ARCHIVE - NOVEMBER 2017
Issues, News & Views
RANDOM THOUGHTS ABOUT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND AUTONOMOUS DRIVING
2017/11/27 - Back in March I went down to South Florida to do some cycling. I bought my plane ticket to Miami on my American Airlines credit card, as I did with my car rental, hotels, meals and gas. When I stopped for my final fill-up before returning the car, my card was declined for "suspicious activity".
Suspicious? A New Yorker flying to Miami in March? Renting a car? Staying at a hotel? Going to a restaurant? Buying gas? Indeed, buying gas near MIA after checking out of a hotel, but before returning a rental car? Really? Indeed, NOT buying gas would have been suspicious.
That got me thinking about data mining and AI. How did the Citibank/MasterCard algorithm dredge up my purchase as suspicious? Shouldn't it have worked the other way? Shouldn't their AI and data miners have predicted that I might soon be purchasing fuel near MIA? If I had been MIA, that would have been suspicious - send out an S&R!
There's a lot of cutting-edge research out there, and you routinely read about break-through technologies coming out of best-of-the-best labs in Silicon Valley. But what about the garden-variety folks pressing the AI buttons and pulling the AI levers across America as part of their work-a-day world? Like the Homer Simpsons running nuclear power plants?
What if the mid-tier developers and their mediocre managers across corporate America (and around the world) just aren't up to the task?
It's safe to assume the best of the best are doing research at some prestigious institution. So who's programming the credit card AI algorithm at Citibank? One would have to presume that Citi chooses from among not the-best of the best - they're at Stanford, remember - and anecdotally that would seem to be the case.
As the usage of AI grows can we expect more and more misadventures caused by poorly programmed algorithms?
Autonomous driving seems to be one of the major applications for AI. A lot of talk about self-driving cars. But will it work?
Imagine driving down the highway and the wind blows a shopping bag or piece of newsprint across our path. We drive on without a second thought, but the AI sees only a large opaque object and slams on the brakes.
Or driving down a suburban street, where the autonomous driving system cannot distinguish between a pile of leaves and a skid of bricks. Never having jumped into a pile of leaves as a kid, your AI has no way to learn sensually, experientially, what it is, and is not, in for.
Think about this: The number of cars that a lane of highway can expedite is a function of the speed of the cars, and the distance between the cars.
But here's where it gets interesting. The Swiss physicist Bernoulli in 1738 showed that as the velocity of a fluid is increased, the pressure decreases. Similarly, as cars move faster, the space between them increases, and you can put more cars on the highway.
The ramifications of this principle of physics is important. When drivers travel faster than the posted speed, it resists congestion (pressure) and perpetuates a virtuous cycle of continued free-flowing traffic. When slower traffic enter the highway, it creates congestion and a vicious cycle where congestion self-creates even more congestion.
The fact is that in most urban centers the posted speed is far too slow to sustain a virtuous cycle of traffic flow. Everyone drives 75+ miles per hour in a 55mph zone, and no one gets a ticket. Anyone attempting to do 55mph - and some disrespectful, law-abiding people do - bring traffic to a grinding screeching halt. Ever wonder where traffic jams come from?
What would happen if everyone drove the posted speed one morning, say 55mph? And maintained the recommended distance between vehicles of 5.5 car lengths (l length / 10mph).
See the chart below. Using a 2017 Ford Fusion as our standard vehicle, and observed speed and spacing of 75 mph and 3 car lengths of separation, a lane of highway has a maximum theoretical capacity of 6,194 vehicles. But at the standard speed limit of 55 mph and standard spacing of one car length per 10 mph, that lane's capacity falls by more than half, to only 2,795 vehicles.
Here's what would happen: there would not be sufficient capacity to move the required number of cars. Long before the height of rush hour that highway would be at full capacity perhaps sixty miles out from the city center until perhaps mid-morning. Anyone attempting to get on the highway, say, forty miles from the city center, might get their first chance around noon; and anyone, say, twenty miles out? No chance. That entire town would be a parking lot all day, of log jam of vehicles - occupied by people - lined up waiting for a slot that will never come up.
And so we cheat, and it works. We drive far faster than the posted speed, and we leave not even half the recommended distance between cars. Do we drive 55 @ 5.5 car lengths? Ha, try 75 at 3 car lengths! That's how we cram the necessary number of vehicles through the system.
It doesn't help when drivers coast and cruise in the passing lane. You've seen the signs: "Slower Traffic Keep Right" and "Keep Right Except to Pass". And yet there are those selfish buffoons who have no idea what's going on around them, or know but don't care. Georgia passed a law back in 2014 requiring slow drivers to keep right or face severe penalties - good on 'em! Hopefully the autonomous driving programmer programs the car to keep right!
But this raises an interesting question - what does a programmer of AI/autonomous program a car to do? Does she program the car to break the law, since we all know we all break the law anyhow? And what about following to close? What kind of civil and criminal liability might be embedded in that programmer's code?
If you are regularly driving on highways where the ambient is speed is 20mph above the posted speed, will you be happy about your trip times increasing by 50% when autonomous vehicles pull the average speed down? Will you still be able to coach baseball? Will you need to get up an hour earlier - and go to bed an hour earlier the night before - to beat the doddling and dithering? Will your 2-hour drive to your weekend cabin turn into 3-hours of dreary drudgery?
Will commuters move to city centers? Or will large corporate employers be forced to move back the 'burbs, a repeat of the '50's and '60's? Or will more highways be constructed? Or will the greenies get their way and give up on individual transportation entirely, and replace highways with railways and force us all to take the train everywhere, even to places where trains don't go?
Or will AI/AD enable policy makers to increase speed limits? Perhaps autonomous vehicles will communicate and coordinate so well with each other that safety will be greatly enhanced, while simultaneously allowing for both increased speeds and reduced spacing, thus greatly expanding capacity?
Will autonomous driving attain true autonomy? Can AI/AD eliminate DUI's - will it have a "party mode"? Could your autonomous vehicle have an onboard breathalyzer, and if the driver blows over .08%, block all driver input and take the occupants directly to a pre-set location, probably the owner's residence?
Will you even own a car in the future? Or will you just purchase rides? Will the car dealer (and hopefully those obnoxious commercials) go the way of the buggy whip, if people just order rides from car fleets sitting in garages?
Most cars on the highway have one occupant, the driver. If that one occupant is no longer a driver, one presumes that the geometry and architecture of an automobile will completely change. Perhaps club seating with two rows, each of two or three seats, facing each other rather than facing the same direction? Or perhaps four seat/desk compartments facing outward from the center in an "x" or "+" configuration, so each occupant can in privacy bury themselves in their devices?
We are at just the beginning of a major transformation of our society, perhaps the greatest transformation ever. AI may be a bigger advance than the wheel, harnessing fire, metal tools, the industrial revolution... and perhaps even better than sliced bread. Or maybe a disaster worse than 20th Century tyrants.
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