On Episode 100 of The Edge of Innovation, Paul Parisi & Dan Buckley are talking about the future of autonomous cars!


Autonomous Vehicles: Are We Approaching an Age of Self-Driving Cars?
What Happens If An Autonomous Car Gets Hacked?
Are Autonomous Cars Safe?
Why Do People Prefer Their Own Vehicle Over Public Transportation in the US?
Paving the Way For Autonomous Vehicles
Beaconing Technology
Using Waze To Help You Drive
Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence
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Show Notes

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Dan: Hello! Welcome to the Edge of Innovation. My name is Dan Buckley and I’m here with Paul Parisi, and we’re going to discuss some tech trends in the news together today.

So welcome, Paul.

Paul: Thanks, Dan.

Dan: Great to have you, as always.

Paul: Oh great to be anywhere!

Autonomous Vehicles: Are We Approaching an Age of Self-Driving Cars?

Dan: So lately, I’ve been doing some research looking at an article in Business Insider about autonomous vehicles. That’ our first topic.

Paul: Okay.

Dan: So, in terms of autonomous vehicles, I see a lot of that in the news, a lot of information about different companies pursuing that market. And my question for you, firstly, is do you think we’re approaching an age of self-driving cars?

Paul: Well, I think that’s an interesting question. I think it’s inevitable in some form or fashion. We already have self-driving cars and there are a lot of people who… I guess what I was surprised about is the accident in Arizona that occurred that, really, no humans were held accountable for it. A woman was killed by a self-driving car that made a mistake.

Dan: Yeah, I think I remember that.

Paul: It’s fascinating to me that no humans were charged with manslaughter or murder or anything like that, which is a very troubling thing because if you made a consumer electronics device or any kind of device that killed somebody, you could get fined or sued for that wrongful death. I don’t know all the technical details of the law and the legal case on that but it was surprising to me that the full latitude they have to test this in the real world and the worst case happened.

What Happens If An Autonomous Car Gets Hacked?

Paul: Now, having said that, I do think they will come about. I think that if you look at different portrayals in the media about them, or in TV or science fiction or things like that, we have a lot of – There are subtle things out there – what happens when an autonomous vehicles goes crazy or gets hacked? As we’re learning, it’s so easy to hack things and certainly in ways that are completely unanticipated by the person developing the system. We’ve covered a person on here – I think we’ve talked about it. The “Catch Me if You Can Person.” Frank Abagnale. And he works for the FBI, helping them hack things, if you will – more from a social point of view – but in one of his recent talks, he talked about the fact that the FBI has tools and technology to be able to interrupt the working of a car or take over a car within five hundred feet.

Dan: Wow!

Paul: So, that’s a car that’s not autonomous. So, autonomous has a whole bunch of issues with it. There’s a TV series of a few years ago, a science fiction one by Halle Berry called “Extant.” It’s very much science fiction but it is slightly into the future – might be twenty to fifty years from now – and they have autonomous cars, and one of the main people in there gets into a car and is being driven and is driven right in front of a train. And so, it’s not really giving away anything to it, but he didn’t survive. And so, what’s preventing that from happening? There’s not a lot.

You know, being somebody that’s fairly aware of cyber security and things like that and using things against their original design, I see a whole bunch of issues that around that. I think they will happen but it’s going to be very interesting. I think we’re going to start to see more things like utilizing rails in ways that we hadn’t thought about and I think that has to be a necessary steppingstone to it. But it’s going be interesting because as cars become more autonomous, and they’re out there, there’s going to be more and more legal issues of them having done bad things and somebody is going to be prosecuted for that. It’s going to come down to humans being imprisoned or fined or penalized for that.

Are Autonomous Cars Safe?

Dan: Yeah, that seems a little bit scary to think when programming an app or something, you might have a few bugs that need to be worked out and those are bugs and that’s understandable. But in this case, it’s almost like you have a bug and it kills somebody, are you culpable or who’s fault is that?

Paul: I don’t see why you wouldn’t be. I just don’t see why you wouldn’t be. I couldn’t sight it but I’m sure there’s case law for consumer products failing and causing somebody to die. I mean, if you think back just over the GM issue with the stuck accelerator over the past ten years or fifteen years. I forget what it is, but GM was found liable for that. And that was a completely unintended consequence. It was a software, hardware error.

Right now, they’ve grounded the Boeing 737 because the software in it might have a glitch in it. Airplanes are one of the most protected things in the world. The software isn’t readily accessible. it’s not readily hackable. It’s actually a flaw in the way it takes sensor readings from its sensors on board and tells the plane to do things that are counter productive and it ended up crashing the plane in two cases.

