Tuesday, March 20, 2018

the killer robots have arrived

A driverless car in the service of Uber has, in a global first, killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The woman had been crossing the street at night when she was hit. Uber has since suspended its driverless-car service pending an investigation into the causes of the crash.

The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that there were about 5,984 pedestrian fatalities in 2017, and none have been publicly linked to an autonomous vehicle, but crash-reporting standards for incidents involving autonomous vehicles are still evolving.

There was a vehicle operator in the car but no passengers at the time of the accident, according to Tempe police, which responded to the scene at around 10 p.m. on Sunday. The 49-year-old victim died after being transported to a local hospital, police said.

What must it have been like to be the vehicle operator when the accident occurred? If the person is being described as an "operator," does this mean he or she could have done something to stop the marauding car? I have nothing but questions.

This is, of course, not the first time that people have been killed by unthinking machines. Accidents occur in factories all the time, and we hear the occasional tragic story about some homeowner who gets skull-bashed by the garage door. And even before cars went driverless, we've had incidents (I think with Audis) in which cars have revved up seemingly on their own and struck people in the driveway. So yes, this is a new era in which an "autonomous" machine has mowed someone down, but at the same time, this is the same old business of risking one's life when working with large, dangerous machines.

One of my worries is about how hackable a driverless car might be. Imagine a terrorist's glee at knowing he won't have to sacrifice his own life if all he has to do is hack, and then remote-pilot, a driverless car into an unsuspecting crowd. Scary.


King Baeksu said...

On the plus side, at least we know the car wasn't racist.

Charles said...

"Operator" is not the best term here, I think. I've seen the phrase "safety driver" used elsewhere. And, yes, this person's sole responsibility is to take control of the car in case of (or to prevent?) an accident.

I'm not saying that the accident is necessarily the safety driver's fault--it is unclear if he or she could have reacted in time. After all, thousands of pedestrians are killed each year in the US by cars supposedly fully controlled by drivers.