Driverless cars are a catch 22—we do none of the driving, but take all of the responsibility

June 17, 2015 by Neville Anthony Stanton, The Conversation
Keep your eyes on the road. Credit: Paleofuture

The utopian vision of the motor vehicle is an onboard autodriver much like that of the autopilot in aircraft which takes over the task of driving, freeing up the human driver to work, rest or play. This is becoming an engineering reality, with technological achievements rapidly approaching those of aircraft autopilots.

Yet while technology can certainly support some of our driving shortcomings, the hands-off vision of the autopilot for cars is marred by concerns about the situational awareness of the driver, how they would take control in case of an emergency and, while the car is still equipped with steering wheel and pedals, the extent to which the human driver will be responsible for the . And so it appears a "Catch 22": drivers are no longer required to drive, but are still required to monitor the computer that drives for them.

It's true that driverless cars are likely to be highly reliable in most situations, most of the time. But this reliability cannot be guaranteed all of the time and the auto-driver will encounter situations that the programmers and engineers have not anticipated. The trouble is that highly reliable automatic pilots will lead even the most observant driver's attention to wander – once the novelty has worn off, it will be like watching paint dry and decades of research have shown that humans are extremely poor at maintaining extended periods of vigilance.

So how can working, reading, using email and the internet, the envisaged benefits of , be reconciled with the need to keep an eye on the vehicle? The truth is nobody really knows.

I've researched vehicle automation for 20 years and it's clear that, in an emergency humans, are more effective than automatic pilots. Up to a third of drivers of automated vehicles did not recover from emergencies in our simulator studies, and I have witnessed human drivers fail to intervene when automatic systems fail. The concern is that driver and driverless act at cross purposes, with the driver believing the automated vehicle is in control of the situation when in fact it has not.

My research has shown that if we design the vehicle to provide continuous feedback to the driver – analogous to a chatty co-driver – we can reduce this kind of error substantially, but not completely. Drivers of automated vehicles take, on average, five times as long to apply emergency braking than manual drivers.

On the other hand, if drivers are forced to continually monitor the vehicle's automation this does not diminish their workload at all. In fact, we know this monitoring cannot be sustained, with driver attention falling with increasing automation.

When required suddenly, a human driver is ill-prepared to take control from the vehicle. This means we're asking the impossible, by taking away control from the driver while leaving them with all the accountability. Lessons learned from the introduction of aircraft automation appear to be going unheeded.

It seems drivers of the future will be held responsible for something over which they have little or no control. Not that this means we should stop researching and building automated vehicles – quite the opposite. We need to learn and apply the lessons of automation as used elsewhere (such as aviation) to the problems of driverless vehicles.

This means designing vehicle automation in such a way that engages the driver and accommodates gradual hand-over and hand-back processes in order to successfully integrate human into the system. We need a chatty co-pilot, not a silent auto-pilot.

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ET3D
5 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2015
Are we talking about legal accountability in case of accident? If so, then suggesting a technical solution for that is rather silly. This should be solved by laws. Who would want a chatty car? The future we want is where the car will get us where we want to go and we'll be free to do other things. We will be passengers, not drivers, and forcing a passenger to look at the road or listen to incessant chatter from the driver is a ridiculous requirement.

We might want for the initial period to allow human intervention in case of emergency, and it may be worth considering how to do that effectively, but that has nothing to do with responsibility or accountability.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2015
The solution is to limit the auto-pilot to situations where there's limited potential for the computer to screw up.

I.e. the autopilot can be turned on when you're going down the interstate, but refuses to turn on when you're driving through downtown. Control is handed over at the lights at the on/off ramp.

On the interstate or any stretch of highway/freeway - the most boring bit of the journey anyways - everyone's going in straight lines anyways and if anything extraordinary happens you stop, alert the driver and hand over control. The default response is slow down, pull to the shoulder, let the human take it from there.

