I see comments in the media saying how great it will be that computers will be in charge of cars. How driverless cars will be better than humans, how driverless cars will not make mistakes, how it it will be the fault of humans if there is an accident with a driverless car and so and so forth.
But how do these people define better?
In most cases, the pro driversless car lobby say that driverless cars will be receiving more information and will therefore be better equipped to make decisions.
Lets assume that is true for a moment and address the 200 ton brontosaurus in the room.
What about reliability?
When was the last time you thought to yourself
“Computers are so much more reliable than humans”
or what about
“I see people needing a full system restart quite often but computers, I cannot remember the last time I needed to restart a computer, or any electronic device for that matter.”
“A life support machine for my baby? I would much rather a computer looking after my baby with no human oversight that a human looking after my baby with no computer oversight.”
“If I could choose between flying in a 100% computer controlled aircraft or having an aircraft that was flown completely by humans, I would take the computer all day long”
When have you heard anyone say anything like this?
And yet this is EXACTLY what people are saying when they say driverless cars will be better.
Most of us witness daily the unreliability of electronics, the small glitches that electronics devices seem to have like temporary freezing of our computers and yet there seems to be people out there who are saying look
“Electronics, by and large, have a total shutdown condition with zero warning less often than a human being”
The next time you hear someone say that driverless cars are a good idea, that electronic products are more reliable than you are as a human, you have my permission to call them a total idiot.
Let us remember, primarily, why we use computers and specifically computers in aircraft as an example.
Computer systems are there to do the routine, mind numbing tasks but task which are also safety critical. And when things go wrong with the computer, they have numerous fail safes in place that, should things malfunction in any way shape or form, that humans are alerted immediately so they can analyse and fix the problem.
Computers are not used in aircraft because they are more reliable. The opposite. People oversee computers because computers can be unreliable and malfunction with little to no warning.
We do not have computers in aircraft overseeing the pilot for a reason.
Because computers, whichever way you want to measure it, are less reliable than people. Computers are more likely to malfunction than a human brain. This is the long and the short of it.
Until this changes, ie that computers can operate with 99.9999% reliability, there is no way people should be condoning the use of a computer to control a car.
Let me give another example. A driverless car on the freeway. It experiences a catastrophic failure and needs to restart. What exactly can it be programmed to do until it is restarted?
Stop abruptly. That is it. What is the alternative? For it to keep going on its current course and come to a gradual halt (after bouncing of the median or other cars)
And where is it going to stop? In the middle lane?
But there will be fail safe systems I hear the driverless car lobby say. There will be a backup computer that will take over.
Okay so what about the first computer? If a computer crashes once it is much more likely to crash again.
And what if the nature of the fault cannot be identified? ie you cannot write an update for the software. Are you going to bin the computer?
The human brain is the most sophisticated thing we know of, why are some people so happy to rubbish it in favour of computers, especially when computers are less reliable by an order of magnitude.
So going back to the title of the article”Why Driverless Cars Are No Different To People”
Driverless cars are no different because computers fail just like people have lapses in concentration.
The remote chance of you being involved in an accident with an injury is a testament to this.
A Windows PC in you office can not even hope to have the same kind of reliability as you have as a driver.
Fundamentally we are talking about reliability when we compare people and computers.
And people win this contest every day of the week and twice on Sunday.