Autonomous vehicles continue to capture the world’s attention, yet it appears most people are not aware of where this can truly lead. Back in March 2015, in an (awkward) discussion with Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang, Tesla’s Elon Musk proclaimed that self-driving cars are “a solved problem”. But is it really so cut-and-dried?
Look ma, no hands!
Let’s look at the six levels of an autonomous vehicle, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE):
Much of the talk about self-driving cars today revolve around Level 3 and 4 autonomy. As per the chart above, Level 3 systems such as Tesla’s Autopilot requires a human driver, who paradoxically need not monitor the environment, but must be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time when notified by the driverless system. Problems like dozing off are an issue, as Waymo found out in October, leading them to essentially abandon Level 3 approaches.
Level 4 autonomy will probably be the mainstay for the next 5 to 10 years ie. the class of driverless cars on-the-road in major cities around the world. While the driver can take manual control, the car is intended to perform all driving conditions by itself, albeit under controlled conditions such as within map and GPS coverage, no off-road detours, relinquishing control in extreme weather, etc.
Anything you can do, I can do better
But wait, there’s more. BMW now claims that Level-5 self-driving cars will arrive by 2021. And Level 5 is where things get crazy, illustrated with beautiful terror in these two videos:
Level 5 Autonomy (or how I learnt to stop worrying and love my self-aware car)
Dr. Lance Eliot, “Executive Director of the Cybernetic Self-Driving Car Institute” writes prodigiously on AITrends and highlights little-known implications of Level 5 autonomy. If you think this Knight Rider stuff sounds far-fetched, remember that Level 3 and 4 autonomy was nowhere in the public’s mind (or on the street) just a decade or so ago. Here’s some brazen paraphrasing and commentary by myself (in italics), check out his writings for the real deal.
- Pills Self-aware AI will make moral decisions such as the Trolley Problem – hit and kill a child on the road, or ram into a tree and kill the adult human passengers ? I haven’t seen this properly addressed in any Level 3, 4 or 5 discussions including the colossal ethical and legal ramifications.
- Strategic AI will have an “overarching mission” and will see why and how to complete said mission. It may simply be going to work on time. Or, perhaps routing yourself against your will to a police station in the event of suspected or actual crimes/ terrorist attacks?
- Self-aware AI will “watch over itself” to evaluate its own performance ie. a meta-AI on top of the driving AI. Insert Xzibit joke here. On a more serious note, like most “smart” devices, the AI will probably be watching passengers too.
- Curiosity as a “core cognitive capability”. This one’s interesting – Dr. Eliot suggests that Level 5 self-driving cars could take little detours here and there to explore back lanes, quicker routes, etc. The mind boggles.
- Self-driving cars can learn from other self-driving cars and also form extended connected networks [in realtime]. From what I know, consider AI approaches where two AI agents learn to play tennis better by playing against each other. Now imagine thousands or millions of AI cars interacting with each other across the world. The movie “Her” comes to mind.
- Sleep can be used as an AI mechanism for self-driving cars, replicating the beneficial processes of sorting, processing and dreaming occurring during human sleep. “I’m sorry sir, I was late because my car overslept”.
- “Brainjacking” can be used whereby a human mind can be tapped by the AI in realtime to pilot the vehicle eg. a mountain road. “Don’t just drive a Lamborghini. BE the Lamborghini”. Also, this (SFW but read at your own peril).
- Self-aware AI should respond to being pulled over by police. “Driving While Robot”.
So there you have it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that “driverless cars” are a “solved problem”. Would you prefer a Level 3, 4 or 5 vehicle? Is a Level 5 vehicle a sci-fi fantasy or a real possibility? Sound off in the comments below.
By the way, the featured image of this article is of “The Mill Blackbird” used in the creation of the Chevy Camaro ad. While the Blackbird is not self-driving (yet?), it’s worth checking out.