there’s no such thing as a self-driving car

There’s no such thing as a self-driving car.

By Michael Shick (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Think about it -

Behind every good autonomous vehicle is a sprawling decentralized network of anonymous statisticians, analysts, engineers, coders, digital cartographers, networked communications specialists, roboticists, technicians, civil servants, and interns.

There they are. By Automotive Space [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0], via flickr.

Passengers of autonomous vehicles are not handing their transportation experience over to the capable armrests of an infallible machine — they’re handing it over to other people.

Autonomous vehicles are drive-by-committee.

To drive-by-wire is to drive-by-committee. Decisions about departures, arrivals, routes, detours, speeds, and stops are made by, or with influence from, a group of people who are not accountable to you and who are not in the car with you.

Moreover, all attributes of your journey may be recorded for quality control purposes.

Whom would you appoint to your own personal transportation committee, and what is the likelihood that those same individuals are members of the faceless bureaucracy that directs your vehicle?

The world’s first ‘auto’mobile crash? Public domain.

“You don’t own me.”

Autonomous vehicles expand the grey area of ownership and modification of electronic control units (ECUs) under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — with implications for liability to boot.

If your vehicle is driven by software, and you don’t own the software, how do you maintain control of the vehicle?

Are there safeguards that can guarantee that the autonomous vehicle you’re riding in can’t be seized and reappropriated by, or on behalf of, someone else?

The devil you know.

Autonomous vehicle proponents put forward an untested assumption that increasing technology decreases human error — but experience and study suggest otherwise. We can design to decrease human error, but not eliminate it.

Technopositivism tells us that more technology is always good, and that humans must adapt to technology. But technology is an artifact; a tool which is only as good as its user’s purpose.

So the technoskeptic in me asks: when it comes to ‘self’-driving cars, who is the user?

By Mike Mozart [CC BY 2.0], via flickr.

Further Reading

Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium 2017. Stuttgart, Germany, 20–22 June 2017.

Daugherty. 6 June 2016. Human Error is to Blame for Most Breaches. Cyber Security Trend.

Foord & Gulland. May 2006. Can Technology Eliminate Human Error? Process Safety and Environmental Protection.

Galeon & Houser. 9 June 2017. Driverless Autonomous Cars Will be on U.S. Roads in theNext 2 Months. Futurism.

Lant, Luhman & Adalid. Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars. Futurism.

McGee. 1 June 2017. Self-driving Cars Will Double as Security Cameras, Says Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. CNBC.

Nielsen. 1 Jan. 1995. 10 Usability Heuristics for User-Interface Design. Nielsen Norman Group.

Orzechowski & Bagdasarian. 08 Dec. 2016. New DMCA Exemption Allows Consumers to Hack Their Own Vehicles. Whitecase.