In The Art of War, the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself, find naught in fear for 100 battles.” Essentially, that means if you understand your opponent as well as yourself, you will succeed. As cars become increasingly automated on the way to eventually driving themselves, we’re probably not in danger of an all-out war with the machines, but humans and computers will have to coexist on our roads for decades to come and that means they need to understand each other.
There are a lot of really smart people in Silicon Valley but sometimes they say some really stupid things. Case in point is Andrew Ng, VP and chief scientist at Baidu. He also invests in a variety of artificial-intelligence-related startups including Drive.AI. In a recent Bloomberg article he argues that a shortcut to autonomous deployment is to convince pedestrians to behave less erratically and stop jaywalking.
Frankly that’s a totally unrealistic proposition, and any engineer working on automated driving that is expecting humans to adapt in order to make the technology safe is living in a dream world. Laws prohibiting jaywalking may well have been created at the behest of the auto industry to make roads safer. But after a century of such prohibitions, chances are you could stand on any urban sidewalk in the world and see someone crossing against a light or outside of a crosswalk within just a minutes of waiting.
There are more than 270 million cars on the road in America right now and only 16 to 17 million new vehicles are sold annually, so there will be a long transition period before we are no longer in control. As we grow from childhood, one of the key lessons we learn is how other people behave in various scenarios, and that helps us to manage situations to minimize conflict and accomplish what we need to do.
For a human or self-driving car bristling with sensors, driving down an empty road is pretty straightforward. Put thousands of other cars on the same road during rush hour and you now have to make a lot more judgements about how those other drivers will respond when you need to shift over two lanes to make a turn. If you see a car in the adjacent lane closing fast, you know that gap may not be there by the time you move and decide to wait.
The engineers and scientists developing the software that will control self-driving vehicles must be aware of the behavior patterns and limitations of human road users including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, and they need to program these same sorts of judgements into their systems. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but as Sun Tzu said: the first step is understanding your rival.
While we humans do adapt our behavior as we utilize new tools and technology, core elements of our nature inevitably will come to the fore. All you have to do is look at social media. While technology utopians thought that these open communication platforms would bring us closer together and help us understand each other, the reality seems to increasingly be the opposite. These tools are being abused to amplify many of the worst aspects of human behavior, polarizing society in many ways driving us away from enlightment.
Technologists working on anything new need to slow down and think about all of the bad things that could result in addition to the positives. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue new technology. But in considering the downsides, let’s try to mitigate the ways in which interaction with humans can go wrong as we build the good stuff. Humans aren’t the enemy of automated vehicles, but they can’t be assumed to be an ally either. Don’t take shortcuts. If the technology can’t work reliably or safely with humans as they are today, slow down, understand the adversary and design to get the best when the worst inevitably happens.
Your kindly Donations would be so effective in order to fulfill our future research and endeavors – Thank you