Progress of Autonomous Vehicles Over Time

Opinion: Self driving cars are less scary than a human behind the wheel.

No comments

Humans are really bad drivers.

To get a driver’s license, you’re given a 25 question multiple choice test at the DMV and then get behind the wheel. Driving might be the most dangerous endeavor that humans do on a daily basis.

Humans don’t work towards being excellent drivers the way they train for a marathon, study for medical school, or practice an instrument.

We’re such bad drivers that about 40,000 people die in cars each year. Our poor driving is amplified by our distracted lives. Most of us can hardly pick up our phone to make an important phone call without getting distracted and checking our notifications, texts, social feed, etc. Should we expect people to be able to drive without taking their eyes off the road?

Autonomous vehicles could save tens of thousands of human lives per year.

We share insights on the Future of Technology by email each month. Sign up below.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The image below shows a graph of the advancement and sophistication of autonomous vehicles as time and technology moves forward.

Apologies for the low-quality image. Until I figure out proper graphic design, hand drawn squiggles will do the job. 🙂

Progress of AV’s hits an inflection point where quick progress displays itself as a steep learning curve, slowly approaching an asymptotic limit of perfect, flawless autonomous driving. As advancement of AV’s approaches this limit, the system will never be theoretically perfect, but it will surely become good enough that the chances of a collision by an autonomous vehicle with another object is extremely negligible – practically zero. This point is highlighted as the green line.

Before we reach a point where it is statistically unlikely that a collision will ever occur on a road, an autonomous system will need to reach a point where the risk of fatality is practically zero. This may be mitigated by incorporating risk avoidance technologies such as slowing down in high-traffic areas, or even designing fleets of cars that are able to communicate from one to the other.

Although autonomy progress has been drawn as a sigmoidal curve above, there may be an argument that the actual progress would look more like a logarithmic curve, if there were no time of slow progress before the inflection point.

In either case, self driving cars continue get better. Some companies have already built autonomous vehicles that feel safer than human driven cars. But these systems are still not entirely ready for the roads.

Humans do not accept AVs unless they are 100% safe, even if they are safer than human drivers. It’s not that humans feel nonchalantly towards the 40,000 people that dies in car crashes each year, it more that humans have extremely high expectations of technology.

Despite the fact that our cell phones send information through the air, we get frustrated when internet speeds are slow and it takes us a few seconds longer to get an answer from Google. A lack of complacency isn’t exactly a negative thing, it promotes technological advancement.

Any non-zero number of self driving car crash fatalities is absolutely unacceptable. The infamous av-Uber crash in Phoenix, Arizona was a tragic nightmare. Ultimately, autonomous vehicle technology must be perfect before humans will accept it.

Does this highlight some principle that is distinct to human mentality? Here are two examples:

Example 1: Humans have irrational fears

I have a few close friends who choose not to surf or go in the ocean because they are afraid of sharks. This is socially acceptable. But I have never met a single person that avoids riding in an automobile out of fear.

To be fair, transportation is pretty much mandatory for a lot of things in life, whereas going swimming in the ocean is trivial and not a requirement.

Why does a fear of sharks continue to be so disproportionally high among humans, compared to driving, which is orders of magnitude more dangerous?

Example #2: Humans are borderline incompetent at most things…

And our only hope is to create tools to help us accomplish the things we need to do. Expecting a human to drive a car is like expecting someone to prepare and serve a full course dinner without any of the tools that exist in a kitchen. While it is surely possible that someone might be able to build a fire without matches and maintain a consistent temperature with which to cook their food, it is extremely likely that they burn the food and making an awful tasting meal. Without tools that help us cook, we’re incompetent. With tools like utensils and appliances, most people still have a hard time successfully preparing a meal. Even with the most advanced stovetop and cookware, cooking is difficult and takes just the right amount of time and patience to get right.

Transportation is no different. Humans were incompetent at all forms of transportation before railroads and the combustion engine. With engines and automobiles, we’re still awful drivers.

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - GP of Spain 2019
source: Eurosport

A car is just a tool. It is a solution to the slow transportation problem.

Some people drive cars for fun. Most people drive cars because they have the human centric need to move around from one place to another at their free will. Autonomous vehicles will make transportation more safe and effective.

We share insights on the Future of Technology by email each month. Sign up below.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Source:

  1. According to the National Safety Council, over 40,000 people were killed in vehicle-related incidents in 2018. During the previous 3 years, there were more than 120,000 total fatalities.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s