Self-driving cars The implications of the self-driving phenomenon in a mid/long-term

Technology doesn’t stop to amaze me. I’ve been following this self-driving car trend for quite a long time; especially, the case of the cars fueled by electricity. The main references I have been following are Tesla Motors and the Google Self-Driving Car, and it makes me happy to think that I may not need to learn to drive anymore :-D.

But, I guess that won’t happen on a while. It’s obvious that we will need to receive some driver education, at least to know how to react in emergency cases. However, it is amazing to realize the impact these cars have essentially in 3 scopes:

  1. The fact of being self-driving; it will certainly avoid lots of accidents caused by human mistakes.
  2. The way they are fueled. Fortunately, it seems that the car industry is showing an increasing tendency towards the fossile resources. These might somehow reduce the conflicts generated by the ecologists, who knows.
  3. The cost. It is astounding to see the ‘pre-order boom’ Tesla Model 3 had. Each of the vehicles cost 35,000 $, and the pre-order fee were 1000 $. It seems that they already got 325,000 pre-orders, which already tells us that it won’t be precisely a car for the ‘rich elite’.

Despite these facts, it is true that many people still show insecurities towards the changes. In fact, in this random post the following question appears:

But… Will the machines cause any accidents?

Well, apparently, these cars had ‘a lot’ of accidents. The first accident that the Google Self-Driving Car ever had happened at February 14th this year, approximately 7 years after these cars got released. Here you can see the terrific footage:

We can see how the Google Self-Driving Car collides with the bus at 25 km/h. However, regarding to the driving history of these special cars, we should consider this crash as an anecdotical moment rather than a constant reality. It seems that this car model caused some other accidents, but the vast majority of them had some human misbehaviour implications, so we cannot say that Google’s car was ‘guilty’ in those cases.

Having heard about this unfortunate incident, a few might say that

These machines will kill us!

But that’s still quite a pretentious assertion. I mean, it’s a fact that we are living many breakthroughs nowadays, such as the learning techniques used in AI development (f.e. the AlphaGo case, briefly mentioned in another entry of this blog), but they still need lots of iterations and samples to obtain improved results. That’s why scaling these things to a Terminator-like machine seems still a bit far to me.

Besides, we should remember that machines have to pass Turing’s Test, an indicator that highlights that a machine shows a similar intelligence to the human one (further information in Wikipedia). And, honestly, there is also interesting progress in this way. However, thinking about this situation in coding terms, I really doubt a machine will have the chance to do ‘bad stuff’, like stealing from others or murdering, unless a human mind orders to do so. And, beyond that, as developers of that software, we could always think on programming some limitations or ‘exceptions’ (in Java jargon) to block the machines in those particular contexts.

However, someone with advanced knowledge on these topics could try to manipulate these machines unless the code isn’t protected enough to avoid this reverse engineering. That’s why I really support that companies like Google or Tesla are pushing the industry to do further development, because there are many firms that don’t care too much about it but obtaining profits from the activities they already do, as well as to maximize their cash flow from them. We should also care though about making a controlled research on it, or we might live some ‘apocalyptic’ situations as the ones shown in several Hollywood films.

All in all, I think that this self-driving phenomenon will be the future because it will certainly help, beginning from many small villages to huge cities such as Tokyo-Yokohama or Mexico City, to fix their traffic jams as well as their environmental issues. Let’s pray though that neither financial crisis nor political blockades appear before these cars become available to the average people.

MercedesF015
Mercedes Benz’ F015 prototype of a self-driving car.

[Originally written at April 10th, 2016]