Les­son from com­puter er­ror sig­nal ma­noeu­vre

Harefield Gazette - - OPINION -

IWAS sorry to hear of the first ca­su­alty in a driver­less car, but I can’t say I was sur­prised. Were you? Joshua Brown was killed in Florida af­ter his ve­hi­cle’s com­puter ap­par­ently failed to dis­tin­guish a truck’s white side from the bright sky. His car’s brakes weren’t ac­ti­vated and he ploughed into the lorry.

Mr Brown had been hap­pily driv­ing along (well not driv­ing, ac­tu­ally), obliv­i­ous to the haz­ards out­side, while – wait for it – watch­ing a Harry Pot­ter film.

How­ever hard I try, I re­ally can­not get my head around the no­tion of a driver­less car. Why would any­one trust a com­puter sys­tem when ne­go­ti­at­ing heavy traf­fic?

It’s as daft as turn­ing to JK Rowl­ing’s magic tricks to get your­self out of a cor­ner. Per­haps we should think se­ri­ously about chang­ing to broom­sticks for our travel. If that sounds ridicu­lous, think again about driver­less cars.

Com­put­ers crash reg­u­larly, don’t they? How many times have you been in the mid­dle of order­ing some­thing on a web­site when all your in­for­ma­tion dis­ap­pears and you have to start again?

My com­puter is def­i­nitely lack­ing in em­pa­thy or com­mon sense. It clearly doesn’t know when I’m des­per­ate to email some­thing on dead­line but tells me that, ha ha, I’m mys­te­ri­ously ‘no longer on a net­work’ and crashes at will. So why should a car com­puter know that, be­cause I’ve de­cided to let it take over while I put on my make-up, read a book or eat a three-course meal in the ‘driver’s seat’, ex­tra vig­i­lance is needed?

It re­minded me of the 2015 TV drama Hu­mans, in which ‘Synths’ – ro­botic ser­vants that were so sim­i­lar to real hu­mans they were be­com­ing must-have gad­gets for child care and do­mes­tic tasks. That also ended in tears…

The Depart­ment for Trans­port says that driver­less cars should not be used to ferry chil­dren around with­out an adult behind the wheel, nor should own­ers use them to get home from the pub drunk. Well, that’s en­cour­ag­ing.

There is the chance that there may be a plus side on this strange invention though. If we con­tinue with the no­tion that non-gen­der­spe­cific ro­bots make the best driv­ers, it may even­tu­ally de­flect from the daft prej­u­dice against women driv­ers over many years.

I won’t hold my breath though. It seems the rogue car which brought about the 40-year-old’s early demise, was nick­named Tessy!

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