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Author Peter Wayner Talks About Autonomous Cars (Video)

Roblimo posted about a year ago | from the do-you-really-want-your-car-gossiping-about-you-behind-your-back? dept.

Privacy 50

Peter Wayner is no stranger to Slashdot. Not only that, he's written a bunch of books, plus articles for InfoWorld, PC World, the New York Times, and many other publications. Now he's working on a book about Autonomous Cars. Last year Peter wrote an article for Car & Driver about the privacy implications of vehicle recorders. Driverless cars will bring us a whole new set of problems, questions, and -- no doubt -- legislation. We're hoping to have more conversations on this topic (and others) with Peter in the future, so with any luck this video will be the first of a long series. With all that said, take it away, interviewer Timothy Lord... Update: 06/05 21:56 GMT by T : Peter's book is still in progress, but it's got a website, if you'd like an early glance.

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Less talk, more action (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43917387)

We keep hearing about these things, but so far there is not even a Tesla of Automated cars available on the market or nearing it.

How far off are we from drinking in the car again?

Re:Less talk, more action (3, Funny)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about a year ago | (#43917539)

How far off are we from drinking in the car again?

Today. It's called a limousine.

Re:Less talk, more action (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43917751)

I can't seem to afford to take one of those everywhere I go. I meant in my car, with all humans able to drink or read or play on their phones.

Haha Timmy Lord (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43917439)

What a fucken faget!

Never gonna happen (2)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#43917445)

They'll never be trustworthy enough. Autopilot in relatively uncrowded skies at different altitudes, with a pilot close at hand, is one thing. On complicated, crowded roadways it's quite another. You'll never be able to get through the social suspicion, the legal liabilities, and government red-tape, etc. It is and will remain an experiment which periodically pops up, but remains "20 years away" forever.

Re:Never gonna happen (2)

FuzzyDustBall (751425) | about a year ago | (#43917563)

Technically I don't think it will be an issue, but socially I think the car will just evolve into self driving, it is already happening from cruise control that adjusts speed to the car in front of you, cars that break on their own to avoid hitting something and self parking cars. The more these "features" trickle into the main stream the closer to self driving cars we will get both socially legally and technologically. No one trusted cruise control when it came out either now it is standard.

Re:Never gonna happen (2)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43918099)

And we can create even more tools that offer a gradual evolution. We already have a database of all of the roads. With a bit more precision, we could build a device that could tell whether you're following a common path that others have taken before or if you're drifting into the way of oncoming traffic.

There are some, though, that suggest that gradual evolution may be more dangerous than jumping directly to fully autonomous vehicles. As the humans have less and less to do behind the wheel, their mind drifts elsewhere. They start texting more, working on their nails, or occupying themselves with other things. The car is usually doing a good job taking care of things. But the problem comes when the humans are called to do one of the few things they're supposed to do. If their mind is elsewhere, there could be a crash.

Black Swan (4, Informative)

kwerle (39371) | about a year ago | (#43917597)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car [wikipedia.org]

In August 2012, the team announced that they have completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles (500 000 km) accident-free, typically have about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and are starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs.[14] Three U.S. states have passed laws permitting driverless cars as of September 2012: Nevada, Florida, and California.

More miles than most drivers rack up in 20 years, and without having caused an accident. Laws passed in 3 states.

This is a lot closer than positive net output fusion, for example.

When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#43917981)

When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up and they have drivers on hand to take over right away.

Re:When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up (1)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43918025)

Yes, scale up is a big question mark. But on the other hand, computerized cars should be able to communicate with each other. They can ask permission to change lanes or at least warn each other with better regularity than the humans I see on the road. They will be able to swap plans with each other and that should help them do a better job than humans. They'll have more information.

I won't be hard for robots to do better than us (2)

bdwoolman (561635) | about a year ago | (#43918557)

I could not easily find complete data for 2012, (odd in itself) but in 2011 just over 32,000 people died in car crashes. [dot.gov] I think there will be an evolution towards driverless cars. The distracted generation will want their cars to drive for them. And I for one really want their cars to drive for them. Think of it. Each year ten times the number of people who died on 9/11 die in cars (or under them). Maybe we should declare war on Detroit. Oh, wait. It self destructed. Okay, Tokyo then. But you get my point. Higher levels of automated auto safety will save lives. Let's really put auto in the automobile. Of course you can have my Chevy pickup when you pry it from my cold dead hands. However that time may come sooner than later.

Oops! (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | about a year ago | (#43918593)

It won't be hard for robots...

