Recently, the topic of Autonomous cars has taken over the news for a variety of reasons. Most recently to the date of this post, Otto’s self driving 18 wheeler made its first delivery on American roads in Colorado Springs (www.technologyreview.com). The branching of automation into freighting comes with lots of benefits, however the prospects of loss of jobs and concerns about public safety put to question whether society is ready for for this step into the new age.
In order to develop an opinion on the matter of autonomous cars, one must be aware of background of the topic.
The idea of autonomous vehicles is not a new one and originally dates back to the 1930’s when discussed in the monthly Sci-Fi magazine, Air Wonder Stories. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s when the The Carnegie Mellon University Navigation Laboratory created the first self sufficient driverless car.
Since then, autonomous vehicles have developed hugely, especially in the last ten years. In 2008 a huge milestone was set when a Volkswagen Passat was able to recognise a stop sign and apply the brakes on its own. Two years later in 2010, google had built an entire fleet of autonomous cars and clocked a total of 140,000 miles on California roads.
Today, it is well agreed upon by automotive CEO’s that the autonomous car is inevitable as technology advances. Google has said it wants its cars in the hands of consumers by 2017. And Tesla’s Elon Musk wants passengers, to quote, “get in, go to sleep and wake up at their destination” by 2019. Uber already has 100 fully autonomous public vehicles on the road and are constantly expanding on this number. NuTonomy, a company from singapore has just started trials of a self driving taxis and aims to have it public by 2018.
Driverless cars are not the future, they are here now and they work. The question is not if they will replace cars, but how quickly. They don’t need to be perfect just better than humans. And seeing how self-driving cars don’t drink, blink or get distracted it’s not difficult to imagine that the cars will be better than us. In the US Human drivers are responsible for 40,000 deaths each year. With the introduction of driverless cars we could see this number tend to zero.
Driverless technology is not just exclusive to cars, tiny autos can work in warehouses and gigantic autos can work in pit mines. The transportation industry worldwide employs a minimum of 70 million jobs and with the full scale introduction of autonomous vehicles these jobs are over.This is down to the fact that for many transportation companies, humans are around a third of the entire business costs, salaries alone. Autonomous vehicles don’t sleep which means you have a 24 hour work force, don’t cause accidents so low insurance and are reliable. These are all pretty big incentives for companies to get behind autonomous vehicles.
However there are many arguments not in favour of driverless cars for reasons that a large proportion of people will agree upon. The topic of automation alone is stirring up a lot of opinions recently with the prospects of machines taking over low skilled jobs putting people into unemployment. These same questions were raised roughly 200 years ago, with the rise of the ‘mechanical demon’ taking the jobs of labourers during the Industrial Revolution. As a country, England went from having ~98% of people in employment working with Agriculture in 1800 to >1% in 2016. In spite of essentially the whole population in employment moving out of agriculture, England still has an abundance of food.
There are also concerns about public safety if a driverless car malfunctions, as the learning algorithms are still relatively new there is the possibility of computer making a wrong decision. Although Google’s driverless cars have not been involved in any accidents caused by the driverless car, the possibility of these cars crashing cannot be ruled out altogether. Another issue on the basis of accidents is who is held responsible if a driverless car crashes? Is the manufacturer or the owner of the car held liable?
There are also ethical decisions that can arise that the driverless car will have difficulty with. Faced with a problem where either a group of pedestrians or the passengers of the car will be killed, will the car prioritise the safety of its passengers over the pedestrians? Will the car swerve out of the way of killing animals in the road or will it prioritise the safety and comfort of passengers?
I have tried to include all the relevant information to each side of the argument as well as providing a background to the topic of driverless cars in order to help the reader develop an opinion on a very relevant topic in the news currently. Myself, I am torn between two sides. Being thoroughly interested in the technologies used in driverless cars, such as NVIDIAs implementation of Machine Learning instead of Computer Vision, the innovation in the fields of Computer Science entice me with the prospects of the future. However, after recently passing my driving test and experiencing driving first hand, I can understand why many people aren’t keen on letting the machine take away all the joys of driving.
Thanks for reading and let me know your opinions on the article. If you know whether you support driverless cars or not feel free to mention in the comments.
For further information in the technologies used in driverless cars, visit my related post Machine Learning in Autonomous Cars.
The topic of this blog was based on a school assembly written by Jonathan Freer and myself.