Given my tenuous start with driving, I have a cautious fascination with self driving technology. The ability to get from point A to point B without getting behind the wheel or paying a random stranger to get me there is appealing.
Perhaps I just dream of getting work done on my commute to work so I can watch cat videos at the office.
If you were driving down the highway at 60 miles an hour, you’d have to intervene every single minute. No one would get any work done with that kind of interruptions, especially the kind that can kill you.
What’s worse, the future of self driving technology has been called into question as companies like Uber have either scaled back or completely canceled their autonomous research projects.
So, is this concept dead?
The Limitations of Self Driving Cars Today
The biggest problem with self driving technology is simple: there’s no human. I know that might seem contrary to the idea of “self driving,” but it’s actually an important point.
Your brain, once it has learned how to operate a car and deal with all the confusing things it’ll encounter on the road, is equipped to handle all the information thrown at it – assuming it’s not distracted by a cell phone. The average person drives 19,000 miles a year and gets into an accident once every 18 years. That’s one accident every 342,000 miles.
342,000 miles is a lot bigger than 1 mile.
More importantly, your brain does this automatically. It knows how to learn and adapt to new situations over time.
Computers suck at this. Right now, we are still trying to teach them how to learn for themselves. This means we’re spoon feeding them.
Programmers and scientists have to teach these cars how to use the radar, video cameras, and other devices that provide a view of the world outside.
When you’re driving, you might be presented with certain situations that have no obvious or logical solution. If, for example, you had to choose between running over a mother and her baby or a group of 15 nuns, how would you decide?
If you struggle with a choice like that, that’s good. It shows that you’re human.
Right now, computers lack the ability even to begin to process a decision like that. Sure, you could program it to always prefer mothers/children or nuns, but that would limit its ability to actually make important decisions.
These cars need the ability to think and learn in the same way that we do. They need to become self-sufficient with the mental processing involved with driving.
The Future of Self Driving Cars
Many companies are beginning to understand this necessity.
They want to create something that can recognize potential driving hazards and determine for itself what to do. It’s the same thing humans do, but potentially much, much faster, and therefore, safer.
Looking Towards the Future
Maybe one day I can look forward to a time where I can get all my work done in the car without fearing for my life. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to make do with my friendly neighborhood Uber driver.