And, no (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | about a year ago | (#43918641)

I won't be hard for robots, either. At least not until they improve their looks.

Re:I won't be hard for robots to do better than us (2)

sl149q (1537343) | about a year ago | (#43922109)

MAHD - Mothers Against Human Drivers

Once the MADD group realizes there almost double the number of people getting killed by human drivers than by drunk human drivers their focus will change quickly.

They have had 30 (40?) years of experience and with modern social media the campaign to migrate people into autonomous vehicles will be swift and vicious. Most likely within five years it will be (in large urban centres) about as socially acceptable to drive your own car as driving drunk is today.

Re:I won't be hard for robots to do better than us (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43923419)

Perhaps, but I think you're missing the point. MADD is a whole different level of batshit insane than all that. The first thing they're going to do is try to make it so you can be arrested for drunk driving even when your car has no human driver at all. They'll also push for continuation of these idiotic "open container" laws that right now prevent people who aren't driving from drinking in a moving vehicle on just the possibility that a driver might drink (pre-crime anyone?), so you won't be able to enjoy the night out that technology would otherwise safely permit.

MADD is not about driving, it is not about drunk driving. It is an anti-drinking neo-prohibitionist group. They will not give up on this. I'm sure somebody else will try to do what you say, but I just don't think it will be them. My more likely scenario for MADD is they will start using health issues to turn themselves into the equivalent of anti-smoking groups, which have gone from education to common sense restrictions to totalitarian restrictions of freedom all in the name of their cause (non smoker here who can't stand cigarette smells, btw, but I can't stand prohibitionists even more)

Re:When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up (1)

kwerle (39371) | about a year ago | (#43918875)

When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up

I don't get it. You're saying that having more computer controlled cars on the road is going to make it harder for computer controlled cars to function? Why?

and they have drivers on hand to take over right away.

It's true, and it would sure be interesting to know how often that happens. But 300K miles is a pretty awesome track record for any driver under any circumstances.

Re:When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up (2)

climb_no_fear (572210) | about a year ago | (#44042145)

300K depends where you're driving. In San Francisco or New York (I've lived in both), that's impressive, if 200K of that are backroads in Nevada, it isn't. Said by a human driver who has > 300K since his last and only accident (not my fault, some idiot turned directly in front of me), driving in numerous countries on both sides of the road.

By the way, a computerized car isn't magic, I'll bet it also couldn't have stopped in time though I will admit it might have minimized the damage by braking sooner at least.

Having said all that, I would welcome automatic cars.

Re:When you Scale Up is where the issues pop up (1)

sl149q (1537343) | about a year ago | (#43922099)

Yes, But, scaling up at the accident rate they are currently experiencing (i.e. even though we don't know exactly what it is, we know that it is likely less than one accident in 300,000 miles for well maintained vehicles) would mean a lower overall accident rate than the human operated fleet manages.

So the tech doesn't have to get better. It simply has to get cheaper, more reliable (robust physically), integrated into the manufacturing process and rolled into the dealer and repair networks. No of which is actually hard, but not straight forward either. Its just more engineering time and then marketing.

Re:Black Swan (1)

David_Hart (1184661) | about a year ago | (#43918077)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car [wikipedia.org]

In August 2012, the team announced that they have completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles (500 000 km) accident-free, typically have about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and are starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs.[14] Three U.S. states have passed laws permitting driverless cars as of September 2012: Nevada, Florida, and California.

More miles than most drivers rack up in 20 years, and without having caused an accident. Laws passed in 3 states.

This is a lot closer than positive net output fusion, for example.

I'll believe it when they can drive in Boston traffic during rush hour with crowded streets, crowded highways at 65mph, one-way streets, jaywalkers, construction, snow, sleet, ice, short on/off ramps, non-standard intersections, traffic circles, etc. I've driven in San Francisco and it's a Sunday drive compared to Boston and New York.

Re:Black Swan (1)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43918293)

Yes, you're right. Boston and NYC are nightmares. But then again computers can do certain things better than humans. They handle scale up more gracefully. A human might be able to process a number of pedestrians and dangerous items, but the human brain maxes out pretty quickly. If a computer can track one pedestrian, it can probably track 10,000 too. The scale up is just linear. You just add a bit more computing power. If the Google car can handle SF with a certain number of processors, I'm pretty sure it can handle Boston or NYC with twice as much computer power. At least that's my off-the-cuff guess.

there are other scale up isses that computer power (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#43919013)

there are other scale up issues that more cpu power does not really help.

