Science fact or fiction?
Post started 2016. Last updated 2020.
A 2016 newspaper report said that Volvo would test its driverless cars in the UK in 2018 using real families in fully ‘autonomous’ cars on public roads.
The report said that the UK government hadn’t signed the international convention requiring a driver to be in the front seat of a car, but was working on its own regulation.
Perhaps the government should have considered the serious problems to be solved before such cars can safely run on public roads.
Volvo’s beguiling PR phrase, ‘autonomous driving’ tells us ‘don’t think “driverless” – think “independent”‘. But clever PR can’t solve the problem of how a computer can ‘read’ the ‘map’ – the live, continuous, 360-degree, 3D digital model, overlaid on a previously-scanned model of the road and it’s surroundings. The models are made by interpreting information from an array of cameras and sensors.
But the cleverly-produced model is no use without the ability to meaningfully – and accurately – understand it.
Can the computer distinguish between, say, a child standing still at the side of the road and something else about the same size that wasn’t there during the pre-scanning, when travelling at 30 mph in poor visibility – like a driver could?
Such an ability would need a level of artificial intelligence – or rather artificial consciousness – found only in science fiction.
This is yet another fine example of the media swallowing PR guff about driverless cars.
Postscript 1: The UK government has now promised to introduce legislation to enable driverless cars to be insured under ordinary policies. The transport minister said: ‘Driverless cars … might seem like something science fiction [sic] but the economic potential of the new technology is huge, and I am determined the UK gets maximum benefit.’ (Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has already been wasted in pursuit of this illusory pot of gold.)
Postscript 2: I put this to some driverless car experts and computer vision academics. The only one kind enough to reply so far (a driverless car expert) thinks there’s no problem with image recognition.
Postscript 3: In a TED talk, Google’s head of self-driving cars said that the cars’ computer vision is ‘really just … numbers at the end of the day … how hard can it really be? … It’s really a geometric understanding of the world’. Really?
Postscript 4: Wikipedia’s authoritative article on computer vision (under the heading Applications) says, ‘Several car manufacturers have demonstrated [vision] systems for autonomous driving of cars, but this technology has still not reached a level where it can be put on the market.’ Quite. But the marketeers – and their useful idiots in media and government – can’t wait.
Postcript 5, March 2020: Unsurprisingly,
there’ve been no live tests in the UK.
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