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The use case for self-driving cars

 
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As someone who as just started working from home, and who has two dogs, The Joy of Tech has just come up with the perfect use case for the self-driving car.



[courtesy The Joy of Tech]
 
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Would it count if you shaid, “Can you find the way home, car? I've had too mucsh to drink to be shafe on the roadsh.”
 
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I read an article somewhere (I forget where) that said this would encourage people to commute to places they wouldn't now. There were two premises:
1) People who can't drive (the disabled, etc) can now drive
2) People can do other stuff in the car

Premise 2 is interesting. I commute by mass transit now. It's great to be able to do other things like read on the train. However, the limiting factor on commutes where I live (New York City) is traffic. If everyone got in a self driving car to go to work, it would take them many hours to get to work.
 
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sleep and eat in car.
 
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I'm betting that self-driving cars will never take off for two reasons. The first is legal liability. If there is an accident, who are the lawyers going to sue? The passenger is not in control of the car, so they aren't liable. The manufacturer? They aren't going to accept that kind of liability. The individuals who built or programmed the car? Not likely. If the courts rule that the manufacturer is liable, that will be the end of self driving cars.

The second reason was addressed in this article. The car might be programmed to kill you. It's a twist on the old "trolley problem". If an accident is imminent, the car must make a decision; hit the child that just dashed into the street or plow into a tree? Do you want to trust your life to a car that might decide to kill you in order to avoid hitting a school bus or whatever?
 
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J. Kevin Robbins wrote:The second reason was addressed in this article. The car might be programmed to kill you.



Talking about robot cars ... there are cars these days that practically everything is "controlled" by electronics (driving wheel, start/stop engine, even the hand brake).

A friend of mine had such an issue that his car freezes on a slight upward slope, with the hand brake and driving wheel malfunction, causing the car to slowly slip downhill under it hits a tree. If either the brake or driving wheel is manual, then the crash can be preventable.
 
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J. Kevin Robbins wrote:I'm betting that self-driving cars will never take off


If they did wouldn't that make them self flying cars ?
 
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My prediction is that these cars will be primarily used in small towns with speed limits of 20 mph. The kind of communities that let people use golf carts to get around.

Jeanne makes a good point in their use for the physically disabled. That would be advantageous.



 
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J. Kevin Robbins wrote: Do you want to trust your life to a car that might decide to kill you in order to avoid hitting a school bus or whatever?



I am not 100% certain that humans do make a conscious decision to go into a tree to save a child. I think most people react at an autonomous, subconcsious level when presented with something coming suddenly in front of them. I should say I can't say for everyone else, but atleast for me, when I've done a maneuver to save a collision, I don't remember making the decision. It just happened. Either I did make a conscious decision to switch into the other lane while standing on the brakes, and my mind decided to black the whole thing out; or I just reacted at a subconscious level. I remember exactly what happened in great detail. Like they say, when you panic, your perception of time slows down. I just don't remember thinking "Oh I'm going to hit that car. Let me go into the other lane to avoid him".

The trolley problem is an interesting philosophical exercise. I think it's highly unlikely that humans go through that exercise in times of immediate crisis. I would sure like to see some research that shows that humans do make these decisions, before we start assuming it.
 
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Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:I am not 100% certain that humans do make a conscious decision to go into a tree to save a child.



Ah, but the point of the article was that we must assume that eventually these cars will have the sensors and computers fast enough to make such a decision. At this point they can't tell a bicycle from a moose, but technology always gets better and faster. People aren't capable of (usually) making that kind of split-second decision, but the cars will. Which way should they decide? To protect the driver/passenger at all costs, or weigh the cost-benefit analysis? Is it better to kill one and save two? What if the passenger is young and the potential victims are elderly? Lots of interesting questions that will have to be addressed.
 
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Hacking would also be a big concern. I could imagine a hacker getting his/her jollies by turning I-35 into Death Race 3000.
 
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:I read an article somewhere (I forget where) that said this would encourage people to commute to places they wouldn't now. There were two premises:
1) People who can't drive (the disabled, etc) can now drive
2) People can do other stuff in the car

Premise 2 is interesting. I commute by mass transit now. It's great to be able to do other things like read on the train. However, the limiting factor on commutes where I live (New York City) is traffic. If everyone got in a self driving car to go to work, it would take them many hours to get to work.

Premise (1) is very important. There are many people with imperfectly controlled epilepsy who essentially are imprisoned for life -- condemned to be restricted to one of those very few places where one does not need an automobile to get around.

Premise (2) is more troubling. If all that happened was that people were now free to do other things on their current commutes, sure, we'd have a huge increase in productivity and quality of life. But that's not what's going to happen. Instead, I think what we'll see is people breaking their sleep into a pair of four hour blocks and taking up residence a four hour drive from where they work. If you thought urban sprawl and energy wastage was bad _now_, just wait.
 
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:If everyone got in a self driving car to go to work, it would take them many hours to get to work.



If every single car on the road were a self driving car, then routes would be mathematically optimized to reduce congestion, stops, etc. So in theory, every one would get to work faster than driving themselves.
 
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