Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Self-Driving Cars

Futurists have been ushering in the era of the self-driving car, but I was glad to see a recent article proposing more caution. A recent fatality involving a self-driving car underscores this. The emergency backup driver in that fatality was not paying attention to the road. Why would they? After all, the car was driving.

Two years ago I started teaching my daughter to drive. At first a lot of what I was showing her was checklist and task oriented. As we started driving I tried to demonstrate continual awareness and anticipation. It was a constant stream of me saying "look out for this", "watch that", and "this person is signalling." Driving is continually reacting and making decisions.

Trying to replicate what the brain is doing while driving is going to be quite the feat in artificial intelligence. Lots of driving involves intuition and, in some cases, improvisation. I couldn't even imagine the computer science behind how you'd do this, though I suspect machine learning is a part of it.

A co-worker said he cannot wait for the age of the self-driving car to arrive. He thinks it'll be the end of distracted drivers. Machines don't get distracted. Despite laws, people still peek and peck at their mobile devices before, during and after traffic lights.

I like the baby steps that the self-driving car is taking, namely starting with smaller vehicles on controlled roads. Let's get collision avoidance figured out, then the computer will at least hold their own on real streets with real self-driving drivers.