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Avoidable Contact #66: The autonomous grift, and how you’re going to pay the price for it

I can’t tell you what the price of oil, bitcoin, or Tesla stock will be 24 hours from now, but I feel absolutely confident in making the following longer-term prediction: You are never going to share the road with a significant number of autonomous vehicles. “Never,” in this case, is a fancy way to say never. Not in the lifetime of anyone reading this column. I am stone-cold certain about this. If you want to contact me and make some sort of bet, I’m your huckleberry—but give me a chance to convince you on the matter first.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com:

https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/avoidable-contact-65-the-autonomous-grift-and-how-youre-going-...

Replies (38)

Replies (38)

Self driving cars would take the adventure out of life. I first drove across the country at age 17, in an eight year old '62 Ford Falcon. I felt the distance, because I was always behind the wheel.

 

When you drive westward in Nebraska, you can feel the almost imperceptible climb, which begins as soon as you've crossed the Missouri River, from Iowa, into Omaha. That first time, I wasn't sure if I was imagining the climb; all these years later I googled the elevations of a few towns along route 80 to see exactly how much I'd been climbing lo those many years ago. I wouldn't have been aware of the climbing in a self driving car. 

 

The next day, it was pouring during the last several hours of Wyoming, and on into Utah. When I got to the last pass before descending into Salt Lake City, I could see the entire Salt Lake Valley through the rain. In the valley there were spots where the sun was shining, and places where it was pouring. What an amazing view!

 

Imagine simply punching in the address of your destination, and then working on your laptop, or going on social media, or sleeping, instead of feeling the wide open spaces that our forebears crossed in covered wagons, or on horseback.

 

I hope you're right Jack. I hope you're right. 

Intermediate Driver

Jack, Great points on the shortfalls and ramifications of technology on autonomous cars.  However, you left out another determining factor of why it will never happen – money; specifically, insurance money.  The insurance companies will not issue bonds for roads to be built for cars powered by computer logic that has been programmed on whether to hit the deer or the child.

 

Litigation firms are salivating for literally careers that can be built around an autonomous car issues that have gone wrong.  “Who’s fault was it when the car purposely plowed into the deer and injured the driver?”

 

Follow the money, it does not lead to “…a significant number of autonomous vehicles. ‘Never’”

Navigator

I have been against the whole autonomous thing for a long time. I was studying the subject not long ago and the one reality of autonomous vehicles is the end of a lifestyle for me or others like me. Every model of autonomous driving cannot make room for motorcycles. It was written somewhere (don’t ask me to remember) that motorcycles would be legislated off the road before autonomous cars come to fruition. 

I don’t know how much truth there is to this scenario, but the thought of it scares me. I’ve already been crippled by a negligent driver and today’s laws state the driver is not responsible. We can barely get states to pass laws protecting motorcyclist, bicyclists, and pedestrians from road users. Now imagine if the big money was behind keeping themselves out of liability with autonomous cars. I see no future for future non-car travelers. 

Pit Crew

I agree with you Jack.  This self-driving dream has been around so long, it predates me.  This is a GM movie from 1956, predicting gas-turbine cars with self-driving by "19 and 76".  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rx6keHpeYak  Listen carefully for the comment by the hotelier about "pre-digested food" ?!  Yikes.  I'm glad this predicted future didn't come to pass...

 

Pit Crew

Jack, I think you are spot on.  Whenever I have talked to someone who knows much more about AI, and you get them to truly open up, they generally say that we are a long way from making this work in anything but a subset of the roads out there today.

Passenger

I'll take you up on that betting offer. I'm 22, so I'm confident that self-driving cars will be on the roads before I'm dead. I'm also confident that legislators and public safety officials are ignorant and careless enough to allow self-driving cars to cause absolute mayhem by driving alongside us. How much money are you willing to put down?

Passenger

Other than having the page crash and reload every time I hit the "show more" button, I really enjoyed this article. Great use of logic to point out the unlikelyhood of this ever happening anytime soon.

 

Without the elimination of human piloted vehicles.

 

Between the worshippers of huge government and the environmental extremists, I believe this exactly what the end objective is for many pushing this technology. Like slow boiling a frog, expect them to achieve this with ever increasing taxes, regulations and decreasing speed limits. Do a deep dive into the Vision Zero manifesto if you think I am off base.

