back to article Robot cars probably won't happen, sniffs US transport chief

Fully autonomous cars may never reach public roads, according to the chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board. Speaking in an interview with MIT Technology Review, Christopher Hart said: “I'm not confident that we will ever reach that point. I don’t see the ideal of complete automation coming any time soon.” …

  1. Tim 11

    I'm not so pessimistic

    I'm generally a pretty cynical person but I reckon once autonomous cars are shown to be substantially safer than a human driver (which won't be long, if it hasn't happened already), insurance companies will be happy to insure them and governments will come under increasing pressure to allow them.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: I'm not so pessimistic

      I'm one of the people who enjoys driving (I don't live in a city), so not planning to be an early adopter.

      Anyone seen any stats on people who would want a driverless car? I mean other than Uber etc.

      1. Tim 11

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        @AMBxx - that's a really interesting point. I don't specifically enjoy driving, but like most people I think I'm a better driver than average. So a computer would have to be a lot better than average to convince me it was better than me :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I'm not so pessimistic

          Doesn't have to convince you. It just has to convince the government and insurance companies.

        2. Sirius Lee

          Re: I'm not so pessimistic

          As long as they are better than my wife I'd be up for it. I risk my life with my wife at the wheel every day. I don't if she is good, bad or indifferent driver but that's not the point. Whether any one individual is a good driver or not, we put our lives in the hands of others who may be less than ideal drivers every day.

          The potential to do something useful while in a car will be welcome. Some like driving, a good for them. I drive to get some place, not to enjoy the journey. Being able to use that journey time more productively is something to rejoice for me.

          1. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: I'm not so pessimistic

            "Whether any one individual is a good driver or not, we put our lives in the hands of others who may be less than ideal drivers every day."

            Interestingly enough, there are a whole bunch of other circumstances where people "put their lives in the hands of others" with a lot fewer qualms - such as going to a doctor, who might easily kill you without anyone actually realising he fucked up (at any rate, he has to demonstrate astonishing ineptitude to get blamed for anything - otherwise it's just "natural causes" and "complications"; no doctor ever got in trouble for not really giving much of a fuck about what actually happens to you...).

            At the very least, robo-cars might exhibit wide awareness and caution, but not actual intelligence or a self-preservation instinct any time soon, which is something most but the stupidest drivers definitely do demonstrate some level of. I do believe that much like with road accidents vs. plane crashes, it won't matter whether robo-cars turn out to be safer than human drivers (make no mistake, all cars could be self-driving and we'd still have fatal accidents daily, even if not nearly as many) - most people will still fear having to trust a black box more than taking their chances driving themselves or letting a trusted person drive (if you're willing to ride with a person you don't trust well... good luck to you and congrats for the Darwin award).

      2. Anonymous Blowhard

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        "Anyone seen any stats on people who would want a driverless car?"

        Like a lot of big innovations, the real market doesn't appear until the technology is available; remember the IBM guy who thought the world market for computers was around five units?

        For me the most obvious market is older people who want to maintain their independence and have the money to afford an autonomous vehicle. These people are being hit by increased insurance costs as they get older, and the question for insurers becomes "at what point is the computer safer than the average 75 year-old driver?"

        1. Andrew Moore

          Re: I'm not so pessimistic

          once there are autonomous vehicles there would be no need to own one- Just set up a continuously operating fleet of vehicles and you just call one (think Hailo/Uber) when ever you need to use it.

      3. Mike Moyle Silver badge

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        Well, as someone who lives alone, is just disabled enough that he can't get a driver's license, and lives in an area where the buses stop running about 8:30 PM and don't run at all on Sundays. I would probably be a prime candidate for a small autonomous "pod"-type car just large enough for me and a few sacks of groceries. It WOULD require a controller that could "learn" how to get into my driveway, say (touchpad display to draw a path one time from the street to where I want it to park once it reaches the end of its GPSed street routing...?) or learn the layout of various parking lots, but I don't see any of that as insurmountable.

        1. ciaran

          Re: I'm not so pessimistic

          The fully antonymous case will have a "manual mode", with a stupid tiny joystick and a 10kmh speed limit. Its an obvious solution. Personally I'm perfectly fit and I would easily pay an extra 3Keuro even for just an "autonomous mode". However the "not quite autonomous" mode of the Tesla autopilot scares me. I want the one that will safely stop and beep at me to resolve the problem.

      4. WraithCadmus
        Go

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        @AMBxx

        Do petrolheads not want this at all? I would have thought the option would be nice for humdrum travels, a weekend in the country with the robot eating up the motorway miles to get there and then taking the reins yourself to experience the B-roads seems like the best of both worlds.

        As for who would want one... me! Passed my test at 17 and driven less than 100mi since. While I can drive I find it stressful and a chore (probably due to a lack of experience). A trip to the arse-end of nowhere requires me to fortify myself and do it, but I'm not looking forward to it. As a hill-walker it would be nice to tell a robo-vehicle...

        "Trail starts here, drop me off, refuel, then meet me on the other side of the ridge in three hours time"

        *bleep, bloop!*

        "Good car"

      5. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        Anyone seen any stats on people who would want a driverless car? I mean other than Uber etc.

        Not saying I'd use automated on every trip, but sure - stumble out of the pub at 11pm and hop in to my own waiting car that ferries me to my house via the takeaway? Driving to go on holiday, 8 hour kip on the back seat while Johnny Cab delivers me to the Alps overnight? Yes please, where do I sign?

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: I'm not so pessimistic

      So do trains first.

      " I reckon once autonomous cars are shown to be substantially safer than a human driver"

      I'd say "IF" rather than "once"

      I've been programming since before PCs and I'm sceptical that they will ever be robust. They rely too much on Lidar (easily jammed) and databases as well as human programming.

      Also how will the safety testing be achieved?

      1. LionelB

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        I've been programming since before PCs and I'm sceptical that they will ever be robust.

        On the basis of several decades as a driver, I'm not sure human drivers will ever be robust.

        They rely too much on Lidar (easily jammed) and databases as well as human programming.

        Hmm... human drivers rely entirely on perception/reaction mechanisms evolved to deal with much lower speeds and longer time scales - and also comparatively far less serious consequences in case of failure of said mechanisms.

        Also how will the safety testing be achieved??

        A driving test?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm not so pessimistic

      They are plenty of autonomous cars on the road in these parts.

      They all have Audi on the front - at least, all the drivers seem to be asleep at the wheel so I assume they are autonomous ... or at least, the drivers think they are autonomous.

      1. Mike Green

        Re: I'm not so pessimistic

        "They all have Audi on the front"

        Having been tail-gated by one on the motorway this morning in horrific rain, I find myself having to agree with you.... And when I moved out of the way, he shot up to tailgate the guy who was in front of me.

