Autonomous Cars (Part II) – Self-driving Cars: Blessing or Curse?
Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles, are leveraging some of the latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to enable everything from cars and taxis, to busses and lorries, to drive themselves. While some of us still appreciate the lure of the road, examine engine performance and discuss vehicle handling, there are few of us that have the time or location to actually enjoy driving. In short, for most of us driving is still a chore.
For many of us, autonomous vehicles will offer a wealth of opportunities. Firstly, there is the safety aspect of an always operable, continuously focused electronic driver at the wheel. By accessing data about traffic conditions as well as energy consumption, usage can also be optimized. This will be made possible by sharing data wirelessly between vehicles (V2V) and the local infrastructure (V2I). Convenience is also an aspect for citizens living outside our metropolises who want to maintain mobility in old age without the risks of driving themselves.
The big selling point for AI in cars will be improved safety; however, it should not be forgotten that the laws of physics will still apply. If a poorly secured load falls directly into your path from a truck right in front of you, an accident will remain unavoidable.
Another hypothetical issue often raised is that of the “ethical trolley problem”, analyzed extensively by Judith Thomson and first introduced by Philippa Foot. The problem asks if the driver of a trolley, whose brakes have failed, should crash and kill five people standing on the line ahead, or if he should take the turnout where there is only a single person standing. Many studies have analyzed this and variations of this problem. It also applies to AI in cars. If the AI needs to make an emergency maneuver that will definitely result in someone getting injured, should it prioritize the safety of the occupants over pedestrians or pets on the sidewalk?
However, one thing is certain; an autonomous vehicle will always remain attentive, follow the rules of the road, and won’t be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The potential for accident reduction at road junctions for pedestrians and cyclists is significant, since a self-driving car will be able to see more via its forward cameras than a driver could when approaching a junction. And, with all those cameras, sensors and an on-board computer system, your car will be able to find a suitable parking spot and park in no time. At last the stress associated with parking will be consigned to the history books, something we will all be happy to see!
Overall, AI in our vehicles is definitely a blessing and will bring benefits to many in society – it won’t be long until we will experience its capabilities.