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Automatic Cars [Notes on the Acceleration] - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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November 22nd, 2010


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03:02 am - Automatic Cars [Notes on the Acceleration]
From previous attempts that I'd seen, I assumed that automatic cars wouldn't be possible for 5 or 6 years and wouldn't be practical for at least 10. It's clear that I now need to shave years off of both times (the first video and the press release are both well worth looking at), while it's unclear how it performs in traffic, it's clearly possible for a fully automatic car to drive a difficult normal road at reasonable speeds. I'd expect the first automatic cars within 5 years - legal requirements will keep a licensed driver behind the wheel for at least another 15-20 years, and likely longer, but I'd expect that most new cars to be fitted with something like this in no more than 15 years. I honestly love this idea, because I don't drive and after a few tries would love to never drive again. I completely agree with Arthur C. Clarke, and vehicle that you can't read in isn't civilized mode of transport.

In any case, another of the various SF dreams is now possible and will almost certainly be practical in less than a decade. Once most cars are automatic and networked, I'd expect traffic problems to be greatly reduced and accidents to be at least somewhat rarer. I wonder how long it will be before manually operating a car within city limits is illegal except in an emergency - once the tech becomes sufficiently reliable, this is the next obvious step and one I'd strongly be behind. Perhaps this will happen by 2040, of course, I'd also expect something on the order or AI or significant intelligence enhancement by 2030, so from my PoV it's impossible to predict what 2040 will actually be like. Even 2020 looks to be pretty amazing.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed

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Comments:


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From:seika
Date:November 22nd, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
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I would love that. I hate driving, and I'm so much less reliably attentive than a computer anyway.
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From:darkoshi
Date:November 22nd, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
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Networking cars is a great idea; having each car know where all the nearby cars are, and having them be able to communicate to avoid accidents (such as "I'm driving past you; you need to wait before backing out into the street"; "I'm making a right-hand turn; you can proceed"; "I am stopping; you have the right-of-way"). Crowded parking lot dynamics could be interesting too; all vehicles could know where the empty spaces are, and they could be assigned to each vehicle based on how long the vehicle has been waiting for a space.

Once all cars are autonomous, I wonder how that will affect adherence to speed limits. Drivers would probably complain if they weren't allowed to tell their vehicle to go over the limit. Actually, it would probably take a while for drivers to become comfortable "giving up control" and allowing themselves to be driven instead of driving everywhere themselves.
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:November 23rd, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
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It occurs to me that such a system would need some sort of display screen on the dash to show where nearby cars are. I have a feeling it'd be maddening without such visual feedback. "Why the hell is my car not pulling out?! ...oh, I see, there's another car coming."
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From:kinkyturtle
Date:November 23rd, 2010 07:05 am (UTC)
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Oh, and now that I've read your second paragraph... I don't think most drivers would complain about the car limiting the speed. It'd be like cruise control; in fact, it'd be better than cruise control, because with cruise control as it currently works, let's say you're cruising, and you approach another car that's going a little slower. You have to manually slow down so you don't hit it, maneuver around, and re-engage cruise. But autonomous cars would do the work for you, which would be much better.

And I find it turns out to be surprisingly hard to stick to speed limits even when I intend to; when I'm manually controlling the speed, it tends to creep up slowly without my noticing. I look down at the speedometer, and yikes, I'm going 80?! But cruise control lets me prevent that.
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From:rhiannasilel
Date:November 22nd, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I think it's a good idea, but the problem is I really love driving. If there's a manual switch then that would fine, but I wouldn't want to exclusively have to deal with an automatic car.
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From:heron61
Date:November 22nd, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
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If they ever make cars w/o manual controls, it would be at least several decades (and a number of impressively complex legal cases) after the introduction of automatic cars that not only had manual controls, but legally required a licensed driver to be behind the wheel.
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From:mindstalk
Date:November 22nd, 2010 08:24 pm (UTC)
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Eh. Though it's taken a lot of work, route following or even simple traffic reactions are the easy part. Glorified cruise control. The hard part is when traffic goes wrong and dealing with it, which may well be AI-complete at a city street level.
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From:heron61
Date:November 22nd, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
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There are two levels for this -Human level and considerably better than human level. Getting approximately as good as a human driver in an emergency doesn't seem all that difficult, at least once almost all cars are networked together. At that point, cars will each know what the other is about to do (or will at least instantly know what a manually controlled car is doing). OTOH, human drivers are only so good. Doing significantly better (ie having a near zero accident rate) is likely only possible with a full AI.