    4. Deltics

      It;'s not pessimism, it's informed consideration

      In common with all these confident predictions of the inevitability of autonomous vehicles, thinking it's just a question of safety fails to fully consider the ramifications and changes involved in the technology.

      For example, you say that once the increased safety is established, the insurance companies will be "happy to insure them".

      Insure **who** ?

      At the moment, "car insurance" is actually "driver insurance". Some drivers are clearly safer than others. If you have an Advanced Drivers Test under your belt you can sometimes get a premium discount, and of course No Claims Discount also supposedly reflects a demonstrable "safety" record (actually, insurance liability record which isn't necessarily the same thing).

      But in an autonomous vehicle with no driver at the controls, who exactly is the insurance company "happy to insure" ?

      It cannot be you. As merely a passenger you are not a factor in any liability any more than your passengers are currently when you are driving under the cover of your insurance (unless it can be established that the passenger was actively interfering with your control of the vehicle).

      Is it the specific installation of the car control and management software in your specific vehicle ? Good luck with that. Since that specific installation is identical to every other installation of that same control and management software you are looking at a ready-made class action pointing to the car manufacturer being liable (and/or the company that developed the software, if it wasn't the car manufacturer themselves).

      But *is* the manufacturer of the car liable ? They only built the thing, they didn't sell it to you. That was the dealer, actively marketing and selling a machine where the control systems that determine it's danger to the public are an intrinsic part of the product. In contrast, currently, they can sell a car to any meatbag they like, but the law then determines who is legally permitted to operate that machine on the road, via driver licensing etc.

      Or is it you, having chosen to purchase such a vehicle and abdicate control - does that very decision render you solely liable for the consequences of that decision ? Any lawyer worth their salt will easily have any such claim dismissed (you only allowed to abdicate control because it was established sufficiently that this was the "safer" decision and had you known that it was not you would not have agreed to abdicate that control - i.e. the responsibility falls back again on the technology or the industry).

      The insurance companies would like to keep things pointing at the occupant of the vehicle, because if it falls back on the dealers or the manufacturers then at a stroke the entire market for driver insurance disappears and is subsumed into the public liability cover of those businesses.

      I'm pretty sure the insurance companies would NOT be happy about that.

      It is a much, MUCH more complex problem than simply establishing that driverless cars are "safer" than meatbag controlled cars. Those self same meatbags are what make identifying liability relatively simple and THAT is the real challenge of these things, not the technology.

    5. joed

      Re: I'm not so pessimistic

      Insurance companies may actually prefer hordes of bad drivers. It's not like they provided free service (and credit score alone is perfect way to jack up prices beyond levels justified by driver's record).

    6. energystar
      Childcatcher

      Re: I'm not so pessimistic

      Money-money, Money Money [/song]

  2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    I'm not sure I understand

    What he seems to be saying is "Show us it's thousands of times safer than a human at the wheel, or we won't allow it on the road". This is akin to saying "We don't need airbags, there have been a billion crashes with them, 1 million lives saved, but one person died from injuries caused by the airbag. Ban them, they are dangerous!"

    I still think there's a way to go, but I expect automated cars to be tens of times safer than meatbag controlled ones at first. That should still mean 90% of fatalities gone... Surely that's worth it the occasional screw up!

    We shouldn't expect perfection. We should expect them to be safer than the dickheads on the roads right now, but 2 crashes and a single fatality from a badly-named smart cruise control system in a large number of miles driven has everyone in a panic.

    1. alferdpacker

      Re: I'm not sure I understand

      Agreed. In the example is he saying that it's OK for humans to decide to mow down 15 people but it's not OK for a computer to decide it's better that only 1 person dies?

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: I'm not sure I understand

        It goes beyone that. The ethics of who to kill in an unavoidable accident has barely been discussed.

        Child runs in front of car. Should car kill child or swerve and kill an 80 year old? If swerve, how many 80 year olds are equivalent to one child?

        What about the disabled?

        This is all stuff that human drivers can't process quickly enough. Computers can, so we need to make some decisions.

        Remember the HP webcam that followed you around? Unless you were black when it would follow any white person instead! What's going to happen when we find that a driverless car is more likely to kill certain races? It's not being racist, just can't distinguish some skin colours so well.

        1. RealityisntReal

          Re: I'm not sure I understand

          So you're saying the computer can distinguish between a child and an 80 YO better than a person? On what basis? Size? Then what does it do when a child and an older person are the same size? And what are you going to program the computer to do? If it's mow down the 80 YO instead of the child I think there might be some old people out there that would want to take issue with your decision. And whose going to make these decisions? The software companies, the owner, the government?

        2. Eric Olson

          Re: I'm not sure I understand @AMBxx

          The problem with all those scenarios is this: Assuming they would even happen.

          Take the example from the article. The likely reason for a situation in which a car is about to plow into a vehicle ahead of it is driver inattention or following too closely for the conditions, speed, etc. A computer doesn't take a "quick sec" to gaze at the phone nestled against their crotch. It doesn't have a BAC of .04 that slows reaction time to require a greater following distance, or causes someone to do stupid shit like tailgate.

          Also in the real world, cars going 35 mph stop pretty damn quick once the brake is applied, which is the only scenario in which there is likely to be a group of kids on the side of the road. Once again, the limitation is the meat sack in the driver's seat who was too busy digging for the last fry in the McDonald's bag.

          "Unavoidable accident" is just a phrase people use to reduce their liability in court or make their conscience shut up. Kids don't materialize in the road; they came from a yard or park 10 seconds earlier that an attentive driver would have seen and made the appropriate behavior modifications when approaching, like slowing down. The same kind of down-the-street evaluation can be done by a computer, and might even tag squirrels and bunnies if the resolution is good enough.

          And as far as mowing down people of the wrong skin color, well, I don't know where you drive, but it's pretty rare for anyone to be in the middle of a lane where I am. With a tiny sample size, it's easy to get skewed numbers.

          1. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: I'm not sure I understand @AMBxx

            "Unavoidable accident" is just a phrase

            Hahahahaha.... wait, you're serious! Hold on, let me laugh harder: HAHAHAHAHAHA....

            ...I take it you never heard of pedestrian idiots who take sharp 90 degree turns into a crossing never slowing down to check whether you will / can avoid them, having never exhibited any intent to cross beforehand? Or just people suddenly emerging from between cars where they were equally undetectable to LIDARs and human eyes before...? Or ever heard of things like black ice...?

            People who think they cannot possibly ever get in an accident simply because they're "cautious" are just as big of an idiot as those who think they cannot possibly ever get in an accident because "they can handle anything".