Like networking issues

compatibility issues and more

Re:there are other scale up isses that computer po (1)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43923743)

Can you elaborate? Which kind of networking issues? The advantage cars have is that they're only concerned with the cars that are nearby or about to be nearby. They don't need to worry about all O(n^2).

Re:there are other scale up isses that computer po (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | about a year ago | (#44043779)

Some of this discussion seems to be assuming that autonomous cars will -have- to talk to one another? Why? The Google prototype car doesn't talk to the ordinary human-operated cars on the road. It just deals with them with its sensors. As far as I can tell the Google car is designed to safely take itself wherever a human driver could take it.

So what are the 'network' and 'compatibility' issues?

Re:Black Swan (1)

kwerle (39371) | about a year ago | (#43918815)

I believe that snow/sleet/ice are known issues, and google is avoiding 'em for now.

As for the difference between sanfran, ny, and boston - they don't feel all that different to me.

Of the things you mentioned, I have to think that construction is one of the oddest cases - and vegas is no stranger to that.

But the point is: they're on the roads, now. And they're doing really well. And it is a technology in its infancy.

To believe "it's never gonna happen" seems pretty foolish to me.

Re:Black Swan (1)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43919917)

Exactly. Google is putting plenty of miles on their cars and they're finding quite a bit of success. The DARPA Grand Challenge cars are almost a decade old. We're switching over from science to engineering. Marketing won't be long.

Re:Black Swan (1)

sl149q (1537343) | about a year ago | (#43922111)

I'll believe it when they can drive in Boston traffic during rush hour with crowded streets, crowded highways at 65mph, one-way streets, jaywalkers, construction, snow, sleet, ice, short on/off ramps, non-standard intersections, traffic circles, etc. I've driven in San Francisco and it's a Sunday drive compared to Boston and New York.

Why are you imposing a higher burden on autonomous vehicles than human drivers? :-)

Re:Black Swan (1)

RespekMyAthorati (798091) | about a year ago | (#43921773)

Every noticed that all these positive reviews of driverless cars come from the companies that are promoting them? When NHTSA or Consumer Reports give them a positive review, then I'll be impressed.

Re:Black Swan (1)

kwerle (39371) | about a year ago | (#43927709)

States are passing laws. I have to think that the NHTSA has noticed. And even if they haven't said anything good about 'em, they haven't said anything forbidding 'em, either.

Re:Never gonna happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44043943)

Yeah, like heart transplants, home computers and mobile phones. The technology will never develop.

Have you considered that, at 25,000 deaths per year in the US, humans are not "trustworthy enough"?

Qualifications (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43917521)

he's written a bunch of books, plus articles for InfoWorld, PC World, the New York Times, and many other publications.

So he's a professional writer/blogger. What's that got to do with driverless cars?

Last year Peter wrote an article for Car & Driver about the privacy implications of vehicle recorders. Driverless cars will bring us a whole new set of problems, questions, and -- no doubt -- legislation.

So, this leads to his expertise in driverless cars?

On a slightly more Slashdot worthy tangent: What's the deal with keyless automobile "break"-ins. [cbslocal.com] The cops are stumped. Does Slashdot know how?

Where can I get an electronic "jiggler"?

hey (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43917625)

Is this our new John Katz for /.?

Will there be a min forced software updates time (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#43917631)

Will there be a min forced software updates time periods let say all auto cars must have free software updates for a min of say 5 years No saying 1 year later we don't do updates for old cars any more want the fix to Bug X buy a new car or buy the 5K-10K computer upgrade.

moving to a rent a car system may not work that go (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#43917673)

moving to a rent a car system may not work that good and some of the rent a car companies don't do maintenance and or really push it out.

also some let cars get to point where they wear down parts and then they make the last person to rent pay the cost (mainly done over seas with manual drive cars)

Hey dumbass stop using the SUBJECT as a shorthand (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43918031)

Hey dumbass stop using the SUBJECT as a shorthand version of your comment.

Re:moving to a rent a car system may not work that (1)

lazlo (15906) | about a year ago | (#43918289)

The problem I see is that if you're in a rental car or cab, there is some incentive to not abuse it. For the rental car, that's the guy inspecting it when you turn it in, for the cab it's the cabbie who at some point will kick you out for screwing up his cab. Remove those people and those checks, and the inside of a shared car will get pretty nasty pretty quick, and people will not want to sit in that shared car. For a car shared within a carpool group, there's the social pressure exerted because everyone knows all the people in the group and doesn't want to be the one who left the big stain on the seat when they spilled their soda. The problem there is that the smaller your carpool size, the higher the probability that there will be a scheduling collision where Alice needs to be on one side of town at noon, but Bob needs to be on the other side of town. The question is, what's the lowest you can get the number of cars/people before scheduling collisions become overwhelmingly problematic, and what's the highest number of people you can have before people start thinking "Do I really want to get in that car? Why is this seat kind of sticky?" If you can't make those two numbers overlap, you're going to have problems.

