Chris Urmson

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pages: 265 words: 74,807

Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy by David A. Mindell


Air France Flight 447, autonomous vehicles, Captain Sullenberger Hudson, Chris Urmson,, 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), Will Knight, “Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think,” MIT Technology Review (October 22, 2013), “kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride”: Chris Urmson, “Just Press Go: Designing a Self-Driving Vehicle,” Google official blog, May 27, 2014,, 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.


pages: 484 words: 104,873

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford


3D printing, additive manufacturing, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, AI winter, algorithmic trading, Amazon Mechanical Turk, artificial general intelligence, autonomous vehicles, banking crisis, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Bernie Madoff, Bill Joy: nanobots, call centre, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Chris Urmson, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, collateralized debt obligation, computer age, debt deflation, deskilling, diversified portfolio, Erik Brynjolfsson, factory automation, financial innovation, Flash crash, Fractional reserve banking, Freestyle chess, full employment, Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid, High speed trading, income inequality, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, informal economy, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Khan Academy, knowledge worker, labor-force participation, labour mobility, liquidity trap, low skilled workers, low-wage service sector, Lyft, manufacturing employment, McJob, moral hazard, Narrative Science, Network effects, new economy, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, obamacare, optical character recognition, passive income, performance metric, Peter Thiel, Plutocrats, plutocrats, post scarcity, precision agriculture, price mechanism, Ray Kurzweil, rent control, rent-seeking, reshoring, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, secular stagnation, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, single-payer health, software is eating the world, sovereign wealth fund, speech recognition, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, stealth mode startup, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, strong AI, Stuxnet, technological singularity, telepresence, telepresence robot, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, The Coming Technological Singularity, Thomas L Friedman, too big to fail, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, union organizing, Vernor Vinge, very high income, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, women in the workforce

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: 8. Further details are available at the DARPA Grand Challenge website: 9. Tom Simonite, “Data Shows Google’s Robot Cars Are Smoother, Safer Drivers Than You or I,” Technology Review, October 25, 2013, 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, 12. As quoted in Heather Kelly, “Driverless Car Tech Gets Serious at CES,” CNN, January 9, 2014, 13. For US accident statistics, see; for global accident statistics, see 14.


The Economic Singularity: Artificial intelligence and the death of capitalism by Calum Chace


3D printing, additive manufacturing, agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Airbnb, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, banking crisis, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Berlin Wall, Bernie Sanders, bitcoin, blockchain, call centre, Chris Urmson, congestion charging, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Elon Musk,, Erik Brynjolfsson, Flynn Effect, full employment, future of work, gender pay gap, gig economy, Google Glasses, Google X / Alphabet X, income inequality, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of the telephone, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, lump of labour, Lyft, Mark Zuckerberg, Martin Wolf, McJob, means of production, Milgram experiment, Narrative Science, natural language processing, new economy, Occupy movement, Oculus Rift, PageRank, pattern recognition, post scarcity, post-industrial society, precariat, prediction markets, QWERTY keyboard, railway mania, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Rodney Brooks, Satoshi Nakamoto, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, software is eating the world, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, TaskRabbit, technological singularity, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Uber for X, universal basic income, Vernor Vinge, working-age population, Y Combinator, young professional

[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.


pages: 349 words: 95,972

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.


pages: 565 words: 151,129

The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism by Jeremy Rifkin


3D printing, additive manufacturing, Airbnb, autonomous vehicles, back-to-the-land, big-box store, bioinformatics, bitcoin, business process, Chris Urmson, clean water, cleantech, cloud computing, collaborative consumption, collaborative economy, Community Supported Agriculture, computer vision, crowdsourcing, demographic transition, distributed generation,, Frederick Winslow Taylor, global supply chain, global village, Hacker Ethic, industrial robot, informal economy, intermodal, Internet of things, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, Julian Assange, Kickstarter, knowledge worker, labour mobility, Mahatma Gandhi, manufacturing employment, Mark Zuckerberg, market design, means of production, meta analysis, meta-analysis, natural language processing, new economy, New Urbanism, nuclear winter, Occupy movement, oil shale / tar sands, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer lending, personalized medicine, phenotype, planetary scale, price discrimination, profit motive, RAND corporation, randomized controlled trial, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Stallman, risk/return, Ronald Coase, search inside the book, self-driving car, shareholder value, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart cities, smart grid, smart meter, social web, software as a service, spectrum auction, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, the built environment, The Nature of the Firm, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas L Friedman, too big to fail, transaction costs, urban planning, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, web application, Whole Earth Catalog, Whole Earth Review, WikiLeaks, working poor, Zipcar

“GM Enters Carsharing Business; Teams Up with RelayRides,” GM News, October 5, 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, -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, (accessed June 2, 2013). 21. Mary Slosson, “Google Gets First Self-Driven Car License in Nevada,” Reuters, May 8, 2012, (accessed June 3, 2013). 22.


pages: 413 words: 119,587

Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots by John Markoff


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, AI winter, airport security, Apple II, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, Bill Duvall, bioinformatics, Brewster Kahle, Burning Man, call centre, cellular automata, Chris Urmson, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, collective bargaining, computer age, computer vision, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, DARPA: Urban Challenge, data acquisition, Dean Kamen, deskilling, don't be evil, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Hofstadter, Dynabook, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Erik Brynjolfsson, factory automation, From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death, future of work, Galaxy Zoo, Google Glasses, Google X / Alphabet X, Grace Hopper, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hacker Ethic, haute couture, hive mind, hypertext link, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, information retrieval, Internet Archive, Internet of things, invention of the wheel, Jacques de Vaucanson, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, John Conway, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, labor-force participation, loose coupling, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, medical residency, Menlo Park, Mother of all demos, natural language processing, new economy, Norbert Wiener, PageRank, pattern recognition, pre–internet, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Stallman, Robert Gordon, Rodney Brooks, Sand Hill Road, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, semantic web, shareholder value, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Singularitarianism, skunkworks, Skype, social software, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Stephen Hawking, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, strong AI, superintelligent machines, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, telemarketer, telepresence, telepresence robot, Tenerife airport disaster, The Coming Technological Singularity, the medium is the message, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Catalog, William Shockley: the traitorous eight

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.


pages: 479 words: 144,453

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,; Chris Urmson, ‘The Self-Driving Car Logs More Miles on New Wheels’, Google Official Blog, 7 August 2012, accessed 23 December 2014,; 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,