Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The problem with Google's driverless cars








stay gold ponyboy
Stumbled upon this in the news today, which is so appropriate given the topic of our class discussion.

Google’s car is super cute. I almost wanted to give it a hug after I saw the picture in the Times. It belongs in a happy cartoon world where everyone obediently stays at the speed limit and stops at every stop sign and yields to every pedestrian and otherwise follows the law to a T, but unfortunately we don’t live in that kind of world. If you drive the speed limit on 280, you might be safe from the law, but what use is that if you’re fatally injured by the impatient, 75 mph driver behind you? 

One quote in the Times article that I thought was a little bit haunting: “One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn’t get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google’s robot.” 

One more thing that’s not related to cars but still related to this idea. A movie called Ex Machina came out earlier this year that explored the boundaries of artificial intelligence. Without spoiling too much of the plot, what I gathered from it (not that I watched it. It was R-rated and I follow the law!!111!!) was that the only way robots are able to pass the Turing test and prove that they are human is to exhibit the most human trait of all – selfish manipulation. 

Are humans, like the Federalists suggest, naturally evil and selfish? Cars are a halfway decent analogy for the economy because some may argue that the economy regulates itself – likewise, everyone on the highway has to drive while considering how fast/slow everyone else is driving. Is the natural speed check that comes with the presence of other drivers enough, or is governmental intervention necessary? And if governmental intervention IS necessary, how can we make the most out of it, considering there are still people who don’t take the regulations seriously? 


What do you think? Feel free to give examples of situations other than cars, though you’re welcome to talk about that too. 

7 comments:

Juliana Stahr said...

Emily, I couldn't agree more on the cuteness of the car. On a more serious note, this article serves as concrete evidence for how the framers view the nature of man - one who needs to be governed. The bottom line is that humans will not always follow the law to the fullest extent. For example, no car stopped a full "complete" stop, therefore, breaking the law. Avoiding a complete stop at a stop sign is of course illegal and this is what the framers were exactly talking about. It is simply natural to tend to break the law from time to time. Another example would be Emily viewing an "R" rated movie. While it may be breaking the law, the consequence is so minimal or rare to encounter that people tend to be more careless. When it comes to driving, drivers tend to be careless in areas where police drivers almost never appear. This is why the framers wanted a government that constructed and enforced laws so that people would follow them consistently.

I believe governmental intervention to be ABSOLUTELY necessary. I know this from personal experience traveling. When I visit family in Peru, drivers almost always go through red lights (if even there) and never dare put on a seat belt. Why? Simply because the government does not enforce these laws enough for citizens to in fact follow them. Americans will once in a while receive a speeding ticket, which helps remind them to follow the speed limit. These tickets reinforce people to follow the law, which in turn avoids chaotic and corrupt streets.

We can make the most out of government intervention by scouting and fining the irresponsible drivers who drive recklessly. Also, by putting up more traffic light cameras, drivers will be much more careful to avoid running a red light. The only way for people to follow laws on the road or anywhere else for that matter is to make sure that laws are being enforced and strictly.

Emily Shen said...

Juliana, thank you for sharing your anecdote about Peru. One note on red light cameras: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/02/09/number-of-red-light-camera-tickets-issued-at-millbrae-intersection-jumps-from-40-per-month-to-600/
On the other hand, is it possible that the people in the government may need some intervention too, and that they are also imperfect, opportunistic humans?

Lea Tan said...

This car is like a cuter version of a Smart car which honestly I didn't think was possible..however, I do think that driverless cars pose a safety threat to everyone on the road. All machines have the ability to make mistakes, but obviously humans do too; is it safer to entrust robots with our safety, or to be consciously making decisions ourselves? I think that it would probably be safest to have either all driverless cars or none at all so that machine confusion is less likely to occur.

On another note, it's hard to say what exactly defines human nature at the core. However, I believe that to some extent, we are programmed to be selfish. The objective of life as a whole is to keep the human race alive and evolving which means surviving in order to reproduce is everyone's biological goal. In that sense, if humans were completely void of any emotion or influence by outside surroundings, we would be trying to reproduce as much as possible no matter the damage to those around us. We are programmed to do whatever it takes to survive and expand our species which gives us an innate selfishness. Obviously, everyone does have emotions and is not completely controlled by their biological nature, so it's inconclusive to say that everyone acts selfishly, but from a biological standpoint I can see why the Federalists could say that humans are innately evil and selfish.

