My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How Google Self-Driving Vehicle, Track Stand Cyclists and Three Laws of Robotics eliminates driving

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Google Self-Driving Vehicle, Track Stand Cyclists and Three Laws of Robotics eliminates driving

Connected Cars have already been proven to be hackable over the Summer of 2015 prior to DefCon and Blackhat 2015 as pointed out in my blog article entitled “Security Researcher hack a 2014 Jeep Cherokee - How to remotely hack an Internet Connected Vehicle as Remote Vehicle Homicide possible”.

Now it appears they have another problem; indecisive track standing cyclists as reported in the article “How a track stand can confuse Google’s self-driving car”, published August 29, 2015 By David Nield, Digitaltrends.


Apparently a Google self-driving Car in Austin, Texas, where trials have just started can be easily confused by track-standing cyclists. A track stand is where a cyclists balances when stopping at an intersection of a stop light.

In order to achieve this, they constantly adjust and reposition themselves in order to maintain their balance. The cyclist in question has an interesting take on the situation, quote: “We repeated this little dance for about two full minutes and the car never made it past the middle of the intersection. The two guys inside were laughing and punching stuff into a laptop, I guess trying to modify some code to ‘teach’ the car something about how to deal with the situation”.

This constant yet imperceptible motion would be interpreted by the regular motorists who's sufficiently experienced as someone on a bicycle just stopping. But due to the sensitivity of Google's LIDAR, Radar and Cameras it detects this imperceptible movement in the track standing cyclist as motion and an attempt to move off.

Consequently when the test vehicles encountered this situation on the roads of Austin, Texas, the vehicle froze, confused as to what to do next, as the cyclists seemed to be in a constant state of either stopping or getting ready to move off.

This left the Google Engineers having top reprogram the subroutines of the Self-Driving vehicle in order for it to interpret the situation.

Google Self-Driving vehicle and Track Stand Cyclists - Why Speedy in I, Robot obeyed Second Law in Asimov Rules Three Laws of Robotics

The situation which reminds me of the Story “Runaround” in the book “I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov, where as similar situation occurred with a malfunctioning robot named Speedy on the Planet Mercury.

In that situation, the robot Speedy has been sent by astronauts Powell and Donovan, most likely Jamaican based on their names, to retrieve some selenium from a pool on the Planet Mercury in order to repair some photo-cell banks. However, they soon discover Speedy running around in an oscillating circle around a pool of liquid selenium.

When the astronauts Powell and Donovan, query the robot Speedy, he responds in a manner that suggests that he's drunk. This is where the problem is similar to the one occurring with the Google Self-driving car in Austin-Texas.

The robot Speedy is a highly valuable yet very expensive robot (again the parallel to the Google Self-Driving Cars!) whose Three Asimov Laws have been modified namely the Third Law, which has been strengthened so that he'll protect himself.

As a quick review, the Three Laws of Robotics also known as the Asimov's Three Laws, as quoted from the “Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.”, are:

1.      A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.      A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.      A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The scientists at US Robotics, the company that astronauts Powell and Donovan work, (clearly Jamaicans!) had modified the Third Law so that it was strengthened, making it avoid itself coming to harm. Because of this, as Speedy approached the Selenium pool, he detected his own danger (Third Law) and started to move away.

But he had to carry out his order to retrieve the Selenium (Second Law). This resulted in a conflict within his positronic brain, resulting in him oscillating closer in order to carry out the order (Second Law) or running away to preserve himself (Third Law) and prevent harm coming to his structure.

This flooded his positronic brain with a huge amount of looped data in an iterative feedback loop, resulting in him acting in a drunken manner. To overcome the problem, Donovan had to put himself in harm’s way by jumping into the Selenium Pool, forcing Speedy to obey the First Law and run to rescue him.

Google Engineers and the Three Laws of Robotics - Why Cyclists are safer and Driving will be made illegal

This is the same exact situation with the Google Self-Driving Car.

As a point of note, the Google Self-Driving Car is much safer for cyclists than a human driver, who would throw caution to the winds and probably move ahead, causing an accident as noted in the article “Google's self-driving cars might be too good at braking for cyclists”, published August 28, 2015 by Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge.    

To quote the cyclist: “I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one". Hopefully to, in the future, when self-driving cars become the norm, driving your vehicle annually will be outlawed as argued in the article “Driving Your Car Will Soon Be Illegal”, published Aug 11, 2015 by Jay Samit, Techcrunch

Google Engineers will have to basically have to reprogram the equivalent of the Third Law in the Self-Driving Vehicles to interpret that there is no danger to itself and follow the equivalent of the Second Law in its subroutines to obey the input from its sensors to move forward and ignore track standing cyclists!!!

Granted, the technology is far from perfect, as any self-Driving car that Google makers has to able to drive on regular roads such as those in Third world Countries as argued in my blog article entitled “@Google’s Self-Driving All-Electric Vehicles in June 2015 – Autonomous Vehicles reduce Road Accidents, Parking and make Ride Sharing the Norm”.

No doubt all in a day's work for Google as pointed out in the article “Google claims big progress in self-driving cars' street smarts”, published April 28, 2014 by Stephen Shankland, CNET News as they strive to make their Self-Driving vehicles the next standard on the roads, thereby reducing road fatalities!!




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