You probably can make it work, but it would take some logistics, and people would need to have some trust in those logistics. So maybe have 2-3 cars that are closely bound to maybe 10 people, then maybe 5 groups of 10 people that have a sharing agreement where a car can be borrowed when there's a scheduling collision, then 3 groups of 50 that share some roaming spares. That way you know all the people who share "your" car, and you won't be in a car outside "your" group of 150.

The downfall there is that while it's efficient, efficiency is actually detrimental to overspending on transportation as a status symbol. Though shared ownership does work for some things, I know there are working shared ownership setups for private planes and helicopters, boats, country clubs, etc. So maybe shared ownership would work if it meant that you could own a third of a car that's thrice what you could afford.

Re:moving to a rent a car system may not work that (1)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43919949)

You're right about problems with rentals and shared things but the problems are slowly being solved. I've had great luck with Zipcars. People who abuse the cars are kicked out of the program. The cars of the future may have a video camera watching them at all times and the car company may just dig it up if there are questions about smoking or abuse. The privacy will suck but maybe people who want a clean car will choose to have the camera running.

The other sharing systems are doing a good job policing the issue and so I'm pretty sure we'll see workable systems.

Re:moving to a rent a car system may not work that (1)

sl149q (1537343) | about a year ago | (#43922113)

In the day of 10 cent video cameras you don't think the average autonomous cab won't have about a dozen cameras recording everything and if necessary causing damage charges against your credit card (of felony charges being laid before you even have arrived at your destination?)

Secondary and Tertiary effects (2)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#43918319)

Everybody always talks about the obvious things that Robot cars will do such as better road safety. But I think what will the most interesting are the Secondary and Tertiary effects. Such as the eventual near elimination of road signs and many other traffic control structures such as one way streets as these things can be programmed into the cars from a database and other things such as one way streets or intersections can have cars negotiate with one another before crossing paths. Highways can basically all go one lane each way(if everyone is going exactly the speed limit there is no passing) and roads can become insanely narrow.

But other things such as taxis and car rentals will become blurred as what exactly is the difference when there is no driver. Parking lots can significantly shrink if your car can park 10 cars deep bumper to bumper and negotiate to get out when you call it. (assuming you don't just rent/taxi when you need one)

Commuting patterns change when cars can utilize the roads at near perfect efficiency and you can either doze or do work (behind the wheel). Plus my assumption is that an all robot filled road will allow cars to go insanely fast and convoy bumper to bumper slip-streaming each other. This then changes the distance that people are willing to regularly travel by car.

Then you get other changes such as an all robot road system would have an insignificant number of accidents rendering much of the in-car safety systems worthless. So you can then chop the weight of a car if it has no airbags, crumple zones, bumpers, etc. This also implies that old fashioned cars will have to be banned from the roadways unless augmented with a robotic system.

Other non-obvious changes would be that the entire car-insurance industry will be decimated. If cars basically stop crashing you don't need much in the way of adjusters, liability premiums, comprehensive premiums, etc. You will only need insurance for theft (presumably harder in a smart car) and things like trees falling on it. A car that crashes would mostly be due to a manufacturing defect.

Also the whole accident related industry would be smushed. This doesn't just include car repair and paint/parts manufacturing but towing, fire/rescue, and even a significant reduction in many hospital's emergency trauma wards.

Then you have the impact on the auto industry itself. They will have a boom from getting to replace nearly every non-robot car on the road and then with the onslaught of improvements that will follow they will get to replace the first few generations of cars quickly. But some manufacturers will miss the boat and get sidelined. Others will not realize that many sales are driven through destroyed cars and mess that up.

Then there is the quality of life issues. Old people will maintain their freedom much longer than before.