New Driver

Spot on, but it's even deeper than a failure to have strong enough concepts of AI. Rationality is assumed, which means decisions are predicated on hard sensory data.  Problem is that increasingly neurocognitive science supports the idea that perceptions and even the sensory data perceived are actively modulated by high-level cortical processes in order to optimize adaptation to the external world.  In other words, humans know what the brain wants them to know.  We might be unique in that capacity, and it has been hypothesized that this is in fact the seat of "consciousness."  Has to do with a big change in survival priorities when hominins came out of the trees and onto the savannahs a hundred thousand years or so ago.  Developing an AI protocol dependent upon hard sensory data is bound to conflict with the human experience.  The only circumstance in which you might be wrong is if ATLA invests heavily in Level 4 autonomy's support politics, thereby ensuring a lucrative lifetime career for several generations of trial attorneys.  But I doubt the bankers will allow that kind of transfer of wealth and so it ain't gonna happen.  

Pit Crew

During the decades that I spent my career in computing and related high-tech fields, co-founding several tech-based firms, I watched computational power increase probably millionsfold from the gigantic transistor-based 2nd generation computers of the late 1950's that could only run one tiny 64Kb program at a time to the 100 times more powerful IBM 360s of the 1960s that would fill my current moderately large home and which I used as an information systems director to process all the business applications of a 15,000 employee organization. 

 

My Samsung smartphone I'm using for this comment is immeasurably more powerful than the supercomputers of just a few decades ago – it's got 32Gb of main memory and 32 Gb of supplemental storage – and it's old. I currently have 11 apps concurrently running plus another 54 Chrome browsing pages... and it could still function as well with triple that.

 

As a pragmatist, I'm interested in anything that can save our world from its inevitable vehicular gridlock. As a Classic Car Restorer and driver, I'm not interested in seeing highways closed to humans. 

 

While the tech side in me has repeatedly seen Einstein's recommendation about seeking the impossible to achieve the improbable come true in countless cases, intuitively I think the author is more or less correct in his comment that it won't happen in most of our lifetimes.

 

Given humanity's ability to create technologies in its own image, I suspect we will be able to continue  to create computational devices that more nearly resemble our finer abilities.

 

In a short story 'Montage,' by Isaac Asimov in the early 1950s, in which all life finally ended and all stars finally died in the far distant  future, a powerful computer – created in the image of humans – thought on for countless eons and finally said "Let there be light."

 

We seem to have boundless imagination coupled with near-boundless capabilities. 

 

However, the natural resistance to turning over something as so much a part of our identity as driving will prolong the process of any sort of driverless cars.

 

Just as we have little to no control over our own politicians – who are controlled far more by lobbyists than voters – we will also have little control over the total automation of the driving process. Rest assured that whatever happens will be based inevitably on where the money flows.

 

So, while I think it will eventually be possible to have driverless cars, I think it's well beyond most our own lifetimes before it will happen on a general scale.

Passenger

Just thought I'd point out that the author says "in any significant numbers".  That statement acknowledges it WILL happen.  Just not ever becoming the norm or majority.           Like me, most car guys get really worked up over this subject.  I personally like my cars to go where I point them.  But i'm always surprised by how many young folks who think its a great idea, and want autonomous cars to be available for them to use.

Pit Crew

Well Done good article.  I am in the it’s not going to happen for a long time camp.  Algorithms work well solving complicated problems.  Throw enough code at the problem to keep solving all the unintended consequences and it will work Engine control modules come to mind.  However autonomous cars are a complex problem which are much harder to solve. Current Computers do not work well enough to handle a complex and complicated problem (No complex and complicated are not synonymous.).  Will it happen? It’s possible.  It could happen.Go down a rabbit hole hard enough and fast enough and you will find the  bottom.    The question to me is it worth the cost.  Could we use the resources for better things. Like Cleaning up the pollutants in the Oceans. World hunger the senseless repeating cycle of poverty in this country etc.  just seems we could do better than autonomous cars.  Maybe we should revisit Alchemy LOL

New Driver

When the people at MIT started trying to create AI way back in the 60's or so, they realized that the first thing they needed to do was to define what "intelligence" is. They spent at least 20 years trying to create a definition, and were no closer at the end than the beginning. And that is the problem with Artificial Intelligence; we have no idea what intelligence really is, except that it's more than just problem solving. Another example: when computer programmers tried to create expert systems that would emulate the decision-making of an expert in some field they discovered that people don't really think about their decisions or how they arrive at them; we make decisions based on a complex subconcious system that we aren't even aware of.  The only way that autonomous cars will work is if they aren't autonomous, but controlled by a combination of human beings and computers from some central location. 