In the city where the driver has to be vigilant in case the car has to react in more complex ways, having two drivers behind the wheel is just not going to work, so the smarter one takes over and the computer becomes the map reader.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 17, 2015
The long term problem is that as long as the computer is less intelligent than a person, it can't be allowed to drive for another practical reason. The less the humans are forced to drive and control the car, the less competent they become as drivers, to the point where they can no longer respond to situations where they would be expected to take control.

Automation in cars has already produced a problem of dangerous driving, where people trust their ESP/ABS/ETC systems so much that they're driving on the edge of losing control of the vehicle without realizing it, because the only indication that they are about to spin out or drive someone over is a little blinking light in the dash.

For example, as you don't need to manage slip with your throttle control anymore, you don't know how slippery the road is, and you drive faster. But you don't stop faster.
PhysicsMatter
3 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2015
Interesting. It is not car builder that would be responsible for accidents but the de facto "passenger" or owner. For whose benefit is all that? Where is this going?

But we should not worry. In case of accident of your robot car, a robot cop will come and write accident report by plugging in the car and robot judge will sentence you to jail run by robot guards within 10 minutes.And that's Ok. since robots make no mistakes as many brainwashed youth believe.Welcome to human??? civilization. Joe The Robot.

All of it is just a sick dream, pushed by Silly Valley moguls as a way to kill boredom. Robots will replace people who serve elites' purpose. That's all. And the rest.. will die.
ryggesogn2
5 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2015
We will be passengers, not drivers

Who ever owns the car will be liable for accidents.
Why own a car if you will only be a passenger?
Noumenon
5 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2015
It is a classic Homer Simpson idea.. It is idiotic on so many levels. We already have buses and taxi's, if one wants to be grid-locked as a 'passenger', so it is rather redundant.

No one will want this because people would rather control their own cars. It is irresponsible as well, because only a half-wit would believe that just because a computer can process particular information faster, it could also approach the adaptive visual processing and decision capabilities of the human mind.

The responsibility should be on the DMV for allowing these things on the road,.... but then again they let 80 year olds and 16 years old on the road.
antonima
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2015
Put cameras on these cars and outsource the work. In the case of an emergency a tele-operator would take control of the vehicle. Even at 25 cents an hour, this service would be far cheaper than fuel costs.
A simulator could easily prepare operators to respond quickly to new situations, perhaps to the point they would reduce injury to drivers and pedestrians.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 18, 2015
Why own a car if you will only be a passenger?


So you have it, instead of having to wait for one to turn up.

Cars as a service doesn't work because you need as many cars as there are customers to provide the same level of service, because people tend to move at similiar times.

Whenever you have less cars you will have times when it's simply not possible to get one. You also have to account for the diminshed number of passengers per vehicle per mile because they have to shuttle empty between customers, which increases the cost per mile to to the customer.

Economics dictate that there will be the bare minimum number of cars anyhow, decided by the maximum inconvenience your customers will tolerate before choosing a different provider.

So, not owning the car will be more expensive per mile and less convenient. Who would want that?
ET3D
5 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2015
Why own a car if you will only be a passenger?


In general people own cars not to drive, but in order to be able to efficiently and conveniently get from one place to another. Driving is just a necessary evil. We don't have a good alternative transportation to replace cars, but with self driving cars we will at least remove the waste of time that is driving.

A good AI driver is in theory much better than a human driver. It can pay attention in all directions at once, is never tired or distracted. If all cars were self driving we would get where we wanted faster and with fewer accidents. In the interim we need for the AI to handle emergencies caused by human drivers (and in all cases we will need the AI to handle pedestrians and other hazards), so we need to make sure that the AI is good enough. But, according to Google's reports, it's already quite good.
Noumenon
not rated yet Jun 18, 2015
Cars as a service doesn't work because you need as many cars as there are customers to provide the same level of service, because people tend to move at similiar times.

Then the market would make it de facto economically viable for such a service company to invest in more cars to meet that demand,.... as is the case in large cities. If taxi companies buy a fleet of driverless cars and you schedule it to show up at you house using an app, then we're back to square-one,.... you can do that already now.

