Self-Driving Cars and the Drivers of Cars

by Bob Hughes on September 3, 2015

Bob Hughes · Authenticity Technology · September 03, 2015

safer automobile transportationGoogle has been testing its self-driving cars, and apparently they’ve been pretty successful at getting around without incident. The problem is – the problem always is – humans.

The Google self-driving cars are programmed to be 100% respectful of the rules of the road. But people drive differently than that. Even good drivers. There’s a give-and-take in driving that eludes these smart vehicles. Driving is a kind of engagement with other people – even as many drivers like the independence of being behind the wheel themselves, they still need to be aware of other drivers who might not be good drivers or who might make bad decisions, or who might be texting or chatting rather than paying attention to the road.

Google cars haven’t yet figured out how to deal with that kind of driver: the real one, according to an article in the New York Times. The writers, Matt Richtel and Conor Dougherty quote Dmitri Dolgov, head of software for Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, who says that human drivers need to be “less idiotic.”

But drivers aren’t going to be less idiotic. That’s what the self-driving cars need to anticipate: faulty people behind the wheel. Yes, self-driving cars will be able to reduce overall traffic accidents, and allow a smoother flow of traffic (if every vehicle behaves according to the law, then all should run without incident, right?). But they still need to factor in that the other driver may still be doing something correctly if not exactly “correctly” according to the strict letter of the law.

Take a look at this Google video to see what’s going on with the new cars.

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Google might find a way to anticipate this – just as little by little its Google Translate has become less clumsy, even if it’s still sometimes remarkably literal-minded. The thing is, driving can be much more dangerous than translation. But as more drivers get distracted – whether they mean to or not – by cellphones and other technologies, perhaps Google will help us get over ourselves and contribute to safer automobile transportation overall.


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