            1. Eric Olson

              Re: I'm not sure I understand @AMBxx

              Absolutely avoidable. And in court, the phrase unavoidable accident would have been used by the pedestrian or their next of kin as a way to shift liability to the driver.

              Black ice is created under specific circumstances that can easily be discerned by checking the weather report or a couple of weather sensors. Knowing that, you slow down, increase following distance, and be well-versed in steering into the skid. Of course it might not always work, but you can decrease the chances of being caught out and crashing if you are prepared.

              And yes, even the most attentive driver is going to lapse or otherwise take the wrong moment to check their mirrors and find bad things coming at speed when they get back to the road. But it's pretty telling when most insurance statistics show there are repeat offenders, be it due to excessive speeding, repeated instances of inattention, or just bad at driving. Most insurers (in the US) don't even ding you for the first accident anymore if it's been a long time since your last one. And since revoking a license or being uninsurable doesn't stop people from driving, it's safe to say that the best solution is to remove the mouth-breathing meat bag from behind the wheel. Self-driving cars are one way to do this.

      2. S4qFBxkFFg

        Re: I'm not sure I understand

        I am inferring he is implying that while courts may excuse a driver trying to save their own life by making a snap decision that kills others, higher standards can be applied to software engineers and lawyers making considered decisions in a comfortable office.

        I predict that self-driving cars will prioritise the safety of their occupants - they are the ones explicitly or implicitly volunteering to trust their safety to the vehicle, so would probably deserve a higher standard of care. Pedestrians already accept that they run a (small) risk of dying because of drunk/crazy/unconscious drivers.

        There will of course be many incidents that enrich the lawyers - probably a price worth paying for the overall reduction in road deaths.

        1. Anonymous Blowhard

          Re: I'm not sure I understand

          "I predict that self-driving cars will prioritise the safety of their occupants"

          I predict the opposite, on the basis that the occupants have accepted the five-hundred-page EULA and it will be easy to sneak in a clause that in the event of an unavoidable accident they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of Google/Microsoft/Uber/Ford/GM etc.

          1. Danny 4

            Re: I'm not sure I understand

            I think I'd want a car programmed with self-preservation.

            A car that considers itself and its occupants expendable isn't much of a selling point.

            1. Justicesays

              Re: I'm not sure I understand

              "I think I'd want a car programmed with self-preservation."

              Sounds good - until you try to scrap it...

              1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
                IT Angle

                Re: I'm not sure I understand

                People are also ignoring the IT security risk of a society of 1 million autonomous vehicles. 1 million cars driven by people will probably kill a few thousand humans a year. 1 million functional autonomous cars should kill a smaller number. EXCEPT that if somebody finds a way to brick the 1 million autonomous cars--and you know lots of people will try. Then you would see disruptions in emergency services, food delivery, even long-term economic damage/reduction in the tax base causing a lot more deaths short and long-term than the million human drivers could.

                So a million drivers will be sloppy, but society won't grind (literally) to a halt.

            2. James Wilson

              Re: I'm not sure I understand

              I'd definitely want a car programmed with self-preservation. However I'd want everyone else's car to be programmed to minimise the number of lives lost. It's possible a compromise may have to be made.

            3. PassiveSmoking

              Re: Cars with self-preservation

              Didn't you ever see that episode of Knight Rider with KITT's Evil Twin? That was the result of programming the car with self-preservation.

      3. Happy Ranter

        Re: I'm not sure I understand

        I would hope the computer is not dumb enough to get into that situation in the first place.

        I would also like to point out that if a human gets into that position, the first reaction is almost always self preservation

      4. RealityisntReal

        Re: I'm not sure I understand

        The computer can only make decisions it is pre-programmed to make. The human could decide that swerving into the oncoming lane (currently empty) and going into the median is better. If we can come up with real artificial intelligence then completely self-driving cars could be a reality - but as long as we are just using normal old computers that have to have all decisions pre-programmed then I don't think they are viable. Are these cars going to be visually scanning the side of the roadways for something like an animal or child? Something that could be a problem in a few seconds and that need to be evaluated as needing a possible future action? I doubt it. Granted, most of the drivers on the road are so lousy at actually driving that they don't do that either - but you do have the ones who actually actively drive their cars and do look for situations like that.

        1. LionelB

          Re: I'm not sure I understand @RealityisntReal

          The computer can only make decisions it is pre-programmed to make. The human could decide that swerving into the oncoming lane (currently empty) and going into the median is better. If we can come up with real artificial intelligence then completely self-driving cars could be a reality - but as long as we are just using normal old computers that have to have all decisions pre-programmed then I don't think they are viable.

          You seem to be arguing from the viewpoint that autonomous driving software needs to have every detailed contingency it may encounter explicitly hard-coded. This is patently absurd and a million miles away from how such systems are in fact programmed. I have a mate who has worked in the games industry for many years, who was recently recruited by an autonomous vehicle company. His speciality was developing AI for realistic interactions between on-screen agents. I think this tells you something about how driverless vehicle software is being developed.

          And, btw, what is "real" artificial intelligence? It's artificial, innit? (I suspect you mean "like human intelligence", and no, I don't see that coming anytime soon.)

      5. Deltics

        Re: I'm not sure I understand

        No, it's that if a human driving a vehicle mows down 15 people then that human will find themselves in a court where a jury of their peers will examine the specific circumstances and capabilities of that human, taking all factors into account and reaching a decision as to whether the action was justified - or at least excusable. And if not, then that human has consequences to face. Otherwise, the family (or families) of any victims at least may be satisfied that justice has been applied (it is not uncommon for families in such cases to feel compassion and sympathy along with their grief).

        But if a vehicle control system makes that decision then it is a simple question of whether the vehicle followed it's programming or there was a defect in that programming.

        If the program is shown to have a defect then the manufacturer is liable not just to the families involved but will likely face instant bankruptcy as their product becomes poison. Or at least face a massive recall exercise.

        If the vehicles is demonstrated to not have a "defect" in the programming. That is, that the program specification was followed precisely, then in any event, that programming is responsible for having chosen the deaths of 15 people over the 1 life of the passenger (or, the death of the 1 person over the 15). The argument then will be that the decision tree formulated years in advance and in splendid isolation from the circumstances on the day in question, was not sufficiently adaptable to those circumstances and was thus inherently and dangerously flawed.

        So even if there was no defect, the program was defective.

        There will be either the families of the 15 people or the 1 person lining up to claim massive damages as a result of the decision or error that concluded that the life of their loved one was the one - on balance - worth sacrificing.

        Aha - comes the cry from the permanently not-pessimistic - but what if the program can be demonstrated not to have performed any such "weighing of the balance" at all !!?! Eh? Ha! Then the program can't be blamed for making a decision that it didn't actually take.

