Friday, March 13, 2015

Safety bad for profits?

Have a read of this article.  In short, it reveals that insurance companies are concerned because they believe self-driving cars will reduce the number of motor accidents and thus adversely affect their bottom line. Also mentioned is auto parts makers with a similar concern.
The article also claims that full self-driving cars probably won't be on the market until at least 2030.

Please note that the following is only my opinion.

Humans love to drive their cars. Even though the car may become pretty much self driving and certainly have a safety awareness and crash prevention system that can override the driver input, I fully expect that many people will still want to "drive" their cars because it satisfies a human desire for power and control. 

Next we have the technical side of things: how close are we to a fully self-driving door-to-door autonomus car? We are not there yet, there are still some serious challenges to be overcome: mainly the ability to self-navigate in less-than-ideal conditions such as unfamiliar roads, rain, snow, at night and any combination of them - in short, computer vision and sensing. Much of the autonomous driving currently being talked about uses an already existing digital map of the roads that the system can refer to: if the computer needs to create its own on the fly the car will need to drive slowly.  In short, the technology is not there yet for full autonomy despite all the hype and sales pitches.
Maybe by 2030 it will be around but I'm not holding my breath: the computer industry will need some impressive new tech to boost system power and squish a lot more processing power into a smaller space to make it work, and that is not even mentioning the software required: remember, this needs to be small, cheap and energy effficient enough to fit in an average car and not price the car too high for people to buy. 

Finally, and by far most crucially, the issue of system faults and failures is the elephant in the room: I once wrote a short story where a misbehaving teenager hacks the autodrive system of a car to go for an illegal joyride (he is killed of course): so far we have computers flying commercial airliners but that is still far from the prospect of having cars drive people everywhere on a daily basis. The roads are already packed with cars and trucks and that will not decrease in a hurry, so what happens when those cars either have their selfdrive system fail, or (worse still) get attacked or hacked by malicious operators, be they human or otherwise?
Don't give me any bull about hackerproof systems, there is no hackerproof system and at this rate probably never will be: unless somewhere like Iceland takes over the world in a peaceful revolution, we will all continue to be watched by paranoid secret agencies and they will demand and get "backdoors" into every electronic gadget we have, which means that non-official hackers can and will find those same backdoors and bend them to their own criminal uses. (Hey there's a story or two in there already! - oh wait, who needs fiction? It's already really happenned!)

I'm guessing that by 2030 most of this won't matter anyway: other things will come that will make the whole issue trivial or at least secondary, for instance the endless increase in the price of oil because it really IS running out and only a few people with power and influence are doing anything about the boatload of **** coming down the turnpike towards us.

Keep fighting over those deckchairs on the Titanic, guys. You deserve the best view.  

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