Two leading technology experts are warning that “modest changes’ to the infrastructure are essential in order to make autonomous vehicles behave as predictably as possible, and that trying to make them drive like humans is “not feasible”.
Andrew Ng, who is chief scientist at Baidu Research in Silicon Valley and his colleague Yuangqing Lin, who is director of the company’s Deep Learning Institute have been writing in Wired Magazine and say changes are needed to accommodate autonomous cars’ weaknesses.
They say driverless vehicles have a number of weaknesses that need to be understood and dealt with, including an ability to reliably understand a construction worker’s hand gestures, recognise the colour of a traffic light if the sun is immediately behind it, or “read the road” and act upon signals humans would understand, from reading a lorry with a “makes wide turn” sign or slowing when they see a group of children near an ice cream van, just in case.
They say it’s vital in order to take advantage of autonomous vehicles’ strengths including their unending vigilance, 360 degree views meaning a lack of blind spots, lack of distraction and faster reaction times.
“Neither automakers nor technology companies can realise this vision alone,” they write, “It will take the efforts of a community.”
They continue: “We’ve made this kind of shift before. The 19th century rise of the railway gave citizens a faster and safer mode of transport than the horse, and transformed society. But we had to learn how to behave around trains. Today we are saddened if a pet dog runs onto a railway track and is killed. Yet we do not blame the train for this accident, because we understand it is the nature of the machine to run on its tracks. We accommodated that nature by developing new ways to behave around trains—such as not standing on the tracks—along with new infrastructure like railway crossings with distinctive lights and bells to keep people out of danger.
“Train travel today is far safer than horseback travel. In the future, computer-driven cars will be far safer than human driven cars. But just as trains are different than horses, we should recognize that computer driven cars are different from human driven cars, and find novel ways to safely incorporate them into our lives.
“Because computers see and understand the world differently, they will drive differently than people. Artificial intelligence (AI) is making tremendous strides, but for the near future, we should not expect computers to drive in the same way as humans.”
They explain that our system of roads was built with human drivers in mind, but fortunately, with only modest changes, it can support safe computer- and human-driven cars.
“Rather than having construction workers guide traffic with hand signals, we could give them wireless beacons or apps, telling cars what to do via electronic signals. Construction plans could be filed in advance, to give autonomous car operators time to plan around those complex situations. Emergency service vehicles will also need a way to communicate clearly, since their sirens and flashing lights are designed for human drivers.”
And, they add, self-driving cars should be distinctive and recognizable. “It’s like having a big “Student Driver” sign on a car—it signals to others that they should develop different expectations.”
(Illustration – Wired Magazine)