Dirk Knemeyer

Driverless Cars, Ethics & The Flawed Human Animal

Driverless Cars, Ethics & The Flawed Human Animal, September 30, 2016

Tesla with their autopilot feature, they’re explicit to drivers, “Keep your hands on the wheel, keep your foot on the brakes and stay alert the whole time,” right? That’s one of the reasons why when we talked about the technology before I was very critical of it. I was like, “Why bother? Just drive your fricking car,” at that point. This individual was given those warnings, and despite those warnings, presumably through inattention or not having the foot or not having the hands, something didn’t override and keep himself safe, keep himself alive. It’s sort of an over-trust in the technology, like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, those warnings, those are just … They’re being overly careful.” It’s like 10 and 2, we don’t really do 10 and 2, that’s overly careful. The guy’s dead because of it, and that’s really unfortunate.

I’d be interested to know what’s happening on the litigation side. If the traffic light malfunctions and someone dies in a car crash due to the malfunction, can you sue the … I don’t know how all that is set up, but can you sue the city, or can you sue the engineer, or can you sue the manufacturer? I ask those questions because I think the highways are a great place to talk about all this stuff, because we have this illusion of control. Right now we’re driving our car, we crash, it’s someone else’s fault or it’s our fault. However that’s figured out, humans are blamed. We’re heading towards a future of driverless cars. In that scenario, it’s very likely that cars will be far more safe and less people will die on the highways. A lot of people die on highways, I don’t know what the number is. It’s certainly tens of thousands a year in the United States, maybe in the hundreds.

I don’t know scale, but it’s a lot of people die on the highways right now. If those technologies cut that number in half, objectively safer, objectively better. The people who die in those accidents, now they’re dying because something went wrong with somebody’s technology, it was my car’s software, or your car’s software, or something else other than my agency of me as a driver, you as a driver, and we’re taking responsibility for what’s going on. Now it’s something totally different. I’m really curious on the litigation side how that’s going to pan out. I think there’s going to be a lot of people that hate the technology because they were the unlucky lottery winners of their loved ones being killed. Less people die overall, but my person’s dead. If they were allowed to hold their steering wheel, they wouldn’t be dead.

I think those are knotty legal and ethical things that are going to be great strawmen, great first to the fight in how we’re thinking about all the implications of turning various parts of the world over to artificial intelligence.

We’re going to be in danger, because humans are careless, we are. There was one time, I don’t know, it’s probably been a year or 2 even, so I think it’s worse now most likely. I drove down the road and just said, “How many people are texting or on their device?” I passed 12 people, every 12 of them, every one, 12 out of 12, were on this device. It’s certainly under 100%, but that sample size is a perfect example of it. I say we are careless, because look, I’m on my device sometimes too, unfortunately, on the road. It’s been communicated to us, we know, “Hey dumb dumb, you are much more likely to die whizzing at a high rate of speed in this big, heavy metal thing if you’re doing that,” but we still do it. We make this little calculation based on incomplete understanding, incomplete … really grocking what the danger is. We thrust ourselves into further danger, for what?

For nothing, for the difficulty of being bored, for the draw of the little serotonin rush, of the little thing. That way of behaving is going to continue to haunt us moving forward. It’s why we use easy passwords, it’s why we’re not secure with our online information, while many of us probably, unbeknownst to us, all of our goodies are out there already and people could be using those against us, and leveraging even today if they really wanted to. We’re careless. That carelessness is going to add risk to the future of AI.

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