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Google's Self-Driving Cars Are Ridiculously Safe
After 1.8 million miles, Google's self-driving car has been involved in only 13 accidents — all of which were caused by the other car.
A few weeks ago, I attended a wedding just outside Richmond, Virginia, 100 miles from my home in Washington D.C., so I needed to rent a car for the weekend. There's no feeling quite like getting back behind a steering wheel after time away from driving. It's a liberating feeling, a taste of freedom, the ability to go anywhere. Wawas suddenly become accessible. Hamburgers taste better from the drive-thru. That ecstasy you feel is control; it's a small bit of autonomy in a world where we too often feel like objects acted-on rather than autonomous actors.
It's this sort of feeling that fuels many people's anxiety (and, in some cases, enmity) toward the idea of self-driving cars. One example: That weekend trip to Richmond also reintroduced me to the cultural affliction that is sports talk radio. One of the topics on this sports show, curiously enough, was whether the hosts and their callers would feel comfortable in an autonomous vehicle. The overwhelming number of voices dripping from my speakers put on a top-notch demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the cognitive bias wherein people who don't know what they're talking about assume their expertise on a subject is much higher than it is. The common refrain that afternoon was something akin to: "I wouldn't feel safe trusting my life to a computer."
While that's an understandable take — remember all that talk above about freedom and autonomy? — such reasoning leads to a dead end when you consider our current bevy of empirical evidence. Consider the sterling track record of their fleet of automated prototypes, most of which have the ability to switch between human driver and computer driver. Google spokeswoman Jacquelyn Miller (via Cyrus Farivar of Ars Technica) recently made the following announcement regarding her company's fleet of self-driving death machines:
"We just got rear-ended again yesterday while stopped at a stoplight in Mountain View. That's two incidents just in the last week where a driver rear-ended us while we were completely stopped at a light! So that brings the tally to 13 minor fender-benders in more than 1.8 million miles of autonomous and manual driving — and still, not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.”
Farivar's piece focuses mostly on Google's announcement that they've updated their self-driving car site with accident reports after calls for more transparency. At this point, they're just logs for whenever someone rear-ends the car. Several of Farivar's commenters aptly note that the accident referenced above likely would not have happened had both cars been self-driving.
At some point, this technology will become so advanced that lawmakers will be forced to debate whether or not to outlaw manual driving, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. There's an argument for it: Deaths and injuries from auto accidents are bad. They would decrease drastically if human error were to cease to be a liability. Plus, you can't drive drunk if you can't actually drive. The counterargument against this perspective, outside of the rah-rah "freedom" appeals, would necessarily center on security. Could hackers take control of your car while it's on the road?
It's important to nudge Google and other self-driving carmakers toward transparency. The evidence at the moment indicates the technology is moving along nicely, but that doesn't mean we ought to do away with our steering wheels quite yet.
It's as important to shed preconceived notions of what driving means to us, because despite the great feeling I get when I'm in control, I have to be aware that I'm always one human error away from causing myself or someone else great bodily harm. That's why we have to be prepared to be unselfish if this technology improves to a level where a switch to full automation (at least on public roads) is in the best interest of society.
If you don't know much about autonomous cars, but want to learn, Brad Templeton goes over all the basics in the video below:
Photo credit: GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP/Getty Images
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.