So, when you have that type of autonomy or the engagement of technology in a car – you’re in a car and you press the breaks and it stops. Well, I hack your car and I turn off that flyby wire and now all of a sudden you don’t have it. In fact, twenty years ago when flyby wire was coming out in a car, originally when cars are designed, when you push the break pedal, a lever moved to push the breaks and it was some hydraulics and things like that. But that steering wheel was connected to the wheels that were turning and so there was a tremendous concern that as cars became more flyby wired, that you were turning a wheel that was complete disconnected from the wheels and then an electric motor would turn the wheels or some other linkage would turn that. What happens if that fails? We’ve gotten past that but I guarantee if there was a problem with that, there would be huge liability.

Why Do People Prefer Their Own Vehicle Over Public Transportation in the US?

Dan: Yeah, I wonder if – and this is a question that came to mind as well – obviously we have to go through a certain amount of training in order to operate a motor vehicle and we’re expected to do that, whereas if cars become completely automated would we be, maybe, in a place where that training is no longer required? And perhaps that could present some issues as well, if there’s the lack of human understanding in the way that it works and you just expect it to work without any sort of license.

Paul: Well, I would think so. It’s called a bus. We have to know nothing to be able to use a bus. And that autonomous. I mean, they’ll be a phase in which, in order to ride in autonomous vehicles you have to be in the drivers position and you have to be ready to drive. So, I think that you’ll see an adoption curve where you start to see it’s like cruse control. And that’s largely what we have now.

So, if you have a Tesla and you’re driving down the road and you’re getting too close to something, it stops, or it will pull you off the side of the road if something’s going wrong and things like that. So, they’ve given it some autonomy, but a person has to be sitting there and if you start to nod off it will actually pull you off the side of the road. So, those are good things. Those are certainly beneficial in following too closely or things around you, collision avoidance and all that. Those can be very helpful. I haven’t really studied whether they make mistakes or what the implications of the mistakes are, but I do think that eventually if autonomous vehicles live up to any of their hype, that you will have non-licensed drivers that won’t even have a concept of a license. It’ll just be a matter of getting in a going where you need to go.

The thing that I think is going to be interesting is that most people don’t like taking the bus. I live in suburbia outside of Boston and buses don’t come to my house.

Dan: Yeah.

Paul: But you live more in the city and I’m sure buses are a viable alternative for you? Is that true?

Dan: Certainly, yeah. I could get here in the same amount of time I could get to the other side of Boston, driving a car.

Paul: But would you?

Dan: I tend to prefer the autonomy to some extent.

Paul: Well, is it the autonomy or is simply the cleanness of your car? Not having to deal with the people and the smells and the delays and the constraints of that. In America we get we get to superintend all of our outcomes, whether we’re effective at that or not is another discussion but one of the biggest things is that I don’t want to take the bus. I mean, we’ve been watching Seinfeld and there are a lot of comments about the icky things in society that they make great fun of and one of the things is that the buses aren’t the most pleasant place to be. Even if you go to San Francisco and the BART is really well-cared for, or you go to D.C. and you go to the trains. The subway in D.C. is really well-cared for, but it’s not necessarily your first choice.

Dan: Yeah.

Paul: You’d probably say, “Oh, I’d rather take an Uber or a limo and one of the differentiators is that they keep it clean and it’s nice.

Dan: Yeah, I feel like a bus isn’t afraid of getting a bad rating, like an individual bus.

Paul: Right. So, I wonder about autonomous vehicles. I think initially, we will own vehicles that do the driving for us but we still have to have a driver in the seat ready to deal with an emergency. The difficulty for me there is how bad would you feel if you were the driver of an autonomous vehicles and it accelerated and ran over somebody under your watch and it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything, it just made a mistake. I’d feel horrible. And once you divest yourself of that responsibility – maybe you are distracted, maybe it accelerates and you forget or you don’t have the time reaction to disengage. It’s going to be fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.

Paving the Way For Autonomous Vehicles

Dan: Yeah. I think it’s interesting. I think people have certain expectations about what it would look like, perhaps. In the beginning they thought it would be “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” or something. We’re just going to have everything, flying cars, right away without maybe recognizing that it’s a messy process, that things do happen.

You mentioned maybe an idea of railroads or some steps that we might need to take. So, I guess what are, maybe, some other ways of transportation, a little change or some steps we might need to walk through before we get to that angle or that place where cars are shared and autonomous?

