As the rugged and precarious ascent to the shimmering technocratic summit of sparking virtual reality lurks and lingers as a plausible destination for humanity in a nightmarish future, the present day hardcore reality of artificial intelligence testing is a warning sign to the ultimate dangers of replacing human operators with automated sentient systems. Who wants a mobile living room that takes the “c” out of commute, or how about a 30-minute nap on the expressway to take the edge off a weekday hangover?
This notion is never more apparent than in the high-risk high-reward stakes of developing the self-driving automobile marketplace, as over the last month, driver error combined with technological glitches are responsible for two separate fatal incidents on public roadways. Frighteningly, in both instances, there is evidence that the human behind the wheel was distracted by the wonders of a smart phone, rather than the importance of the road. And just where is the accountability from the corporations, who are deliberately and recklessly conducting live testing on actual streets and highways, and not on the traditional and safe closed course automobile proving grounds?
In response to the latest “accident” on March 23 in California, which resulted in the epic and tragic collision of a Tesla Model X SUV, as the vehicle hurled into a concrete barrier at freeway speeds mortally wounding driver Walter Huang in a fiery inferno, Tesla official are blaming the incident on driver error. Huang later succumbed to severe burns at a local hospital. According to MSN.com, the company released a statement which concluded that Huang ignored several warnings to make a course correction in the seconds before the crash. Huang’s family is allegedly exploring legal options to possibly combat the position of Elon Musk and cronies. The Tesla crash came just five days after an experimental self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian in the Phoenix area. See a pattern here? The companies suspended testing operations in the wake of the tragedies.
In both cases, the corporate entities claim that the drivers were “distracted” in the immediate moments before impact, and that proper protocol was not being followed as to the hands being in constant contact with the steering wheel. (“Distracted” is techlish for playing Candy Crush Saga on a device.) In the controversy surrounding the freeway crash, Tesla, in an attempt to protect itself, gave this laundry list of eye opening emergency redundancies. Wired.com shares the following list of back-up systems which the company officials claim, go into effect to keep the attention of the driver on the road (where it should be at all times!).
“Take your hands off the wheel for too long, and you get a visual warning, on the dashboard. Ignore that, and the system will get your attention with a beep. If you’re stubborn or incapacitated, the car will turn on its flashers and slow to a stop. Based on data pulled from the wrecked car, Tesla says Huang should have had about five seconds, and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete barrier, before the crash. Huang’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the impact. Earlier in the drive, he had been given multiple visual warnings and one audible warning to put his hands back on the wheel.”
Clearly, Huang was so engrossed in the interaction with a smartphone or worse, that he could not execute a simple course correction given an ample amount of time in the moments leading up to the fatal impact. The idea that the “fail safe” system in the vehicle gave off multiple indications and warnings to grab the steering wheel, is both chillingly disconcerting and telling, as to why this technology should not and will never replace the old-fashioned and tested art of driving. It is a matter of trust, and the younger generations obviously cannot handle the simple task of driving, when given the option of “hands free” operation mode.
The Uber self-driving accident in Arizona is layered with a bit more nuance, but still provides a stern and fair warning as to humans yielding complete faith within a technology. Again, the driver was oblivious as to the multiple factors on the roadway at the time of the collision, and unfortunately the pedestrian was jaywalking, leading to the ultimate consequence. The complex sensor system in the vehicle failed to process the sudden appearance of the victim, and the debate looms that in the dark conditions, could an alert driver of a traditional vehicle avoided the catastrophe? In the aftermath of the crash, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey publicly shared blame for the incident, as his office originally encouraged Uber to commence street testing in the state as part of a lucrative deal. All self-driving vehicle trials in Arizona are now thankfully suspended until further notice.
With the colossal failures in guaranteeing a reasonable policy of public safety standards at the forefront of the self-driving vehicle debate, what is being overlooked, is the vast oversight and the audacity of the tech companies to place residents in possible risk of bodily harm or worse of a developing technology, which faces a rugged roadway to commercial viability. The risky gamble taken by both Tesla and Uber to live street product trials, represents a corporate emphasis on engineering, rather than the concern for the well being of the public, a nasty precedent that F&%&book is contributing to forge, as the tech industry lacks zero accountability, due to the existence of billions of dollars available in solving legal matters. The mentality of “a few casualties here and there and life is good”, is unacceptable. Almost immediately after the pedestrian was struck in Phoenix, Uber settled with the victim’s family for an undisclosed amount. No criminal investigation. No jail time. No problem.
Just what suitable protections can the average person expect over the next two decades from becoming collateral damage to the experiments forwarding the vast transition to the digital realm, as tech companies heedlessly strive to dominate the evolving marketplace with a risky video game/virtual reality approach to development? Drones, self-driving cars, and vast storage servers of personal data- the future is here, whether we like it or not. Cash me out when airplane pilots and surgeons become obsolete.
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