Who Goes There?


We generally keep away from Autonomous Vehicle problems, but this scenario set me thinking.

The scene:

A car in the righthand northern lane of a major highway has stopped. It has overshot a turnoff by 50 metres, and the driver intends to back into the lefthand lane, reverse the car and drive back to the turnoff. Several cars are stopped behind him in the righthand lane. I turn up in the lefthand lane and stop. The driver reverses into my lane, then drives down a narrow shoulder back to the turnoff. It would be far too dangerous to do so with vehicles whizzing past at 110 km/h, so the stopped vehicles would have to wait until the car reached the turnoff.

This is a stupid and dangerous manoeuvre – there are 34-wheel trucks in the traffic flow, although none was among the vehicles involved.

The question – what would an autonomous vehicle have done. The stopped vehicles on a main highway were in jeopardy.

It isn’t a fair question – the event is so stupid that the autonomous vehicle could not have been trained for it, and it lacks the spatial awareness to “understand” what was happening.  Most likely, it would have tooted at the possibility of its lane being blocked, and proceeded apace.

The most likely scenario for a major accident is that the human drivers react rationally to an unusual event, and the autonomous vehicle does not, leading to chaos. In this case, a human driver set up the situation for a major accident.

At what point will it be found that attempting to program an ANN (Artificial Neural Network) that knows nothing about time, about making simple calculations, about building a quick model of an unfolding event, about eyeballing a situation, about responding to simple commands and signs (see LaneFollowing), is a fool’s errand. Its only hope of working is by strictly controlling the environment – no narrow roads, must-have lane markings, no fog or heavy rain. The world is not so convenient.

For seventy years, we keep hoping for a shortcut – there isn’t one. Outline the problem – solve that, not some gross simplification of it.

Orion Design Note


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