I’m a big believer in the future of self-driving cars. There is clearly a lot of risk turning a complex and unpredictable task over to a computer and all the attendant sensors, but we already accept a huge amount of risk letting easily-distracted and self-centered humans continue to do the damage they do.
So, I have to believe that we will all be safer when computers take over. The occupants of cars are much safer in a crash than they were when I was young, but the safety advances haven’t benefited pedestrians and cyclists. We are just as likely to get hurt when a car hits us as we were 50 years ago. I’m hopeful that autonomous vehicles could be a significant safety advance for those outside the car.
Thus, I look forward to the safety benefits that automated cars should bring. However, I worry about adoption of the new technology. Will a robot car be allowed to speed? Will it be allowed to make unnecessary lane changes to move one car ahead of the ‘dipshit’ ahead of it? What about yellow lights? Can you set it so that it will ignore them? How will the industry get aggressive, type-A drivers to adopt technology that forces their car to drive as if they cared about the safety of those around them more than beating the car next to them to the next traffic light?
The solution is to have at least two control settings; One (of course) would be the ‘law-abiding’ setting and the other would be the ‘Jackass’ setting. Using this setting would allow the computer to take every advantage, no matter how small, that the Type-A driver would take so that the owner felt he was beating the guy next to him. Over many weeks or months, the algorithm could adjust to a safer driving mode until the car was following all the laws and even common sense. This is somewhat analogous to the sales technique supposedly used by successful Chevette salespeople many years ago; the buyers knew the Chevette got good gas mileage – that’s why they were at the dealer. You sold it by accelerating hard and whipping around corners – this answered the buyers unspoken concerns about the performance of the small car.
Don’t sell the robot car based on safety and convenience – sell it based on the advantage it gives the buyer over the schmucks who can’t afford a computer car – this will lead to much quicker adoption.