Similarly, "The Cheating Culture" excerpt we read earlier suggests that humans cheat for personal gain and because there isn't much fear of getting caught. In that case, I believe that government intervention is necessary to keep everyone safe. If there was a bigger chance of getting caught speeding or breaking a law and a bigger punishment, drivers would have more of an incentive to drive safely. It's hard to completely regulate traffic, but I agree with Juliana that more cameras would be helpful and also more policemen watching the roads.

Abhishek Paramasivan said...

Many morning/evening commuters are always in a rush and may go over the speed limits, not stop at a stop sign and turn when they aren't supposed to. People aren't going to suddenly spend the possible extra 15 to 20 minutes that they save by cutting some of the safety rules behind driving. I think the framers were fairly correct in their assumptions that man was selfish, but evil might be an overstatement with today's definition. And While I do believe that government intervention would be helpful, I don't think it would be effective in something as common as driving. To this day, traffic laws vary from state to state with that power remaining out of the hands of the central government save for some basic rules. If the federal government suddenly took over this power it would cause resistance just like when the government tried to make the national speed limit 55.

Justin Chan said...

Thank you Emily for your original post. I agree with Juliana that government intervention is necessary. Juliana brings up an interesting point, saying that the enforcement of laws should be dependent on the consequences, and I think that is an important viewpoint to consider when creating policies/modes of action. According to the CDC, car accidents are the number one killer of US teens, and as a result, we must have stronger regulations, laws enforcements, and awareness campaigns. I believe that the proposals Juliana has mentioned will suffice. As a side issue, this is one justification to the legalization of marijuana in specific states. Policymakers deem the second-hand effects of marijuana to be lower than cigarettes; thus, if cigarettes are legal, marijuana should too.

The next question to think about in terms of government intervention is what areas do we regulate and who checks this? I believe that it is these central questions that cause the Framers to create a "balanced" power of state and national government power. This references to Emily's point that the national government "may need some intervention too," and my answer is that the courts within the state and even the state officials themselves can check the rulings and decisions made by the national government, or at least raise awareness that can go on to the Supreme Court. It is the power of raising awareness that goals can be achieved. All in all, humans are naturally selfish, which can also be seen in the Tragedy of the Commons, and it is through federalism and varying other forms of checks-and-balances that the US is not in a constant state of civil war. I am interested to know if there have been cases in which having a laissez-faire approach to issues with potentially high consequences resulted in human obedience.

Katherine Liu said...

Justin, while you bring up an interesting point about whether a laissez-faire approach to issues would result in human obedience, I am skeptical as to whether there is a possibility of such an approach happening. A laissez-faire approach to regulating an issue seems like a paradox because that would mean that the issue would be "regulated" by no regulation. Thus, if an approach is considered "laissez-faire," would there still be rules for humans to be obedient under?

Referring back the "Cheating Culture" reading, I do agree that it seems too optimistic to believe that humans will be courteous toward each other, such as in a driving environment with low regulation of the laws, when there are such open opportunities to get ahead by "cheating" the regulations. By leaving it up to the people to decide how they drive, it is almost unlikely that they would follow the rules because they assume that others would be taking advantage of the system as well. As a result, this creates a never-ending cycle of constant law-breaking. Consequently, the safety of everyone on the road is compromised, making government intervention necessary.

Horace He said...

"We can make the most out of government intervention by scouting and fining the irresponsible drivers who drive recklessly. Also, by putting up more traffic light cameras, drivers will be much more careful to avoid running a red light. The only way for people to follow laws on the road or anywhere else for that matter is to make sure that laws are being enforced and strictly."

I must say that I think this is not a practical suggestion. On the list of problems that the government faces, slightly reckless drivers does not rank very highly up there. This is anecdotal, but I've heard that the only places where officers give tickets for rolling stops are places like Foster City. In places where crime of consequence is a far bigger issue, wasting valuable police resources on "strictly" enforcing laws on the road is not the right thing to do.

"These tickets reinforce people to follow the law, which in turn avoids chaotic and corrupt streets."

This seems like a bit of an exaggeration. Does cracking down on rolling stops really prevent our streets from becoming overrun with crime and corruption? Or is prosecuting rolling stops "strictly" a waste of people, cops, and the legal system's time?

"Another example would be Emily viewing an "R" rated movie. While it may be breaking the law, the consequence is so minimal or rare to encounter that people tend to be more careless."

As for breaking the "law" by watching R-Rated movies, it's not even a law. The so-called "illegal" actions that Emily's taking aren't even illegal. Movie ratings are a set of guidelines set by the MPAA that theaters are recommended to follow.

To conclude, your fundamental premise, that STRICT governmental regulation is necessary, is one that I don't think is supported(by your evidence at least).