, there are a whole lot of cars on the road that we need to consider. This is why I believe the ability to update existing vehicles will be a major need as the industry moves forward.
This is why there is a growing interesting in the company Comma.ai. Started by George Hotz, one of the first to jailbreak the iPhone, he has already hacked his own car and is creating a software package that will enable existing cars to be retrofitted with self-driving capabilities for $999.
Another player in this area is Mobileye, which was working with Tesla to power their Autopilot functionality. However, the two companies have since severed their partnership.
4. Despite the efficiency and safety that would be gained from a fully automated transportation system, I still believe in the ability for someone to disable the self-driving features.
This is not just as a precaution to the robot/AI revolution, but to guarantee the right of free will and not allow any one person, corporation, or government to be able to dictate where you are able to travel to and from. Not that I expect it to happen but, for a simplified example: imagine your Apple-controlled car blocking you from traveling to a Microsoft store, or a Google-car requiring you to log all your travel for better targeted ads.

There is a considerable way to go before we have a system that is 100% automated, if we get there at all, but with every advancement in technology, it is good to keep in mind the unintended consequences that may result.
Any other thoughts on the future of self-driving vehicles or consequences of it?

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