So, not owning the car will be more expensive per mile and less convenient.

Not comparing the cost of taking the bus, which we already have. Assuming that driverless cars is a safe idea (it isn't) there may be a niche market, but imo, most people would rather be in control or have someone in control of the car.

Noumenon
5 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2015
... it's clear that, in an emergency humans, are more effective than automatic pilots.

It's all fine and neat to have monkey as a surgeon,.... until you need a surgery.
ET3D
not rated yet Jun 18, 2015
Google's self-driving accident report summary: http://static.goo...0515.pdf
LagomorphZero
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2015
Robots will replace people who serve elites' purpose. That's all. And the rest.. will die.


You realize it has been that way for over 100 years now right?

Who cried out for the all the washer women out of work when washing machines came along?
Who cried out for the all the horses and drivers out of work when automatic carriages came along?
Who cried out for the all the wood workers and carpenters out of work when plastics came along?
Who cried out for the all the field hands out of work when tractors and fertilizers came along?

Heck, who cried out for the stone knappers when bronze tools came along?
fay
2 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2015
@lagomorph, yes for hundreds of years people have been whining about machines taking jobs, but everytime a new industry sprung up and provided jobs for the outplaced workres. The problem is the new industries are now more knowledge intensive than the outplaced industries, so it doesnt help much to fired steel mill workers that the app-coding business is booming. In long term, what happens when all jobs below IQ110 are automated? What will the "stupid" people do? The Economist ran a report about a month ago on men in US south who are "too stupid" to get modern-economy job and hence are unemployed coz stupid jobs are already automated. Its already a reality.
fay
not rated yet Jun 18, 2015
another limit is the amount of natural resources - we cant manufacture an unlimited quantity of physical goods. So when physical manufacturing is (close to) fully automated there will be left only jobs in services or research and again, many people are unsuitable for such jobs.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2015
History has shown over and over that when one labour force becomes obsoleted, the replacement technology creates new jobs that didn't exist previously. The labour forces evolves.
fay
5 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2015
The labour forces evolves.

my point was the labour force cant evolve to infinity. Automation progresses from stupid jobs to more intelligent ones and so must progress the labour to keep jobs. But what happens when the labour isnt capable of keeping up with automation anymore? Ad absurdum: will everyone be nuclear physicist, sw engineer, pro designer etc when all stupider jobs are automated?
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 19, 2015
If taxi companies buy a fleet of driverless cars and you schedule it to show up at you house using an app, then we're back to square-one,.... you can do that already now.


Yes, and that is exactly the point: you have to schedule the car, rather than just sit into it and drive off. It's less convenient, and it also costs more.

Not comparing the cost of taking the bus


A great example. Busses are by and large only slightly less expensive to ride than owning your own car, and accounting for the level of service they offer - long wait, slow routes, limited route selections - they're much less value for the dollar than owning your own car.

Which is why people own cars rather than take the bus.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2015
History has shown over and over that when one labour force becomes obsoleted, the replacement technology creates new jobs that didn't exist previously. The labour forces evolves.


What history actually shows is that when labor force becomes obsolete, the obsoleted people invent some make-work to convince others to pay them regardless.

Most of the people today, in the western societies, do not need to work; the work they do is completely superfluous and wasteful. 80% of the US workforce is in "services", where only a fraction of the services produced are used to facilitate the remaining manufacturing and production industry. The rest is there simply because people are trying to grab themselves wealth out of the society by appearing very important.

This isn't to blame the people; it's simply easier to do something useless than train yourself to do something useful that the robots aren't already doing, because the bar is rising all the time.
Osiris1
3 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2015
Easy solution, make the manufacturers, executives of those manufacturers, and major stockholders of those manufacturers individually and jointly financially responsible for any and ALL accidents ANY of their robot cars are involved in, anywhere in the world. Make robot cars legally at fault in any and ALL accidents. Inasmuch as those cars will have computers put on witness stands, then make all machine testimony count less than half the worth of human testimony. Any other legal doctrine would eventually have us subservient to machine AI.

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