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A few years ago autonomous vehicles (AV’s)  were being hailed as a technology that was transformative and coming very soon. Driverless vehicles provide a solution to the pesky problem of what to do with seniors who should not be driving, and suggested an orderly way to keep vehicles moving efficiently in cities. But the downside has started to become evident, including how to deal with the ethics of a car created to save its occupants ahead of more vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. And what to do and who to blame if an autonomous vehicle kills a vulnerable road user? While the technology has apparently driven a vehicle across the United States, it has not advanced enough to deal with the intricacies and complexities of city driving.

Chandler Arizona was one of the “lucky” places where autonomous vehicle trials by Google’s Waymo first commenced, but there have now been over twenty attacks on these vehicles. From tire slashing, stone throwing, to braking in front of these vehicles and trying to run them off the road, local citizens are expressing their doubts and fears about the technology. I have written about the “edge cases” and how the killing of a lady in Tempe Arizona walking her bike across a highway exemplifies the situations where the technology could not ascertain the vehicle needed to stop.

The New York Times calls the vandalism towards  autonomous vehicles  as moving “ into a broader discussion about the potential for driverless cars to unleash colossal changes in American society. The debate touches on fears ranging from eliminating jobs for drivers to ceding control over mobility to autonomous vehicles.“People are lashing out justifiably,” said Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist at City University of New York and author of the book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.” He likened driverless cars to robotic incarnations of scabs — workers who refuse to join strikes or who take the place of those on strike.”

And in Arizona, “DISE” ~Do It Someplace Else” has become a cause.  One 37-year-old driver has repeatedly tried to drive Waymo vans off the road, even driving towards one head on to force it stop.  Another person said  that her husband “finds it entertaining to brake hard” in front of the self-driving vans, and that she herself “may have forced them to pull over” so she could yell at them to get out of their neighborhood. The trouble started, the couple said, when their 10-year-old son was nearly hit by one of the vehicles while he was playing in a nearby cul-de-sac.”

They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake,” said Mr. O’Polka, who runs his own company providing information technology to small businesses.”

And that may be the crux of the issue, where big business behind the creation of autonomous vehicle technology may not be developing it for altruistic reasons.

There’s a growing sense that the giant corporations honing driverless technologies do not have our best interests at heart. Just think about the humans inside these vehicles, who are essentially training the artificial intelligence that will replace them.

Here is a YouTube video on the attacks, as well as a response from a Waymo spokesperson.

Comments

  1. And yet the hundreds of thousands killed every single year by human drivers are the unfortunate-but-acceptable victims of “terrible accidents”. Painful.

    Maybe we should just start referring to all drivers as “autonomous vehicle operators”. Humanity would band together as if under attack from an alien armada to ensure no one is ever struck down by a car again.

  2. The simple solution is 360 degree cameras recording all the time on all autonomous vehicles. When human drivers commit dangerous stunts like these folks admit to, charge them with dangerous driving and suspend their licences. Get the dangerous drivers off the road, not the AVs, because, unlike reckless drivers, AVs will continuously improve over time.

    1. We construct the car-dependent dystopia of motordom. It turns out to be murderous. We address this with universal surveillance of everyone – drivers, cyclists, pedestrians. And of course the technology can only improve (just like the Internet!).

      There is an assumption here that technology is neutral: the problem is people, not cars. To make the streets safe for people, we should make them safe from people: which is to say, safe for cars. (Shades of what’s good for GM is good for America.) Cars are hard to discipline, so we discipline the people

      Cars are not at all neutral, as motordom’s hard-wiring of our cities has demonstrated. They are distancing and alienating; they fragment communities and through their spider web of global dependencies they also fracture politcis, the economy, the environment. It didn’t have to be this way, but because who built it and why, it is. We discover the error of our dependency, but we are too deeply committed: we cannot roll back decades of asphalt and concrete, so we double down with ever more complex technical solutions that further insulate actions from consequences.

      The bias of a technology is most strongly shaped by its creators, owners, and investors. No-one is building self-driving cars for the benefit of pedestrians. Cars are built for drivers; even more, they are built for car companies. To understand their future, we should bring our gaze down to earth – away from stary-eyed dreams of a glorious computerized future (so unlike the reality of the computerized present), to those here on earth who will decide whose interests it will serve.

      Motordom was not the great boon that we expected. We should learn from that history. What I hear is, “This time is different.” I see no reason to believe it.

      1. In North America, we already largely have a car-dependent dystopia. Autonomous vehicles by themselves won’t change that, but they will reduce traffic fatalities and the need for parking.

        I disagree in believing that the car is inherently bad. The car is just a vehicle, like horse-drawn carriages before them. The problem has been in how we use them and how we build our cities around them. I have no problem living in a city that puts pedestrians and cyclists first with roads so that autonomous vehicles have access in order to move people and deliver goods.

        1. “I disagree in believing that the car is inherently bad.”

          Technology is not neutral. It is embodied in a design with specific design choices – choices that could have been otherwise. Moreover, every technology is part of a larger system. One can’t talk about the private automobile without also talking about systems of highways and parking lots, of pipelines and refineries, of dealerships and tract homes, and so forth. It is (or was) possible for there to be a car technology that is not bad – but the technology we do have, on balance, is bad.

          The major influences on the design of a technology are the groups who have an interest in it. Their desires and intensions often conflict. Eventually one design emerges as standard, the conflict is forgotten, and with it alternative designs and systems: a narrative emerges according to which the conclusion was inevitable, and which then guides further changes (that story was once that, in the future, everyone will drive everywhere!).

          Autonomous vehicles do give us an opportunity to revisit a few of the choices that led to the current system. To see what the results might be, we need to look to beyond the sparkle of new technology to the people with the power to make those choices. Is this gang better than the last?

          I don’t think so. Even with numerous serious technical and design hurdles ahead (I have low confidence in the technology), they’ve already got their narrative all lined up: the autonomous car is all about saving lives and reducing traffic. It’s a very neat story. Ignore it. If lives, traffic, or livable communities stood in the way of the tech and car industry making a profit, what would they do? With our boundless faith that self-driving cars will save us (indeed, with the current public attitude towards such inconveniences to driving) who would stop them?

        2. What is dystopian about the use of a car? (dystopia: noun: an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic). What is the great suffering or injustice?

  3. The autonomous vehicle is a version of the zombie apocalypse: mindless, soulless dead things roaming the living world, running over pedestrians and killing them. No wonder people are throwing stones.

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