        OK - so there was no "decision" to mow down 15 people, they were simply not a factor in the vehicles action to save the occupant. In which case the open and shut argument is simply that such a system is not safe to permit on the roads where such decisions are necessarily required.

        It's not that either outcome is "OK".

        It's that the legal questions arising from the one where a vehicle is "responsible" are just too complex and intractable and once this is realised, the car companies will quickly back pedal from the idea, except as a development vehicle [sic] for technologies to provide driver assistance (as opposed to replacing the driver entirely).

    2. RealityisntReal

      Re: I'm not sure I understand

      Unless you personally are the "occasional screw up' - then I imagine the decisions would be a little different. Everyone is always "it's best for the majority", but when it's your personal ass on the line it always gets a little different.

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: I'm not sure I understand

        " Everyone is always "it's best for the majority", but when it's your personal ass on the line it always gets a little different."

        Which is why I much prefer selfish assholes like me who simply laugh at such fluff - none of us are actually better, but we're at least honest about it...

  3. Milton Silver badge

    Dead wrong

    I think Hart is wrong about this. Partly it's because he's bringing a public aviation mindset to the debate, which will actually mislead you, because there are key differences between aviation and automobiles. Fundamentally, we need 1-in-a-billion type reliability for planes because when things go wrong, there's a long way to fall and many people to die. With cars, an engine failure just means you coast to a stop, not that you risk killing 400 people. Even a series of cockups that might doom a plane may not kill anyone in a car accident.

    So although it's right to say that safety is paramount, we're not actually talking about working to the standards of civil aviation.

    And so far, all the (preliminary) evidence is that autopiloted cars make fewer mistakes and have fewer accidents than human-driven ones. Given what you see on roads infested by morons, that's hardly a surprise, and the disparity is only going to get greater. It'll be hard for any government to say "Robot cars will save 10,000 lives a year, but we won't legislate for them".

    Yes, people enjoy driving. I do, myself. But what I enjoy doesn't trump the lives of thousands of others.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dead wrong

      Even a series of cockups that might doom a plane may not kill anyone in a car accident.

      In the case of engine failure usually not. But the key question is how good self driving cars are at situational awareness, hazard recognition, and how good their choices are. With aircraft you usually find that good design, good operators, and multiple redundancy mean you need a chain of events to cause a fatal accident. With a car, a single erroneous judgement can be enough to cause a death, automated or not.

      Automation on the ground is much easier if you have constraints on movements (like rails). My guess is that the future of automated cars lies more in stopping the driver doing certain things, rather than doing everything for him. If you can create urban trackways (Minority Report style) withour pedestrians, with common speeds et al, then you could automate that fairly easily, but I don't see that happening anytime soon for simple reasons of cost.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Dead wrong

        "If you can create urban trackways (Minority Report style) withour pedestrians, with common speeds et al, then you could automate that fairly easily, but I don't see that happening anytime soon for simple reasons of cost."

        Yes, that's what I was thinking too. There's too much traffic and just too many variables to expect a current tech JohnnyCab to work safely or reliably. It would require a complete change from manual to auto. Sweden switched which side of the road they drive on from Left to Right many years ago. With the population increase and massive car ownership increase, not to mention many more buses and lorries, would they consider an overnight switch now? I suspect not.

        It may be that in certain cities or very large towns, there may be a case to ban traffic from the city/town centre and have JohnnyCabs available. Most city/town centres have pedestrian only zones in the main shopping areas these days. Expanding them and allowing only JohnnyCabs in those areas. Maybe even surround those areas with another zone with a 15 or 20mph speed limit where automaric and manual traffic can mix. We have guided bus lanes too, so that's another option to allow JohnnyCabs a larger roaming range, possbly even between otherwise separate pedestrian/JohnnyCab areas.

        Note I keep using the term JohnnyCab. I think we are still many, many years away from privately owned autonomous car trips to the Alps. I suspect if we do eventually move to autonomous cars on any significant scale, only the wealthy or essential users will have or own their own cars. (essential may include rural users)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I can give you an example I've seen mentioned in several places. My automated car is confronted by an 80,000 pound truck in my lane. Now the car has to decide whether to run into this truck and kill me, the driver, or to go up on the sidewalk and kill 15 pedestrians. That would [have to] be put into the system,” Hart said.

    That's a false dichotomy.

    The correct answer is that an AI (or any human driver worthy of keeping her licence) faced with driving in a crowded urban environment will reduce the speed so that the car can come to a stop safely within the available space if a previously invisible, but reasonably foreseeable obstacle appears ahead.

    1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      The question as stated always seems to assume that those are the ONLY two options -- hit the truck or hit pedestrians. In the real world, there are trees and lampposts bordering sidewalks that one might carom off to avoid both truck and pedestrians, there is the lane on the opposite side of the street that the truck SHOULD have been in, etc., etc. Reducing the argument to a binary problem, then claiming that binary thinking won't solve it seems rather simplistic to me.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        I'd buy one

        I wouldn't be an early adopter as I'd want to see some data first, but while I enjoy driving sometimes the times when I don't easily outweigh the times that I do so I'd make the trade. Being able to do something else while going from A to B would be nice.

        However, I think Tim 11 is being wildly optimistic if he thinks there's even a 0.000000001% chance that driverless cars are ALREADY safer than human drivers. He's really buying into the Google propaganda machine, that's for sure! They probably are safer than humans, in the limited contexts in which Google drives. The roads in California are way better than in much of the US, let alone the rest of the world. Let's see how it does on roads where the lane markings are gone, on gravel or dirt roads, on poorly marked construction areas (I've driven in the wrong place and had to back up before, if it confuses me no way software will get that right every time) How about on roads with several inches of fresh snow, no curbs and only the outlines of the ditches on either side and the occasional sign to give you a clue where it is?

        They will come in stages, and first be approved on interstates (freeways) in the US. Those are well controlled with defined entrances and exits, generally well maintained, have reflective markers on the sides of the road, and traffic is all moving in the same direction. It will prove itself there and progressively be approved in different areas. It will be at least a decade from the interstate approval before they get general nationwide approval to drive anywhere a human driver is allowed to drive.

    2. John H Woods

      Teleporting trucks

      "My automated car is confronted by an 80,000 pound truck in my lane"

      Trucks do not just appear out of thin air. The (single) rule is:

      Always drive in a manner (allowing for the condition of the road, the vehicle and the driver) which allows you to stop the vehicle on your own side of the road in the distance you can see to be clear.

      What would you do if you were a human in such a situation? You'd brake hard and hit the lorry as gently as you could. If you think that swerving, either into pedestrians, or into oncoming traffic, is even an option, I hope you won't be programming any car systems!

