Schlagwort-Archive: autonomous drive

Self-driving cars are here, but that doesn’t mean you can call them ‚driverless‘

Volvo Driverless Car What I imagine I could’ve been doing on my way to college instead of holding a steering wheel for nine hours. (Not actually me) Volvo

I went to college nine hours away from home — easily doable in a day’s drive, but tedious nonetheless.

On one trip through the cornfields of Indiana, I remember turning to my friend wondering why we hadn’t figured out cruise control for steering wheels. I had already been cruising at a steady 70 m.p.h. for hours with my feet on the floor. Why did I have to touch the steering wheel to keep it in the lines too?

Less than six years later, the answer is that I don’t have to touch the steering wheel anymore. Self-driving cars are here, and they’re arriving faster than many predicted.

The pace at which a self-driving car went from myth to reality has caused all sorts of problems, from a talent shortage in the field to a sudden arms race in trying to build the best self-driving car on the market. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick called it „existential“ for the company to develop its own driverless car technology.

Yet, there’s still a large distinction — and years of development — between the self-driving cars hitting the streets today and the driverless cars that we dream of in the future. Most „driverless“ cars today still have a driver in the front seat. Teaching a car how to drive itself (even with a driver on hand) is just the important first step.

Dreams of driverless

It’s hard not to be seduced by the images of driverless cars.

Mercedes-Benz‘ concept car shows four seats all turned to face each other. Bentley’s driverless dream comes with a holographic butler — a future staple for the high-end autonomous car. The Rolls-Royce has a two person couch with a giant TV where the driver normally sits.

Bentley Bentley

Even Larry Page is rumored to be working on a flying car so we all finally get one step closer to“The Jetsons“ future we’ve envisioned.

However, what’s not acknowledged is just how hard it is to get cars to that point. When I asked Uber’s Kalanick just what’s holding truly driverless cars back, he laughed because there’s just so much — and a lot of it just that the technology hasn’t even been developed. A self-driving car shouldn’t freak out at a four-way intersection or turn off every time it goes over a bridge.

To get in a self-driving car today, it feels like having cruise control, but for the whole car. The autopilot keeps the car’s speed steady, it stays evenly inside the lines, and maintains the proper following distance. The only way to experience a self-driving car is to either own a Tesla or live in Pittsburgh and magically hail a self-driving Uber.

After taking a ride in Otto’s self-driving truck, I explained the experience to my 92-year-old grandmother as being in a plane: You have a licensed driver who does take off and landing, or in this case, getting onto the interstate, but then once it’s clear, you just set it to autopilot.

While having „self-driving cars“ in the hands in the public is a huge milestone, it’s just the beginning in the path to full autonomy.

Truly driverless cars remain years away — but still closer than you think. Ford, for example, plans to roll out its first fully autonomous carsfor ride-sharing by 2021. Google is aiming for 2020 , and Tesla is planning to make its vehicles part of car-sharing networkonce its cars are fully autonomous.

The impacts of that will be widely felt. Merrill Lynch predicted in a 2015 report that driverless taxis like Ubers will make up 43% of new car sales by 2040. The Boston Consulting Group also wrote in a 2015 report that driverless taxi sales are bound to incline. The BCG predicts that 23% of global new car sales will come from driverless taxis by 2040, which will result in a decline in vehicle ownership in cities.

Before we get to driverless though, we need to perfect self-driving. To do that, that means putting real self-driving cars to the roads in a test. That’s why they are here and happening now. Driverless will come next.


Self-driving cars and the Trolley problem

Google recently announced that their self-driving car has driven more than a million miles. According to Morgan Stanley, self-driving cars will be commonplace in society by ~2025. This got me thinking about the ethics and philosophy behind these cars, which is what the piece is about.

Source: Morgan Stanley Research

Laws of Robotics

In 1942, Isaac Asimov introduced three laws of robotics in his short story “Runaround”.

They were as follows:

  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 Law.

He later added a fourth law, the zeroth law:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Though fictional, they provide a good philosophical grounding of how AI can coexist with society. If self driving cars, were to follow them, we’re in a pretty good spot right? (Let’s leave aside the argument that self-driving cars lead to loss of jobs of taxi drivers and truck drivers and so should not exist per the 0th/1st law)

Trolley Problem

However, there’s one problem which the laws of robotics don’t quite address.

It’s a famous thought experiment in philosophy called the Trolley Problem and goes as follows:

Say a trolley is heading down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks are five people tied down who cannot move. The trolley is headed straight for them, and will kill them. You are standing some distance ahead, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley switches to a different set of tracks, on which there is one person. You have two options:

1. Do nothing, in which case the trolley kills the 5 people on the main track.

2. Pull the lever, in which case the trolley changes tracks and kills the one person on the side track.

What should you do?


The trolley problem illustrated

It’s not hard to see how a similar situation would come up in a world with self-driving cars, with the car having to make a similar decision.

Say for example a human-driven car runs a red light and a self-driving car has two options:

  1. It can stay its course and run into that car killing the family of five sitting in that car
  2. It can turn right and bang into another car in which one person sits, killing that person.

What should the car do?

From a utilitarian perspective, the answer is obvious: to turn right (or “pull the lever”) leading to the death of only one person as opposed to five.

Incidentally, in a survey of professional philosophers on the Trolley Problem, 68.2% agreed, saying that one should pull the lever. So maybe this “problem” isn’t a problem at all and the answer is to simply do the Utilitarian thing that “greatest happiness to the greatest number”.

But can you imagine a world in which your life could be sacrificed at any moment for no wrongdoing to save the lives of two others?

Now consider this version of the trolley problem involving a fat man:

As before, a trolley is heading down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you — the only way for you to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five people. Should you do it?

Most people that go the utilitarian route in the initial problem say they wouldn’t push the fat man. But from a utilitarian perspective there is no difference between this and the initial problem — so why do they change their mind? And is the right answer to “stay the course” then?

Kant’s categorical imperative goes some way to explaining it:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

In simple words, it says that we shouldn’t merely use people as means to an end. And so, killing someone for the sole purpose of saving others is not okay, and would be a no-no by Kant’s categorical imperative.

Another issue with utilitarianism is that it is a bit naive, at least how we defined it. The world is complex, and so the answer is rarely as simple as perform the action that saves the most people. What if, going back to the example of the car, instead of a family of five, inside the car that ran the red light were five bank robbers speeding after robbing a bank. And sat in the other car was a prominent scientist who had just made a breakthrough in curing cancer. Would you still want the car to perform the action that simply saves the most people?

So may be we fix that by making the definition of Utilitarianism more intricate, in that we assign a value to each individuals life. In that case the right answer could still be to kill the five robbers, if say our estimate of utility of the scientist’s life was more than that of the five robbers.

But can you imagine a world in which say Google or Apple places a value on each of our lives, which could be used at any moment of time to turn a car into us to save others? Would you be okay with that?

And so there you have it, though the answer seems simple, it is anything but, which is what makes the problem so interesting and so hard. It will be a question that comes up time and time again as self-driving cars become a reality. Google, Apple, Uber etc. will probably have to come up with an answer. To pull, or not to pull?

Lastly, I want to leave you another question that will need to be answered, that of ownership. Say a self-driving car which has one passenger in it, the “owner”, skids in the rain and is going to crash into a car in front, pushing that car off a cliff. It can either take a sharp turn and fall of the cliff or continue going straight leading to the other car falling of the cliff. Both cars have one passenger. What should the car do? Should it favor the person that bought it — its owner?