Autonomous Cars Will Remain Nervous Drivers Until There's a Change

They cannot thrive in the current ecosystem.


The autonomous car will solve many human problems. It will help reduce emissions and prevent accidents, saving lives on both counts. It will also empower aging populations and lower the risk of drunk driving.

But in order to thrive, autonomous cars may require a less hostile environment.

Humans and autonomous cars approach the rules of the road differently. This fact has been made apparent by the nature of the accidents involving autonomous cars: They have all been the fault of another human driver. One could argue that had these autonomous cars been programmed to drive less politely — stopping less abruptly and cutting corners when making turns — those rear-endings wouldn't have happened. These observations have caused the designers of these systems to consider how to accommodate the dominant human population of drivers, who generally drive contrary to Google's more politely programmed system.

So, how should these cars be programmed to navigate the streets?

“It’s a constant debate inside our group,” Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh, told MSN. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”

This has led programmers to debate whether they should make their cars more human by allowing them to commit infractions ordinary human drivers would. Of course, that presents the following dilemma: What happens if such reprogramming causes an accident?

Author and computer scientist Jerry Kaplan says, “We’re going to need new kinds of laws that deal with the consequences of well-intentioned autonomous actions that robots take.”

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