Self-Driving Cars' First Fatality

Having a failure of a self-driving automobile is a bit different from, say, a failure of a defective toaster or a vacuum cleaner. Standards should be way higher here. The fact that some poor soul was mowed down in the street is completely unacceptable. 

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The car was in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel.  So self- drive plus a driver behind the wheel and they still kill someone? 

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It didn't take long. And we still think having self driving cars is a good thing.  

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It's not that I defend Uber, on the contrary. But 1,000 people die every day in U.S. because of drunk drivers and those who are texting behind the wheels and nobody cares. 

 

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Human tragedy aside, this will also bode very badly for Uber. Lots of competition in this space: Lyft, Waymo ... but I suspect it will be just as bad for all of them. This is the kind of thing that will have ripple effects. And, yes, we can't really compare to all the lives that have been taken tragically by drunk drivers and careless texters, but the public wants to know that self-driving cars and AI are the answer--the solution to that danger, and this shakes that hoped-for confidence. 

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The public had its opposing opinions about self-driving cars even before this tragedy happened. Those who were against these cars will still be left without confidence while others will wave with police report which says that this accident would happen anyway with a driver   because it would be very difficult to avoid it in any kind of mode. 

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11 minutes ago, LAOIL said:

The public had its opposing opinions about self-driving cars even before this tragedy happened. Those who were against these cars will still be left without confidence while others will wave with police report which says that this accident would happen anyway with a driver   because it would be very difficult to avoid it in any kind of mode. 

I think what the police chief said (not in the police report) was that it was "likely" not at fault. But since then, the police department has walked those comments back. 

 

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This has been my opinion on self driving cars for the last few years: they are absolutely the future, however, that future will take a lot longer to realize than most people think. 

A few observations that support this idea:

1) Any new or breakthrough technology takes much longer to percolate through society than we tend to appreciate. The internet is a great example; the tech boom of the 90's was a classic case of humans' belief that a technological revolution happens overnight. New technologies have a great many "known unknowns", but a far greater amount of "unknown unknowns". Self driving cars will be no different. 

2) There is a human emotion factor that no analyst or industry expert seems to take into account. Perhaps because it isn't quantifiable. But this unfortunate incident gives us a taste of that "emotional factor". When a human is behind the wheel and they make a mistake that results in loss of life, it is unfortunate, but on a subconscious level understandable; we know that humans are fallible and our psyche and emotions are hardwired to deal with that. But when a computer makes a "mistake", that is an entirely different emotional response for many people. We expect our machines to largely free of error. Or at least expect that when they do have an error, the consequences are largely borne by the direct users; "collateral damage" as a result of a machine error is not something humans deal with well. The incident in Tempe is also very basic on the scale of emotional discomfort that self-driving cars have the potential to cause. How do we feel when self driving cars are put into situations where they have to choose who is severely injured/killed and who is spared? i.e. A child darts out into the street and the car has to decide to hit the child or swerve into an oncoming car or onto the sidewalk with pedestrians? We can empathize with a human being forced to make that snap decision, as imperfect as it is; we are less inclined to empathize with a computer that is pre-programmed to place a value on human lives. 

All in all, fully self-driving cars will be ubiquitous at some point in our future. The reality is that future is likely a few decades away at best. 

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