In any case, I expect that these things will start off as glorified cruise control (ie drivers take control in any sort of tricky situation, and will only start getting significant better than this once most cars on the road are automatic and networked.
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From:mindstalk
Date:November 22nd, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
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But you get things on the road that aren't networked. Bicyclists, pedestrians crossing, children or animals running out onto the street, things falling off trucks or other obstacles. Plus "there's an emergency vehicle coming, where can I go to make room?" (Networked automation might make that easier a lot of the time, but I imagine a lot of other times you need more intelligent flexibility.)

I think you're rather underestimating human level... A very common pattern is that it's sort of easy to get 60-80% of human performance (measured by some convenient and perhaps simplistic metric) via AI techniques, but then you stall. Often that's good enough, especially if you can do it faster (my first post-college startup was built around this; our learner could do in hours 60% of what an expert might craft in weeks), but here lives are at stake...
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From:heron61
Date:November 23rd, 2010 09:09 am (UTC)
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*nods* I don't have any real idea how much more difficult dealing with children running randomly into the street and other typical hazards are compared to ordinary driving on a moderately difficult road like the one shown. On the plus side, the car would never be distracted, and I'd also guess that problems with an easy optimal solution (like safely swerving or slowing down rapidly to avoid an unexpected pedestrian) would work as well as a human after one or two more generations of Moore's law.

What occurs to me as the serious problem with automatic cars are cases where there is significant risk - swerve or fast break to avoid a pedestrian, but with a high risk of hitting a parked car or getting rear ended. Most humans are going to do this instinctively and it's the obvious right choice since people in cars are far less vulnerable to impact than people not in cars. However, creating such a hierarchy of choices seems very far from easy. In thinking about this, you'd effectively be writing a real-world (and thus hideously complex) version of Asimov's Laws for automatic cars.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:November 25th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC)

Question for you, Heron

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"I wonder how long it will be before manually operating a car within city limits is illegal except in an emergency - once the tech becomes sufficiently reliable, this is the next obvious step and one I'd strongly be behind."

Why would you favor this? I can see where it would eliminate driving by intoxicated humans, which would reduce the accident rate, but there would be two problems.

1. People's freedom would be curtailed. Said people in this case would be competent adults.

2. What if a terrorist hacks into an automatic car or bus's code to send it and the occupants crashing into a building or off a cliff? (Think 9/11 but with different vehicles?) If the driver could not override this, many people would die preventable deaths.

I am in favor of automatic cars, because they would allow greater independence for non-driving adults. However, I'm not in favor of making them compulsory, unless they can also be driven manually by the (perhaps with a sensor that would prevent intoxicated drivers from overriding the automatic mode.)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:November 25th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Question for you, Heron

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2 would be very unlikely, because while cars would need to be networked to know the location of upcoming traffic jams, they'd need to be fully autonomous, and so the only way to hack a car would be to gain physical access to the car and reprogram the software, at which point someone could just plant a bomb or cut the brake lines.

As for the first, I see in-town driving far more as a useful activity than as an end it itself. An automatic car still gets people from point A to point B was well as manual driving (and presumably by the time anyone would consider making densely populated areas automatic car only zones, they'd be well better, at least in terms of not getting lost and avoiding traffic), and this rule would only make sense if automatic cars were also considerably safer than manual ones.

Cars are inherently quite dangerous, they are the leading cause of accidental death (at least in the US) and one of the major causes of death for anyone under 50. If automatic cars ever get to the point that their accident rate (for both hitting other cars and hitting pedestrians) is less than 25% the manual driving rate, then the (to me) minimal loss of freedom, of telling your car where to go rather than driving there is well worth giving up to save tens of thousands of lives per year in the US alone.

Also, all cars should have manual over-rides for emergencies, and would presumably be legal to manually drive in cities in such emergencies.


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