      1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

        Re: Teleporting trucks

        Trucks do not just appear out of thin air.

        No, but they do back out of partially concealed driveways and alleys at unexpected times. Which can be functionally the same as appearing out of thin air.

        1. JC_

          Re: Teleporting trucks

          That automated truck will be able to communicate with the automated vehicles around it, to let them know what it's planning on doing and take away the surprise.

          1. DougS Silver badge

            Re: Teleporting trucks

            Autonomous vehicles will have to coexist on the roads with non-autonomous vehicles for many years. I doubt many Reg readers will live to see the day when human driven vehicles are banned from all public roads.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Teleporting trucks

              Yep. Making everything autonomous would help to solve this, or at least have the meat controlled vehicles fitted with location beacons and have the autonomous and non autonomous vehicles communicating with regard to location, velocity, direction etc. That would remove or at least reduce the risk of vehicles 'suddently' appearing when not expected.

              1. RealityisntReal

                Re: Teleporting trucks

                So who's going to pay to install all that "non autonomous vehicles communicating with regard to location, velocity, direction etc." hardware into existing vehicles? At least here in the US we still have cars that are over 20 years old on the road. Is the government going to pay to retrofit that stuff into existing vehicles? I sort of doubt it.

          2. RealityisntReal

            Re: Teleporting trucks

            If that is the solution then you do realize that you have given up any pretense to privacy and anonymity you currently have when traveling in public? Any such communication system will by definition be totally controlled by the government, and you can place a sure bet that they will surround it with a database that tracks every data point they can think of. You better not be planning on making a quick trip to your mistress - because that database will be available to everyone, including divorce lawyers.

          3. Zack Mollusc

            Re: Teleporting trucks

            Yes, like how your phone seamlessly and reliably switches between wifi APs to get the best signal, or like how your computer always has no problem connecting to your printer. Only with much, much tighter timeframes.

        2. John H Woods

          Re: Teleporting trucks

          Sorry but "partially concealed driveways" just means that the visibility is too low for the road speed.

          A sudden rockfall, a bridge collapsing in front of you M20 style, or a 400kg hay bale bursting through a fence because some idiots wondered if it would roll down the hill, yes that's an unavoidable problem, for human and robot alike, although the latter will always be able to react quicker.

          Driveways, however, are not camouflaged. Even if the rare corner is completely blind, there is a speed at which it can be negotiated with near-zero lethality. Remember, metal is only metal --- driving into the back, side or even front of the truck that has mysteriously teleported into your field of view at 20mph is probably not going to kill anyone. In fact about most pedestrians could survive a hit at this speed.

      2. RealityisntReal

        Re: Teleporting trucks

        How do you know there is oncoming traffic in the other lane? If you are a person you can see far enough into it to make a decision that the lane is currently empty - how is a computer going to know that?

        1. John H Woods

          Re: Teleporting trucks

          "If you are a person you can see far enough into it to make a decision that the lane is currently empty "

          The number of places you can safely swerve is VERY limited: most drivers could only safely perform that manouvre if they were already preparing to safely overtake the vehicle in front.

          Swerving to avoid hitting a pedestrian, cyclist or horse is probably acceptable. But you have to remember that most modern cars will keep you safe in a front-on impact at considerable speed. Even if your swerve is not endangering other road users, you may pose a greater risk to yourself by virtue of the fact that you are more likely to lose control of the car.

          I swerved a 7.5 tonne horsebox to avoid hitting a lorry that had attempted to cross a main road in front of me and had stalled. This was firstly a defensive driving failure. I had seen the lorry stop at the junction to the road I was travelling down, and I assumed it would stay stopped. Then when I saw it moving I assumed it would safely cross in front of me. When it stalled, I braked as hard as I could given that there were valuable horses on board and was at about 20mph when I would have crashed; I swerved round at low speed, mounting the verge, and we were all safe. A self driving car would never have made this mistake as it would have assumed (as I now do) that a vehicle on the side of the road may pull in front of you at any time. And without horses on board, I could have easily stopped the vehicle in the distance I had. And, even if the distance had been a lot shorter, without horses on board, I wouldn't have swerved, either: I would hae just driven it into the side of the lorry at 20mph.

      3. kiwimuso

        Re: Teleporting trucks

        @John H Woods

        You obviously haven't seen those dash cam Youtube clips of cars/trucks careering suddenly into the driver's lane, maybe having been hit by another truck

  5. tiggity Silver badge

    Moral decisions

    "Now the car has to decide whether to run into this truck and kill me, the driver, or to go up on the sidewalk and kill 15 pedestrians"

    A nice easy boolean flag for moral decisions, "driver" defineable: SaveDriversLifeHasTopPriority

    "Driver" of the "many outweighs that of the few" ethos will set flag to False

    "Driver" of the I.m the most important thing in the universe mindset will set flag to True

    Code could make "moral decisions" based on flag.

    Though, in all seriousness, for something as complex as driving would expect some AI style code to be present, and as such quite hard to often know why AI software "makes a given choice" .

    1. malle-herbert Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Code could make "moral decisions" based on flag.

      And who sets the flag ?

      The douchebag driver who allways thinks he's the most important ?

      Or will it be set by the government according to whom the car is sold to ?

      That way all those politician's, CEO's, lawyers and other people who belong on the B-Ark will surely have a better chance of survival...

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Code could make "moral decisions" based on flag.

        I don't know why we worry about these moral quandaries. No one faces them while driving because of how slow human reaction times are.

        The car could conceivably face them, but it should travel at a speed that allows it to always have a safe out. If the safety margin diminishes because it notices pedestrians along the part of the road it calculates as its 'safe out' to swerve to in the event the oncoming human driven truck unexpectedly turns in front of it, it should slow down until it is clear of them. Hopefully this will be compensated for by allowing them to travel as fast as they feel they safely can when no human driven cars are present (a nice 120 mph cruise on the interstates drafting inches behind a long line of other automated cars would make short work of long trips)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Code could make "moral decisions" based on flag.

          "(a nice 120 mph cruise on the interstates drafting inches behind a long line of other automated cars would make short work of long trips)"

          Car training has been mooted as a solution to motorway congestion since at least the 1970's. The problems start with needing a cross manufacture standard for the gubbins to make it work and legislation to allow it work on the motorways either by defining a special lane or having vehicles fitted with some sort of indicator for the lead and trailing vehicles to show so that others know what is going on.

          A dedicated lane is not likely here in the UK. We are busily converting 3 lane + hard shoulder (emergency lane) motorways in 4 lane "smart" motorways with no hard shoulder/emergency lane due to the amount of traffic they have to cope with already.