Detailer

Jack, excellent work; as usual. Here’s hoping those widow makers don’t proliferate. I keep wondering who will get me first (as a motorcyclist); a hammerhead on his phone or an “autonomous car”.  By the way; loved this line:

the implementation of laws that sound like they are keeping companies honest but in practice merely raise the barriers to entry for potential competitors all the way to the troposphere.”

 

So true!

Pit Crew

A great article!  Radar braking, lane detection etc. so annoying and it fails in the rain, fog or snow.  We can't even get our cell phones to work all the time, how do we expect something as complex as driving go automated?  The scary point is all the car manufacturers are spending billions trying to get it to work.  I guess selling uninspired overpriced vehicles has caught them from behind so they go to smoke and mirrors trying to be relevant.  We are living in the last days of passionate car ownership.

New Driver

I've worked with engineers in the auto industry for over 30 years, and I believe the primary reason all the industry is taking on autonomy is that engineers love a challenge, the more  insurmountable the better.  In the sixties, the elites wanted to kill the automobile, cities were supposed to be car-free, and our mobility was to be severely trimmed.  That's why the emissions laws and safety rules were set so high, no known technology could reach their lofty heights.  Well, the auto engineering community rolled up their sleeves and came up with catalytic converters, more and better fuel optimization techniques, crumple zones, ultra high strength steels and a whole panoply of technologies.  No wonder car companies feel they can cheat death again.

 

But the bureaucrats and social planners have not given up their dreams of a car-less society.  Autonomy is goals they are willing to live with.  Cars that are unable to speed.  Unable to change lanes.  Unable to take a curve at an entertaining pace.  Energy consumption will be optimized for our own good.  Supposedly we will have cars that will not crash, but every sci-fi movie has a "robot boneyard" of broken autonomous toys.  Perfection is not of this world, nor the future world.  But the budding plutocrats in our midst hope that Mr. Baruth is right, that autonomy is unattainable.  Just as vehicle emission levels, no matter how benign, have now gotten impossible to achieve, forcing emissions away from vehicles to power plants, autonomy will be mandated as well.  But if autonomy, really, can never happen, the desired end of any individual mobility will be finally achieved.

Pit Crew

Bravo, Jack. Autonomous driving is emblematic of the destruction of individual freedom, the quintessentially human drive of developing one's physical and sensory prowess, and of ceding control to gigantic, non-accountable entities like governments and utility companies.

Intermediate Driver

Honestly, these arguments have been heard since "forever" and of course history is littered with a lot more people who declare something would be impossible to see it happen than it is littered with people who died expecting something many people thought would happen soon.  Or, there are both types to be sure, but a lot more of the former.

 

So how do I take your money with a bet?   Of course, I will win the bet easily because people plan to "cheat" because that's what you do to make a commercial service.  We have your robots that will go to the restaurant and get your order and bring them to you.  We do many thousands of deliveries for paying customers in several towns every day.   No, we don't take your spoken order, because that's stupid, you order online like any 21st century human would.   I don't think Burger King is a partner but they could be.  This is not something from the future.  It's been running for over a year.   So I guess that would not be a very fair bet, would it?

 

But happy to take other bets.    Arguments about how long things took to develop are nice as analogies but don't actually inform.  Real developers pay no attention to the "levels" like "level 4" but they do indeed have no intention of operating outside a constrained zone because they don't need to to be useful.   They certainly don't need it to be always connected for any safety function -- they are not crazy.

 

How much of your money can I have?

Passenger

Full on automotive automation only works one of two ways:

 

1) An integrated network where cars, roads, traffic control, and anything else that touches a roadway all communicates with each other.  It needs to be implemented overnight, because a mix of communicating and non-communicating entities will be a disaster (we're already getting a taste with Tesla Auto Pilot and similar systems).  This solution is simpler to implement than...

 

2) Automotive appliances that are so intelligent they can deal with any situation.  Not only does the AI need to be incredibly good, but the vehicle must be studded with numerous sensors that can withstand rain, snow, sleet, hail, dust, grime, etc. and continue to function perfectly.

 

Contemplate the cost, commitment, and cooperation required to achieve either goal and the odds don't look good.

