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Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The 3 Laws of Robotics in Automotive

Several recent news reports caught my interest: the scaleback of Apple’s Project Titan, Mercedes to prioritise driver over pedestrians, Tesla related accidents, a critical German government report from its Transport Ministry on Tesla’s AutoPilot, Westworld’s self-aware cyborgs, and Wired on remote hacking of car software. They felt related. It took me some time to figure out how.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel reports on a critical report of its Transport Ministry on Tesla’s AutoPilot. Apparently, Tesla’s AutoPilot is a danger in itself. It doesn’t warn the driver for situations it cannot handle. Tesla’s sensors do not have adequate reach when taking over another vehicle, and its automatic brake system is deemed inadequate (eg, AM, der Spiegel, Guardian).

On 17 October 2016, Bloomberg reports that “Apple Inc. has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions, leading to hundreds of job cuts and a new direction that, for now, no longer includes building its own car, according to people familiar with the project.”

Early October 2016, Mercedes made a remarkable announcement at the Paris Motor Show: “All of Mercedes-Benz’s future Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars will prioritize saving the people they carry, according to Christoph von Hugo, the automaker’s manager of driver assistance systems and active safety.” (eg, Car and Driver, the Street).

Politico Transport reports that the car industry is in a race to build defenses against hackers: “our own cybersecurity expert Laurens Cerulus reports [that] modern vehicles are essentially computers with wheels — containing more embedded computer code than a space shuttle.” (eg, Politico Pro, Wired, timeline on vehicle hacks). This Politico report suggests that Apple has finally realised that an autonomous car is far beyond an iPhone, iPad or iMac.

Last Monday’s episode 3 of Westworld addressed the issue of consciousness and self-awareness in robotics. It separates machines from humans. I think, feel and believe these same issues are also relevant in autonomous, self-driving cars. Mercedes’ recent remarkable announcement might also relate to these fundamental issues of consciousness and self-awareness. 

Consciousness and self-awareness imply that you learn from mistakes and that your first goal is to protect yourself (ie, self-preservation) and only afterwards also others. The pre-flight safety demonstration and parental instruction regarding emergency oxygen masks is a clear example. 

The 3 Laws on Robotics essentially claim the very opposite: first protect humans and lastly the robot. Mercedes now clearly steers away from this principle as it realises that Isaac Asimov‘s Law 1 and 3 fundamentally conflict in autonomous, self-driving cars which – by definition – carry human life.

The new HBO series and 1973 movie Westworld shows what could – and thus will – happen when we introduce consciousness and self-awareness to machines. Early December 2014, Stephen Hawking warned that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence (eg, BBC, Guardian, Independentmy 12 January 2015 blog).

Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (1976) – artist, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe (1978) – artistvideoWiki-1Wiki-2


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