          The biggest problem with it, IMO, is the car being able to make sure the driver is ready to take over in plenty of time or to be able to autonomously take emergency action in case of accidents, which all comes back to the current Tesla "autopilot" problems and the whole fully autonomous car issue.

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Code could make "moral decisions" based on flag.

          "a nice 120 mph cruise on the interstates drafting inches behind a long line of other automated cars would make short work of long trips"

          ...until the lead car suffers a spontaneous blowout. Moments later, you'll have a massive 20-car pileup on the motorway and probably more than a few fatalities. These sci-fi scenarios never take Murphy into account.

  6. Complicated Disaster
    Pint

    I'll be getting a robot car the minute it can drive me home from the pub after 10 pints of beer. Until then they're useless to me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My grandfather had a horse & cart that he used to do that on. So, progress, only taken about 100 years to get to the same stage...

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Horse and cart

        Yet people HAVE been prosecuted for being incapable / drunk etc with horse and cart.

        Planes have good auto pilots. Automated take off and landing was demonstrated more than 40 years ago I think. Pilots can't fly if they are drunk. A plane is in many ways less difficult than a car.

        Prove the technology with trains, then planes, then ships. Then trams. Cars and trucks should be last, not first. Exactly what is the motivation?

        1. JMac

          Re: Horse and cart

          "Exactly what is the motivation?"

          Cars are killing an estimated 1.3 million people per year worldwide. There's your motivation.

          "Prove the technology with trains, then planes, then ships. Then trams. Cars and trucks should be last, not first."

          You've got the priorities backwards. Planes, trains and ships are already incredibly safe. You're solving a problem that barely exists if you start there. If you want to save lives, start where you see a huge death-toll.

          1. RealityisntReal

            Re: Horse and cart

            To modify a pro-gun saying - cars don't kill anyone, it's the driver behind the wheel. That death statistic is made possible because governments world wide will give pretty much any moron a drivers license, and then not really hold them accountable for how well they drive. The studies have shown that the idiots who text while driving are exactly the same as driving drunk when it comes to being a danger - but how many governments have set the penalties for texting and driving to be equivalent to drunk driving? To my knowledge no one. When the governments who are supposed to be monitoring the behavior of licensed drivers won't do their jobs, why should those who actually drive their cars give up their self- control to a computer? A computer that hasn't been proven to be any better than a human driver except for when driven under limited circumstances?

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          He was...

          Can you imagine what would have happened if the FAA guy had been around at the time the horse and cart was invented?

          Remember the man with the Red Flag that had to walk in front of early cars?

          That's his mindset.

          Trains have had automatic control for years. The London Docklands Light Railway is driverless. Several other lines are automated but retain a driver.

          If full ATC was implemented then we'd could dispense with the Driver bit in my mind we do need a properly qualified member of Train Crew on board. PArt of the current dispute with Southern/GTR is over changing the roles of guards. The Unions won't sit by and let their driving roles be eliminated quietly. As one Union leader has said before, 'you ain't seen nothing yet'.

      3. a cynic writes...

        According to an old family story there was a coal man that had that arrangement in East Ham.

        It worked well until one Christmas the lads down the pub decided it was unfair on the horse and clubbed together to it a bucket or two of beer. The following day the bloke found himself in the dock on a charge of "drunk in charge of a drunken horse".

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "My grandfather had a horse & cart that he used to do that on."

        Back in the C18th a several times ggfather was killed falling from his horse. The same diary that records that also records a clergyman killed falling off his horse when drunk. The horse might be an autonomous transportation unit but it isn't safe.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Why do you think my grandfather used a horse and CART - a lot harder to fall off that!

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Still not as hard as you think. No seat belts, for example, so you can fall over in a drunken stupor. Also, the suspension is usually nonexistent, so one bad rock or pit and you can be thrown off.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "... several times ggfather was killed falling from his horse ..."

          What finally did him in? A stake through the heart?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Say you want an autonomous car

    When they flat out tell you that when the choice comes between your|your families death or that of a number of pedestrians, you're a dead man [not] driving.

    My guess is that in that scenario, most would think "I'd be able to miss them and we'd all be OK" or "Me or them..." would win out and the auto auto would remain at the dealers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Say you want an autonomous car

      But you can easily modify the Trolley Problem to make it personal. Suppose your automated car loses its brakes on a steep downhill. No other way to divert (downhill so there are guardrails) except into a driveway...where your spouse is standing. Anything else and you crash at the bottom of the hill. So who dies? You or the spouse?

  8. Bob Dole (tm)
    Facepalm

    In a word - he's a moron

    All a self driving car has to do is be reasonably better than half the drivers out there - which, to be quite honest, shouldn't be that hard to do based on the people I see each morning. At that level we'd be FAR safer than letting anyone else drive themselves.

    I can pretty much guarantee you that shortly after driverless cars hit the road and they are found to be in fewer accidents than meatbags you'll see groups such as MADD (mothers against drunk driving) teaming up with companies that own a fleet of these things doing everything they can to make it much harder to get a regular drivers license. Eventually they'll do what they can to have laws passed banning meatbags being in control of the vehicles entirely.

    Driverless cars are not only coming, but you can be sure that not too long after they appear regular cars will be banned from public roads. The simple reason is that there's too much money at stake for any other outcome.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In a word - he's a moron

      To add to your point, once autonomous cars exist the usual argument for the defence - if you take my client's licence away he'll lose his job and his family will be on the street - won't be true any more. One can imagine a future in which points on your licence mean you won't be able to engage manual while on the road, and drunk or dangerous driving will entail removal of driving licence altogether.

      You can always tell the Porsche drivers with a lot of points because they drive like a Jehovah's Witness in a Nissan Micra. I imagine manual cars will become like private pilots; special license and tracker box. It'll become a status symbol.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: In a word - he's a moron

        "To add to your point, once autonomous cars exist the usual argument for the defence - if you take my client's licence away he'll lose his job and his family will be on the street - won't be true any more."

        What if the driver is a trucker?

  9. hplasm Silver badge
    Meh

    Fully autonomous cars may never reach public roads

    ...according to the chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board.

    Ahem-

    "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." -- Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895

    And he was quite bright, they say.

    1. Naselus

      Re: Fully autonomous cars may never reach public roads

      I was just thinking "we may need almost 8 computers to service the whole world" and "no computer will ever need more than 8kb of RAM".

  10. Spamfast Bronze badge
    Stop

    Fully autonomous?

    To the best of my knowledge, there is not one passenger train service in the world at city street level or cross-country that does not still require a driver. All such a system would have to control is the speed of the vehicle and in a much more predicable environment than public roads.