 

P.S. - Jack: How does your son feel about you betting his inheritance, and what do you think a played out spec Miata will be worth in 40 years?

Intermediate Driver

I don't want or need an autonomous car. I wouldn't buy one if they made one. I like driving, which is one reason I like cars. Now, where is my flying car?

Pit Crew

I tend to agree to the claim within your parameters.  As a retired Sr System Analyst working in the IT field from the 1970's, Computers are really dumb....just blinding fast. Now many advancements have been made since I left the IT biz and as it was a JOB and not my life I have not kept up to current events. But I do agree that 100% pure autonomous driving is WAY off......after I am gone and then some.  No unmanned BK trips any time soon. 

Pit Crew

The author may not have heard of Hyperloop. A small version will autonomously get him his Burger King order in seconds, and a larger version will autonomously get him from L.A. to New York in minutes. If there are multiple tubes, and vertical tubes, there will be a network of ways to go up and down skyscrapers and mountains at speeds faster than a 6.5 Creedmoor bullet. Since magnetism is used to accelerate, slow down and levitate the transportation capsules, there is no friction. Because there is no air resistance in motion, travel speeds will be like nothing we are currently used to. I will place that bet with the author under one condition. There can be no bipartisanship in government that slow funding for the infrastructure needed to create such a life changing transportation system.

Passenger

Good luck with all the  backward 'thinking'.  The bar is not perfection.  As soon as self driving cars are safer than the average driver, the roads will be safer.   The average human driver today is not that good. 

Pit Crew

Brilliant and insightful, well executed article written by Mr. Baruth. Thank you sir for pointing out the hideous way the charlatans of science find a way to screw up everything in life that is good and honest. Autonomous vehicles are just about the dumbest thing to ever come down the pike. They were science fiction years ago, and they will still be science fiction (in my book) years from now. I must confess, the creators of these vehicles are still watch "The Jetsons" cartoons.  Even so, George would occasionally take hold of the joke stick in his flying car and drive it himself.  

Pit Crew

While bureaucracy, litigation and good old human stubbornness will likely conspire to prevent autonomous cars from succeeding on a large scale, do not dismiss technology's potential. Countless achievements we couldn't've imagined in our own youth we take for granted today. Our own technology is now assisting in the advancement of itself. Stephen Hawking predicted AI will be the cause of our demise. His reasoning: it's evolving faster and more efficiently than we can.

Intermediate Driver

I was distracted by that magazine cover. I'd pay real money for a magazine that reviewed UFOs and cameras and told me how to make a gun cabinet all in the same issue. The New Yorker has nothing like those Renaissance men. 

New Driver
Intermediate Driver

A favorite road tune comes to mind - "My uncle has a country place that no one knows about, he says it used to be a farm before the 'Motor Law'..." (RUSH - Red Barchetta). 

 

I suppose I'll be considered an outlaw IF "they" manage to somehow impose 'Autonomous Only' on the roadways in my lifetime...

Pit Crew

Jack, I thought it was really cool when you gave your son gage blocks.  Now I am really impressed!  I would never have imagined seeing anything about a “Fast Fourier transform,” in an article about cars.  Although, as with a lot of what you write, it really isn't just about the cars.    

Passenger

Yeah, closed-loop systems are perfectly viable... where there is no weather variation, etc. and if you keep all the stray people out.

 

Ford could easily, today, set up a network of private roads through Detroit (let's say as there are still lots of needing-reborn areas there) that only their self-driving cars go on. No pedestrian traffic, the cars only take you from A to B and then go back to Ford garage where Ford technicians do all the mundane stuff (i.e., clean off all sensors) to make sure this no-driver car can function for another hour. Has to be a big player that owns a fleet of cars/pods though. Detroit gets weather though...

 

But maybe this (large company runs what is basically a taxi fleet in a given city) could actually be profitable in some places where weather helps the cause.

 

It's probably also possible/viable to steal a lane from chunks of the interstate system and do driverless trucking from hub points. Self driving transport through industrial parks or to construction sites I don't see working out too well.

Detailer

Excellent points. I’ve been saying for years that I’ll believe self-driving cars won’t be happen until we first have self-filling gasoline stations. It’s not too complicated for a person to open a gas flap, spin a cap off, pay, pick up the pump, turn the pump on, place the nozzle in the opening, and then the reverse. Trust a robot to do all of this - with different vehicles that operate differently, at least in specifics? I don’t think so.

Passenger