COTD: What If Autonomous Drivers Terrorize Autonomous Vehicles?

Illustration for article titled COTD: What If Autonomous Drivers Terrorize Autonomous Vehicles?

There is little doubt that we are standing at the edge of momentous change. None of us can see what, exactly that change will be or where it will lead us, but everything we know will be a lot different than it has been for the past century.

As Jason Torchinsky pointed out in his post about autonomous cars, we haven't seen a change like this since mankind ditched horses in favor of internal combustion engines. When we switch to a mode of transport that does a lot of our thinking for us, what will the transition be like?


Ostensibly, there will be a period when both autonomous cars and cars that people drive will be on the road together. As ImRightYoureNot observes, that epoch in automotive development leaves autonomous cars open to harassment from those either smart or devious enough to find the weaknesses in their programming.

One thing I wonder about is what the transition time will be like, when both autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles will be on the roads at the same time. Unless we build AV-specific roads, which is completely impractical and very unlikely, there may soon be a time when AV and non-AV cars will be on the road at the same time. By their very nature, AVs follow a set group of rules regarding proximity to other cars and will have to be extremely adaptive in order to deal with the bevvy of different drivers on the roads, from the aggressive to the oblivious. Since they will have to cope with being cut off, tailgated, etc. they will have special rules for these special situations. Does this mean that if one figures out these rules and knows which cars are autonomous, one can terrorize those drivers, knowing that they will always yield when cut off?

In all likelihood, the white labcoat set developing autonomous car technology will test the cars on real roads before they enter mass production and put people at risk for this type of thing. But it's a question worth asking, particularly when you might drive through an area where people drive very aggressively, or worse, want to take something from the autonomous car's occupants. Their belongings, their lives, or worse, their dignity.

My morning commute takes me along some very unfriendly roads on the Jersey side of the New York metro area. I couldn't imagine being in that horribly aggressive traffic in a computer-controlled vehicle with meat-head controlled vehicles all around me, what with their proclivities for slamming their cars in front of you and braking to their hearts' content; tailgating relentlessly; or just being so oblivious that they change lanes into you while you're literally beside them. While I would love to get some shut-eye during my morning commute, I am having difficulty seeing how it could work practically unless it is all or nothing.


Looking at it from this perspective, you have to wonder if — for a while anyway — there would be some sort of dedicated lane for autonomous cars. Something along the lines of those buses that operate in their own lane and function something like trains until it's time to break away from the trunk roads.

Then again, it depends upon whether the future we end up with is one of those bright, optimistic 1960s ones, or a dark, dystopian 1980s one. Either way, we can hope for an override switch for those times when your machine doesn't know how to deal with asshats.


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