But the one that I am most looking forward to are the struggles that lawmakers will have. They will keep thinking in old ways such as stupid speed limits that have no safety purpose. Things like stop signs will be an oddity and then there is the fact that if all the cars are perfectly driven then nearly all fine revenue will drop to zero. Lawmakers love punishing the sinful and this will be a huge sin tax that will be lost. I suspect that even drinking and driving laws will be slow to change as it is my belief that they are driven as much by religious temperance types as by safety concerns. In this regard I would predict that an unlicensed driver or even empty car will be allowed on the roads before someone can be passed out drunk in the back seat while automatically being driven home. Lastly this may very

Indeed. Why own a car at all... (1)

Radical Moderate (563286) | about a year ago | (#43918537)

...when you can have one waiting for you outside your door in 10 minutes by using an app on your cell phone? Won't work for folks out in the sticks, but that's a tiny minority. Cars today spend the vast majority of their time parked, we'll need far fewer of them when we're able to use them more efficiently.

I don't see your point about drinking and driving. It's perfectly legal now to be a drunk passenger, if the car drives itself I don't see how that changes. Our legal system isn't always logical, but I'd like to think it's not that hopeless.

Re:Indeed. Why own a car at all... (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about a year ago | (#43920477)

Many people, perhaps most, keep a lot of personal conveniences in their car; that would translate to having to lug a lot of things to the shared car for each trip. Nuisance.

Having to wait for a shared car is not convenient, and is a problem in emergencies.

The distance the shared car travels empty from its storage location to the user is wasteful of fuel.

Some people take pride in maintaining a clean, attractive car.

There is a class of people for whom the shared car technique works, some combination of low capital, low cash flow, infrequent travel, and/or expensive/inconvenient parking. Not for everybody.

Re:Indeed. Why own a car at all... (1)

tinkerton (199273) | about a year ago | (#43922645)

Quite. There's more than the utilitarian side of things.
For many people there's a component of status. Usually it's a mixture of status and style and practicality.

I also like my own car. A minority like me like a car to require a lot of skill and attention in order to just keep it on the road. The safety comes from the driver. Skinny tyres, little grip, too little power , and stick. Too bad it's all automatical choke nowadays because having a car only you know how to start is also charming.

Of course practicality and social changes can trump personal preferences so in the end I may end up the boring drive like everyone else.

Re:Secondary and Tertiary effects (1, Redundant)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43919961)

Exactly. Those are great examples.

And that's why I started writing the book. The secondary and tertiary effects are going to be fascinating. Why put up signs if computers will use GPS to know where they are? There will be so much more freedom for everyone young and old. It's going to be a big change. Almost bigger than the Internet.

Re:Secondary and Tertiary effects (2)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about a year ago | (#43923639)

One bit I forgot to mention is the hysterics. There will be the anecdotal events where a car drives a family off a cliff or drives the Swedish commuter to Capri instead of Carpi. And people will go "tisk tisk, You won't get me into one of those deathtraps." Vested interests will play up these events. Won't work in the end but it may slow progress down.

I look forward to your book as this is a subject that truly excites me. (And scares me with the across the board job losses).

Re:Secondary and Tertiary effects (1)

sl149q (1537343) | about a year ago | (#43922139)

Its called disruption. Autonomous vehicles will be fought tooth and nail by more than a couple of entrenched interests fighting to keep the jobs or industry alive.

There will be (for example) more than one jurisdiction where the unions manage to get laws passed to require drivers in (for example) mass transit applications to "ensure public safety" but in reality to ensure that the unions won't shut things down with strikes.

Re:Secondary and Tertiary effects (1)

pnutjam (523990) | about a year ago | (#43924717)

Those road shoulders and following distance rules aren't there because humans are stupid (well, not entirely). There will always be unforseen problem. If cars are bumper to bumper and someone has a blowout it becomes a major issue. Especially if there is not a road shoulder to park on.

Re:Secondary and Tertiary effects (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | about a year ago | (#44042763)

also, it should make cities into a skateboarding nirvana! I can ride the streets with abandon as the robot cars deftly avoid me! Drivers won't get pissed off. i won't get killed. it's gonna be great!

cars... how about trains first? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43919401)

Come back and talk to me again when all our trains are automated. Here in SF even with a completely controlled track BART system still uses human drivers.

Re:cars... how about trains first? (1)

peterwayner (266189) | about a year ago | (#43919965)

If you check out some of the airports like Orlando or DFW, the trains are automated. It's largely a union and a political thing. They could be automated but the cities choose to create jobs instead.

Implications (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about a year ago | (#43920343)

If autonomous cars become standard, it should reverse the trend toward mandatory automobile insurance. What a wonderful blow against the horrid waste that is insurance. This should free up a lot of people to do actual productive work.

Humans will not be allowed to drive (1)

davebarnes (158106) | about a year ago | (#44042455)

My prediction (which I have been making since 2012).
By 2060 it will be illegal for humans to drive in the USA.

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