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When the Rubber of Artificial Intelligence Meets the Road: Will We Ever Ride in Driverless Cars?

The driverless car stands at the pinnacle of future visions of a world powered by Artificial Intelligence. Futurists picture roads full of cars moving swiftly and safely while passengers send endless texts and watch streaming videos.


As strange as it may seem, a recent news report of an automobile accident can help us understand the likely limits of Artificial Intelligence as well as the importance of trust in our lives and our futures.

Consider the news from last week that a Google driverless car caused a wreck last when it ran into a city bus in Mountain View, California. The accident stands as the first such incident among the 53 vehicles that have been driving themselves for more than 1.4 million miles. Actually, they have not really been driving themselves because there are always two Google employees who can override the car’s own “thoughts” and have done so to avoid 13 accidents. There is no way to count how many accidents have been avoided by other drivers taking action to avoid the Google cars.


The accident occurred because the Google car thought that the bus, driven by a human, would yield to the computer guided car. A Washington Post article noted that, “Google characterized the crash as a misunderstanding and a learning experience, saying its cars will learn that large vehicles are less likely to yield than other types of vehicles.” The Google analysis would have you believe that the “large vehicle” had a mind of it own. In fact, the accident occurred because the human bus driver moved the “large vehicle” in a way that confounded the Google car’s logic.


Of course, this interaction between human and machine challenges the entire premise of using Artificial Intelligence to drive cars. In the best case, all driverless cars would share the same logic system to reach the same conclusions. But, is that likely when Google, Apple, GM, Ford and many others are each developing their own systems? More importantly, until such a time as all humans yield driving responsibilities to the machines, we will consistently face the bus vs. Google car, the human reaction vs. the computer reaction, dilemma from last week.