    There are driver-less metro trains such as the Docklands Light Railway in London but they are always elevated or in some other way physically secured to avoid the risk of unexpected obstacles like pedestrians, animals and other vehicles. In addition, most driver-less trains are centrally controlled rather than each train being independently autonomous.

    If we don't have adaptable & safe enough properly autonomous tech for trains, we sure don't have it for cars, trucks & buses except at low speed in tightly restricted environments such as the shuttle pods at some airport car parks.

    That leaves systems that are more akin to lane-keeping, collision avoiding cruise control. And the down side of these is that the driver still has to maintain constant vigilance. It's been shown that refocusing on controlling the car while performing other activity such as reading, phoning etc takes the average human on the order of five seconds. You'd be in an impact before you were able to decide what to do and make a maneuver on any motorway or free-way in Europe or North America. (Except the M25 on a Friday afternoon maybe!)

    I'm sure the tech will come one day but I don't see it any time soon.

    1. Afernie

      Re: Fully autonomous?

      "If we don't have adaptable & safe enough properly autonomous tech for trains, we sure don't have it for cars, trucks & buses except at low speed in tightly restricted environments such as the shuttle pods at some airport car parks."

      Pretty sure the tech is there, but having the tech is not the same thing the political and financial will to deploy it. You may have noticed that TfL staff are a tad... touchy when it comes to progress that might change the way they work, or (more understandably) if they work.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The hypothetical situation described in the article seems a bit of a stretch, and given the plethora of driver assistance devices being installed in modern cars (adaptive cruise control, lane keep, etc) it doesn't seem too far fetched to assume that autonomous vehicles will be better at dealing with danger than human drivers.

    However, there is another significant impediment to their widespread adoption: liability. Who is at fault in a collision? The cars themselves will invariably have a great deal of logging data to assess what was done incorrectly, and in most cases this will likely provide evidence that the other (human) driver was to blame, but in the few cases the software proves to be the culprit who will be held responsible? Will it be the owner of the autonomous car or the manufacturer?

  12. John G Imrie Silver badge
    Happy

    FTFY

    Some people just like to drive. Some people don't trust the automation so they're going to want to drive. [And] there’s no software designer in the world that's ever going to be the test subject when they let these loose for real

  13. nilfs2
    Flame

    A typewriter would make a better driver than most human drivers around here

    A typewriter would make a better driver than most human drivers around here, psychos on wheels the lot of 'em!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looking forward to it

    I'm looking forward to it.

    If the car at least ensures that part of my communte i can do some other stuff, i will be happily doing the city driving. The software won't be perfect, accidents will happen, but less than what some idiots cause now.

    I predict a premium payable by driving enjoyers to insurance if they drive by hand more then X %

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Looking forward to it

      "The software won't be perfect" Very unlikely, I agree

      "accidents will happen" A natural consequence of the above

      "but less than what some idiots cause now." Evidence?

  15. Speltier

    80000 lb truck

    So lets presume that this really is a binary decision: stay the course and die, or mash 15 pedestrians and live.

    Someone-- self driving car, or person-- is going to decide. Making a claim that this sort of decision makes machine control infeasible is preposterous, since given the scenario a decision will be made.

    The only question is who is responsible for deciding. Apparently Secretary Hart believes only meatbags should be granted divine authority to decide... or perhaps that a soulless machine shouldn't be entrusted with life and death decisions (which would imply the right honorable Hart never flies, doesn't drive a car with an ECU or airbag, doesn't have a pacemaker, wears a tin foil hat to ward off soulless falling planes that made a decision to crash on his right honorable head instead of crushing the legendary bus full of orphans and nuns, ...).

    1. RealityisntReal

      Re: 80000 lb truck

      None of your examples equate to a driverless car. What kind of decision is a pacemaker making? The heartbeat slowed this much so I'll help it. Not much logic required there - and not in any of your other examples. How are you going to code a driverless car to account for that child standing still on the side of the road? The one who could at any instant decide to run across that same road? Will that autonomous car even see that there is a child standing there? What about that ball that rolls across the street - the one a human driver could infer from that there might be a child running behind? What's the current poor excuse for an AI going to decide? Slam on the brakes and risk a rear-ender? Oh, wait. The human driver sees the child has stopped at the side of the road and is safe and doesn't need such drastic action. Let me know when they invent a real AI. Then they can stick one in a car and we'll go from there.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: 80000 lb truck

      "The only question is who is responsible for deciding. Apparently Secretary Hart believes only meatbags should be granted divine authority to decide"

      How does the machine decision get made? Ultimately, by a programmer or someone directing the programmer. So how do you characterise that programmer or other someone? Or maybe the programmer is directed by a committee so that responsibility for any decision, however bad, doesn't actually fall on any particular person. A committee decision - what could possibly go wrong?

  16. Zack Mollusc
    Facepalm

    Easy Peasy way to resolve the question

    Google autonomous cars exist, and currently are tootling around with a human ready to take over when the AI gives up.

    The obvious way to compare human vs AI safety is to have the same type of car be driven around in the same areas ONLY under human control and compare the safety record of each.

    There is no value in comparing the accident record of perfectly-maintained autonomous vehicles operating on near-empty brightly-lit roads at 25MPH with the accident record of meatbags operating much larger vehicles at higher speeds in reduced visibility/traction.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Easy Peasy way to resolve the question

      "Google autonomous cars exist, and currently are tootling around with a human ready to take over when the AI gives up."

      Which, when you think about it, tells you a good deal about the confidence currently placed in the ability of the AI. When the situation is reversed we can maybe start thinking that autonomous cars might be a good idea.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Easy Peasy way to resolve the question

        So why not have the Google cars take a few runs up and down Donner Pass and back in the winter? Donner Pass isn't too far away and is notoriously difficult during a blizzard.

  17. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Moral capacity

    Given the truck scenario, which driver would make the worse decision: the autonomous car, or the asshat in the BMW M3 who cut me off twice in the space of two miles this morning?

  18. Bob Rocket

    How about this

    http://www.cat.com/en_US/support/operations/technology/cat-minestar/command/command-for-hauling.html

  19. CCCP

    Why all the edge cases?

    I don't get it. The objections to car autonomy are always weird edge cases. When on deity's earth do you choose between an artic and 15 pedestrians... AFAIK the vast majority of accidents are lapses of concentration of the driver and/or over-confidence.

    Computer cars suffer neither of these. As others have pointed out, the 'puters only need to be better than the average meatbag for it to reduce deaths. If the auto car gets confused, it'll just slow down and maybe stop, and so will all the other auto cars behind it. No more pile-ups.

    Oh, and no road rage deaths/injuries. Ever.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Why all the edge cases?

