Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Tech and transportation roundup

"I want to live in a world where a chicken can cross
the road without anybody questioning its motives."
                                                    - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Transportation laws are outdated, is the message from these recent items:
As more features of automated cars become reality, and companies like Uber and Lyft press the boundaries of available transportation options, it's becoming clear that government at all levels will have to adjust laws to fit tech in much the same way as is happening on Fourth Amendment electronic-privacy questions. The tech is forcing the issue more rapidly than government normally operates.

In Austin, police are arresting Uber and Lyft drivers even as the companies heavily promote their services, their market share is growing, and the city council considers legalizing their currently illicit but popular services.

Meanwhile, the feds are beginning to think about regulating autonomous cars just as they're about to hit consumer markets earlier than most people anticipated.

Two other pieces on autonomous cars emphasize the ethical aspects of coding such vehicles to actually function successfully in urban environments. If your car must choose in a split second which vehicle to hit - the late-model Volvo or a motorcycle with a helmet-less rider - which should it choose?

And the final item highlights a little-discussed aspect of autonomous vehicles operated by sensors: Once broadly implemented, they will generate a terrific cache of data about urban environments. Grits has discussed before how the market for wearable tech depends on finding uses for data generated by sensors, which has meant corrections applications have been some of the most lucrative in the early going. With cars, there are near-endless uses for the data beyond just operating the automobile. Who gets to use it? For what purposes? At what cost?

There are significant criminal justice implications for these tech advances, particularly automated cars. Grits finds these issues surrounding emerging technologies a fascinating example of how judgments about ethics and rights change with context. Just as the arrival of the automobile launched a decline in Fourth Amendment protections, I'm hopeful that emerging personal tech and debates over control of data may end up sparking their renaissance.


Brian Urban said...

RE Robot Cars could be programmed to crash into you. This contains a red herring argument; the car in front swerved into your lane, causing a crash. The author failed to take into account the car in front is also robot controlled, and (with proper design) would not have swerved in front of you, even to avoid the deer running across the road. Besides, again with proper design, the swerving car would have communicated to the following car what it was about to do, and both would have taken proper evasive maneuvers.

Using total robotic control, and near field communications between vehicles, the incidence of crashes would drop dramatically. After all, you have removed the biggest threat to vehicle safety from the equation, the nut behind the wheel.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ Brian, what about non-human factors like the deer example you avoided? Most accidents are caused by human error, but not all, and programmers must plan for every eventuality.

Also, it will take a while before every car on the road is robot-controlled. The law must be written to govern/account for early adopters and the fact that some people may never adopt it unless it's mandatory.

Brian Urban said...

Non robotic controlled cars would be banned from certain roads (Interstates,for example) See the first couple chapters of Heinlein's Methuselah's Children on how this could work.

As to non-human factors, you will never eliminate all crashes, but when cars communicate with each other, vehicles in close proximity will all react to avoid the crash. I still don't see a down side.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't see the downside either, Brian. I favor driverless cars. But that doesn't mean coders won't have to face the ethical conundrum described by those articles.

I do think it's HIGHLY unlikely non-robotic controlled cars will be banned from Texas roads any time in the next two decades. It will take too long to phase them in and there's too much of a class cutoff regarding who would get to use the taxpayer funded roads.