Paul: Yeah, I don’t know. I really don’t know because it depends. If we had a law where everybody had to live in cities and there was public transportation, that’s one way to do it. But it doesn’t seem like we’re as a society into mandating what people do. I tend to agree with that. You know, everybody into their own.

Dan: Yeah.

Paul: But in order for some of that to work… because the issue is like you could sort of see it, the wild-eyed jerk on 128 – a major highway around Boston – playing chicken with autonomous vehicles. Of course, that’s going to happen. I mean, it’s just going to happen. But in all of this sort of negativity, this same conversation was happening a hundred years ago when vehicles were coming out, when iron horses were coming out and how, “Oh my gosh! You could kill somebody by doing that! They’re not going to pay attention!” and “They’re not going to do this…”

Dan: Didn’t they think that going at a certain speed could actually just kill you?

Paul: Yeah! And so, it will be fascinating, I think, they are real issues. I am astonished – I just saw this somewhere, I don’t know where it was, but a thinker who was really commenting on society, said that it is amazing how few car accidents there are and how well people do with driving, because it’s really complicated. There’s a lot to perceived and we all have our pictures, or our view of different people and some people just don’t have it all together and they can get in a car and drive and not kill somebody. Most accidents are because somebody is drinking or doing something really stupid, so it’s really profound that we take these machines that have hundreds of horsepower and the ability to do so much damage and they constantly are driving.

So, I don’t think that there’s a lot of changes that need to come in order for it to be autonomous. I think the convergence of the different technologies, the different radars or lidars which are basically trying to machine vision and things like that. I think also, some of it will be outfitting roadways with guidance like embedded technology, so that the car can know where it is, etcetera. This would be helpful in putting technology in other cars so that now our cars can realize that we’re ten feet away from each other. And so, that’s going to be interesting when you say, “I’ve got an antique. I’ve got a 1970 old mobile. Do I have to put that technology in?”

Beaconing Technology

Paul: That beaconing technology that’s going to say when a driverless car knows it’s there, not just see it, but it actually can use beaconing technology. And then there’s ways to hack that beaconing technology.

Dan: Beaconing? So how does that work? Is it a satellite or is it…?

Paul: No. It’s a general term of some signal that comes on and off and provides a location awareness to something else, so if you see a beacon out in the world the concept of a beacon –
Dan: A lighthouse?

Paul: Yeah, a light. “Oh there it is,” and it gives you some locational – Is that a word? – Locational context of being able to say,” Oh, I’m not near the coast or I am near the coast.”

So, beaconing, beacon technology helps identify something where it is and so that would be useful in vehicles. I’m sure that they’re doing that and putting that kind of stuff in.

Using Waze To Help You Drive

Dan: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I think to myself when I drive to work, I use Waze. That’s gamified to some extent. There’s plenty of surprises but I think there might be less than some Waze.

Paul: Yeah, I think Waze is brilliant. I used to commute from the North Shore of Boston down to Waltham and I thought that that correlation of moving node information – so every car is a node and it has, intrinsically, if I’m talking to the cloud, I can tell it, I can infer how fast I’m going. And so, if I’m going really slow on a 55 mile an hour road, they can infer that there’s traffic and then they take that sample from me and then they take that from your car and you’re going 70 miles an hour so there must be something weird going on with me but if they’re all going 5 miles an hour, they understand that there’s traffic. So, it’s a fascinating way to crowd source, really autonomy.

Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence

Dan: It seems like there’s machine learning in that to some extent.

Paul: Machine learning is an interesting thing and lot of things are going to be called machine learning and artificial intelligence over the next year to ten years, and it’s hard to really quantify what is real machine learning or not.

Dan: I see.

Paul: It’s not like – what’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie? Terminator – It’s not that level of learning. We really haven’t had that level of breakthrough in something to actually think. And so, machine learning, was it Isaac Asimov who said magic… What was it? He basically said technology is indistinguishable from magic?

Dan: Yeah, “Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That was Arthur C. Clark.

Paul: Arthur C. Clark. Yeah. Same thing. Same guy, just different people. So yeah. And so, as we look at that it’s effectively magic until it’s not anymore.

Dan: Yeah, we just call it some word like “woo woo,” like it does something cool we don’t understand.

Paul: Right.

Dan: But that’s fascinating.

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This is Part 1 of 2 our Tech Trends Talk about autonomous vehicles. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!

Show Notes: