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Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy by David A. Mindell
Air France Flight 447, autonomous vehicles, Captain Sullenberger Hudson, Chris Urmson, en.wikipedia.org, Erik Brynjolfsson, fudge factor, index card, Mars Rover, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, telepresence, telerobotics, trade route
(Of course, human-factors specialists have long understood that human errors often are the result of poor system design and poor work practices.) Google introduced a new version of its car in 2014, one that seems designed to be friendly and unthreatening to the public. It travels at low speeds to reduce danger, has no driving wheel or console, and removes input from the human driver altogether. In the words of project director Chris Urmson, the company is “working toward the goal of vehicles that can shoulder the entire burden of driving.” These fully autonomous cars would be “designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention.” The new car’s interface consists only of buttons to start and stop the engine, and a screen that shows the route (one wonders how the driver will tell the car where to go).
And, of course, even with Google’s autonomous cars, the people are still “in there,” they’ve just moved to a different place and time. Let’s look inside an algorithm as an example of how deeply humanly crafted apparently autonomous code can be. Consider the first documented collision between autonomous cars. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency–sponsored competition, the DARPA Grand Challenge of 2007, generated some of the technology on which the Google car is based. Google’s Chris Urmson was the lead engineer on the winning team, and a number of other participants are now on the Google team. In the incident, the MIT car, called Talos, was passing the Cornell car, dubbed Skynet, which was having trouble with its planning algorithm and was stuttering along slowly by the side of the road. Computers on board Talos classified Skynet as “a cluster of static objects” rather than a moving vehicle, and turned to pass in front of it.
Google discovered that “people are lazy”: Tom Simonite, “Lazy Humans Shaped Google’s New Autonomous Car,” MIT Technology Review (May 30, 2014), http://www.technologyreview.com/news/527756/lazy-humans-shaped-googles-new-autonomous-car/. Will Knight, “Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think,” MIT Technology Review (October 22, 2013), http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/520431/driverless-cars-are-further-away-than-you-think/. “kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride”: Chris Urmson, “Just Press Go: Designing a Self-Driving Vehicle,” Google official blog, May 27, 2014, http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2014/05/just-press-go-designing-self-driving.html, accessed July 9, 2014. Evan Ackerman, “Google’s Autonomous Cars Are Smarter Than Ever at 700,000 Miles,” IEEE Cars that Think Blog, April 29, 2014, accessed July 10, 2014. published the details of the crash: Luke Fletcher et al., “The MIT–Cornell Collision and Why It Happened,” Journal of Field Robotics 25, no. 10 (2008): 775–807.
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Indeed, the systems under development within the automotive industry are almost universally geared toward partial automation—the idea being that the human driver always maintains ultimate control. Liability in the event of an accident may be one of thorniest potential issues surrounding fully automated cars; some analysts have suggested that there might be ambiguity as to who would be responsible. Chris Urmson, one of the engineers who led Google’s car project, said at an industry conference in 2013 that such concerns are misplaced, and that current US law makes it clear that the car’s manufacturer would be responsible in the event of an accident. It’s hard to imagine anything the automotive industry would fear more. Deep-pocketed manufacturers would make irresistible targets for attorneys wielding product liability claims.
Information regarding construction employment in the United States can be found at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website: http://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag23.htm. 8. Further details are available at the DARPA Grand Challenge website: http://archive.darpa.mil/grandchallenge/. 9. Tom Simonite, “Data Shows Google’s Robot Cars Are Smoother, Safer Drivers Than You or I,” Technology Review, October 25, 2013, http://www.technologyreview.com/news/520746/data-shows-googles-robot-cars-are-smoother-safer-drivers-than-you-or-i/. 10. See ibid. for Chris Urmson’s comments. 11. “The Self-Driving Car Logs More Miles on New Wheels” (Google corporate blog), August 7, 2012, http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-self-driving-car-logs-more-miles-on.html. 12. As quoted in Heather Kelly, “Driverless Car Tech Gets Serious at CES,” CNN, January 9, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/09/tech/innovation/self-driving-cars-ces/. 13. For US accident statistics, see http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1103.pdf; for global accident statistics, see http://www.who.int/gho/road_safety/mortality/en/. 14.
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[clxxxv] With many technology projects, resolving the last few issues is more difficult than the bulk of the project: edge cases are the acid test. Nevertheless, those edge cases are being tackled, and will be resolved. It is well-known that Google's self-driving cars have travelled well over a million miles in California without causing a significant accident, but what is less well-known is that the cars also drive millions of miles every day in simulators. Chris Urmson, head of the Google project, expects self-driving cars to be in general use by 2020.[clxxxvi] Sceptics point out that Google's self-driving cars depend on detailed maps. But producing maps for the roads outside California doesn't sound like an insurmountable obstacle, and in any case, systems like SegNet from Cambridge University enable cars to produce maps on the fly.[clxxxvii] A fully autonomous bus made in France has been serving the centre of the Greek city of Trikala since February 2015.
Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford
affirmative action, Air France Flight 447, Airbnb, airport security, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, Atul Gawande, autonomous vehicles, banking crisis, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Basel III, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Broken windows theory, call centre, Cass Sunstein, Chris Urmson, cloud computing, collateralized debt obligation, crowdsourcing, deindustrialization, Donald Trump, Erdős number, experimental subject, Ferguson, Missouri, Filter Bubble, Frank Gehry, game design, global supply chain, Googley, Guggenheim Bilbao, high net worth, Inbox Zero, income inequality, Internet of things, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Merlin Mann, microbiome, out of africa, Paul Erdős, Richard Thaler, Rosa Parks, self-driving car, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Skype, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, telemarketer, the built environment, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Turing test, urban decay
By making their manual forecast first, these veterans kept their skills sharp, unlike the pilots on the Airbus 330. However, the younger generation of meteorologists are happier to trust the computers. Once the veterans retire, the human expertise to intuit when the computer has screwed up will be lost forever.18 • • • We’ve seen the problems with GPS systems and with autopilot. Put the two ideas together, and you get the self-driving car. Chris Urmson, who runs Google’s self-driving car program, hopes that the cars will soon be so widely available that his sons will never need to have a driving license. (His oldest son will be sixteen in 2020—Urmson is in a hurry.) There’s a revealing implication in that target: that unlike a plane’s autopilot, a self-driving car will never need to cede control to a human being. True to form, Google’s autonomous vehicles have no steering wheel, though one hopes there will be some way to jump out if they start heading for the ocean.19 Not everyone thinks it is plausible for cars to be completely autonomous—or, at least, not soon enough for Urmson junior.
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“GM Enters Carsharing Business; Teams Up with RelayRides,” GM News, October 5, 2011, http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2011 /Oct/1005_relay.html (accessed May 29, 2013). 17. Lawrence Burns, “A Vision of Our Transport Future,” Nature 497 (May 9, 2013): 181–82. 18. Ibid. 19. Joann Muller, “With Driverless Cars, Once Again It Is California Leading the Way,” Forbes, September 26, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2012/09/26/with-driverless-cars -once-again-it-is-california-leading-the-way/ (accessed June 2, 2013). 20. Chris Urmson, “The Self-Driving Car Logs More Miles on New Wheels,” Google Blog, August 7, 2012, http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-self-driving-car-logs-more-miles-on.html (accessed June 2, 2013). 21. Mary Slosson, “Google Gets First Self-Driven Car License in Nevada,” Reuters, May 8, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/08/uk-usa-nevada-google-idUSLNE84701320120508 (accessed June 3, 2013). 22.
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Although only a fraction of those enrolled in the course would ultimately complete it, it became a global “Internet moment”: Thrun and Norvig’s class raised the specter of a new low-cost form of education that would not only level the playing field by putting the world’s best teachers within reach of anyone in the world, but also threaten the business models of high-priced elite universities. Why pay Stanford tuition if you could take the course anyway as a City College student? Thrun was still nominally participating one day a week at Google, but the project leadership role was taken by Chris Urmson, a soft-spoken roboticist who had been Red Whittaker’s chief lieutenant in the DARPA vehicle challenges. He had been one of the first people that Thrun hired after he came to Google to start the then secret car program. In the summer of 2014 he said he wanted to create a reliable driverless car before his son reached driving age, which was about six years in the future. After Thrun departed, Urmson took the program a long way toward its original goal of autonomous driving on the open road.
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
23andMe, agricultural Revolution, algorithmic trading, Anne Wojcicki, anti-communist, Anton Chekhov, autonomous vehicles, Berlin Wall, call centre, Chris Urmson, cognitive dissonance, Columbian Exchange, computer age, Deng Xiaoping, don't be evil, European colonialism, experimental subject, falling living standards, Flash crash, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, glass ceiling, global village, invention of writing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, job automation, Kevin Kelly, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, Minecraft, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, mutually assured destruction, new economy, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, placebo effect, Ray Kurzweil, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, stem cell, Steven Pinker, telemarketer, too big to fail, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, ultimatum game, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!
However, it is far from obvious why living beings need to engage with such arcane mathematical truths in order to survive and reproduce. In fact, the vast majority of our conscious decisions do not involve such issues at all. 6. Christopher Steiner, Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World (New York: Penguin, 2012), 215; Tom Vanderbilt, ‘Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future is Here’, Wired, 20 January 2012, accessed 21 December 2014, http://www.wired.com/2012/01/ff_autonomouscars/all/; Chris Urmson, ‘The Self-Driving Car Logs More Miles on New Wheels’, Google Official Blog, 7 August 2012, accessed 23 December 2014, http://googleblog.blogspot.hu/2012/08/the-self-driving-car-logs-more-miles-on.html; Matt Richtel and Conor Dougherty, ‘Google’s Driverless Cars Run into Problem: Cars with Drivers’, New York Times, 1 September 2015, accessed 2 September 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/technology/personaltech/google-says-its-not-the-driverless-cars-fault-its-other-drivers.html?