      "The objections to car autonomy are always weird edge cases."

      Accidents, in case you haven't noticed, are not the norm. They are the weird edge cases.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Why all the edge cases?

        They're also worst-case scenarios. Particularly no-win scenarios (Trolley Problems or Cold Equations) where you simply can't have a Happy Ending. It's a moral quandry so difficult WE haven't developed a universal solution to the problem of "Not everyone can be saved--who dies?" Yet an automated car can conceivably be put into such a problem, which raises even more moral problems. How can we trust to a computer what we can't reliably trust to ourselves?

  20. Bucky 2

    Never is such a long time

    I suppose we could evolve beyond the need for cars (with "evolve" and "beyond" being suitably elastic in meaning--for example, we could go extinct) before we ever achieve confidence enough in automation to allow a car to do the driving for us.

    But I still think it's an especially bold statement.

  21. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "A.I. is hard."

    That is all.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "A.I. is hard."

      Not at all. It'll be ready in about 10 years time. Just like it has been for the last several decades.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "A.I. is hard."

      AI is really, really hard.

      Autonomous vehicles will have to be capable of learning, not just responding in pre-programmed ways to known situations. And every manufacturer will have a different AI solution.

      How will the authorities competently asses whether the AI is up to a safety related application? It's not a military environment where collateral damage is "acceptable". Up to now, they have been incapable of determining something as simple as whether vehicles are programmed to game the emissions rules.

  22. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    Hart

    Some people just like to drive.

    Granted. I count myself among that some, but I also wouldn't mind a car that can drive itself when I don't want to (e.g. congested urban areas, long distance travel).

    Some people don't trust the automation so they're going to want to drive.

    And some people still don't trust airliners despite a proven safety record. This will be a generational change.

    There’s no software designer in the world that's ever going to be smart enough to anticipate all the potential circumstances this software is going to encounter.

    That's what testing is for. Is an Apollo Program analogy too much of a cliché here?

    I can give you an example I've seen mentioned in several places. My automated car is confronted by an 80,000 pound truck in my lane. Now the car has to decide whether to run into this truck and kill me, the driver, or to go up on the sidewalk and kill 15 pedestrians.

    Presumably not a self-driving truck. This is a bit of a furphy IMNSHO, but why has this old railcar thought experiment lately increased from 5 to 10 to 15 pedestrians? Why not go for 50 or 100?

    A self-driving vehicle is not a philosopher. All it has to do is lessen the severity of a collision, no matter how contrived the circumstance, and it's proven its value. If it can avoid the collision entirely, perhaps only by seeing the errant 80,000 pound truck well before a human would have, so much the better.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Hart

      "That's what testing is for. Is an Apollo Program analogy too much of a cliché here?"

      Testing couldn't account for Apollo 13. It was only quick HUMAN thinking that saved the astronauts on that mission. And it's hard to test something for which the parameters aren't completely knowable: thus what happened with Apollo 1.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FTFY

    "there’s no [driver] in the world that's ever going to be smart enough to anticipate all the potential circumstances this [driver] is going to encounter"

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: FTFY

      But some drivers seem to be able to anticipate disaster before it occurs by intuitively identifying clues based on instinct. This is something that pretty much can't be taught...because we don't ourselves know how we come about knowing it. It just clicks and you react...reflexively. The higher brain doesn't even get involved.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Autonomous vehicles?

    May be a reality if they are operated only in bus lanes or the equivalent, but less likely in the near term with humans around. The Rupert Murdochs of the world will ensure that every collision is heralded as proof of unroadworthiness.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reliability issues

    It will be the reliability issues that will stymie widespread adoption of these vehicles. The built in test functionality will identify hardware failures, and the risk averseness software prevent vehicles from being used, since the faults may impact safety (although the same faults could be disregarded by a human counterpart). Redundant systems will help, but will add to the initial purchase price.

    In other words, vehicles will have to be in near perfect condition to be allowed on the roads. Which is a considerably different scenario than we have currently.

    Preventive maintenance will become prohibitive with age. As the joke goes, if you can't afford a new BMW, you certainly can't afford a secondhand one!

  26. hoola

    What about red lights, give ways and speed restrictions?

    If permitted I can foresee the following, particularly in urban areas:

    Autonomous vehicles rammed from behind at traffic lights because they actually stopped at the amber light. Yes, in the UK, the amber light does mean stop, as does a red light. The current practice is to ignore amber and accelerate like made to get through, even if it has gone red 5 seconds previously,

    Give ways for all the same reasons as above.

    Speed limits, again, if you drive at 30 in a 30 limit there will be a huge queue of pillocks who all believe that they know best and 40-50 is actually completely safe. The Autonomous car will pootle along at 30 with these same idiots overtaking and being even more dangerous than the actually are.

    In the UK at least it is just going to be total carnage. Unfortunately there are a high proportion of drivers who all think they are better than they are. The sad fact is that due to cuts in policing the risks of getting caught and subsequent pathetic penalties if you do are no deterrent. There are very few genuine accidents, most crashes are caused by the human error.

  27. This post has been deleted by its author

  28. WilfForrow

    The industry needs to PROVE how much safer autonomous vehicles are, by building long term accident stats that people trust, comparing manual to autonomous. I'd guess they'll be at least 10 times safer.

    Then they need to create a legal contract and insurance framework that gives 'reasonable' protection to all parties, (including the manufacturer). The goal is not perfection, the goal is 'better than manually driven'.

    After that, the economic, social & safety benefits will be so huge and so obvious that no government could block them and stay in power.

  29. lockeptrv

    15 Pedestrians beware!

    Truck - kill me. Pedestrians - possible life in prison. In that situation, I don't want to leave it up to the car. I admit, i'd go for the soft target!

    Of coarse, a decent self-driving car would just do a "Dukes of Hazard" turn. Problem solved.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 15 Pedestrians beware!

      "Dukes of Hazard"? I think that usually requires a dirt road. Perhaps you meant a "Rockford"?

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It will come but not for a long time

    autonomous cars will arrive one day but not for a very long time so long as they have to mix with the human controlled ones.

    I personally believe that what is driving the car manufacturers is the "but they are doing it" mantra and they don't want to get left behind.

    some aspects are in some cars now such as auto-braking (although that TV advert has small print of < 5 mph!), and there has been talk for years about cars having a 'mesh grid' to communicate to those behind them that they are stopped just around the bend and you had better slow down from 70mph like kinda now....

    So just as those top of the range features on the most expensive cars filter down to the cheaper versions, so bits of autonomous tech will slowly be added to existing *newly* purchased models. As for your 70 year old classic car....tough.

    Given the current track record of car manufactures on IT security it could also be a car crash nightmare

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