Artificial Intelligence is here: now what?

By Pawan Naidu

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here folks and there’s nothing we can do about it. From our cars, jobs and military weapons, private companies and governments are investing in ways to make us obsolete. Sometime in the near future, our lives are going to be taken over by AIs that are smarter, faster and more efficient than us and twice a day we will be praising our supreme leader, Elon Musk. 

Okay that may have been a bit of an exaggeration. People had similar concerns during the industrial revolution and countries were able to adapt and thrive. It is true that  billions of dollars are being invested in the creation of AI and people do have their hopes and concerns. In recent months, AI cars have headlined the news and there is an ongoing debate if autonomous vehicles are a net positive for society. 

AI cars aren’t going to be taking over the roads just yet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has categorized autonomous vehicles from level 0, no automation in the vehicle with the driver having full control of the car, to level 5, where there is complete automation requiring no human attention.

Currently we are at level 2 on the NHTSA scale, with partial automation in most cars, where the vehicle has combined automated functions that can assist with steering and acceleration. The driver currently must always remain engaged with the task of driving, is still responsible for most safety-critical functions and must pay attention to the road.

Many companies have projected different dates for when their self driving car will be available for commercial use. Audi and Ford have the most ambitious timeline and expect they will have level 4 cars by 2020.

Depiction of the SAE levels of automation ranging from 0 to 5. Read more in the next section about these levels.

Photo By the NHTSA

Supporters of AI cars highlight the fact that AI cars are projected to decrease fatal car accidents by 90 percent. Currently there are over 30,000 fatal car accidents in the United States alone and over 80 percent of them are a result of human error. 

However, all accidents aren’t going to be eliminated and when an AI car accident occurs, the question becomes who is responsible?

The answer is quite simple, dismantle the car so all the other cars know the punishment for such carelessness.

Hmm, this might not be as easy or simple. You see the problem here is that someone is going to have to take responsibility for what your AI car has done. Who is it going to be? The owner, the manufacturer, the government?

Bryant Walker Smith, professor of law at the University of South Carolina, believes  car manufacturers will bear the cost.

“The automated driving industry will likely bear a bigger slice of a smaller pie of total crash costs,” Smith wrote in a paper.

There have been multiple examples of AI test cars being involved in accidents some of which are fatal.

While AI cars are still in the testing stages and together on the road with traditional cars, these stories are inevitable. The public along with the government will have to decide the extent to which they are going to introduce AI cars on their roads and how they are going to go about doing so.

One thing AI cars will solve are traffic jams. China is already using AI cars as a way to solve their congestion problem. AI are going to drive safer and more efficiently than human drivers, so it’s safe to assume traffic jams are going to be reduced or even eliminated. Solving fatal accidents and traffic problems means we should all shut up and let AI cars become part of our everyday lives, right?

Maybe, but we would be lying to ourselves that there aren’t drawbacks to AI cars. One of the main concerns is over privacy and data. The public is justifiably concerned with how companies can misuse their personal data and invade their privacy. 

We also don’t know the cost of AI cars and there are concerns about how many people will actually be able to afford them. However, if the demand and supply of these vehicles are in equilibrium, the market should even itself out and make them more affordable for consumers.

There’s one more reason why people might be hesitant to move forward with AI cars… people like driving. So much of our experiences with friends and families involve a car. Remember when you were a teenager and your parents taught you to drive, or how you felt when you got your license? Parents, remember the look of your “too-cool-for-school” teen when they got their driving license or that car they never expected you to get them? How about those road trips with your friends or driving the kids to every practice?. 

AIs might not be sentimental or have emotions but we do and these are parts of our lives we cherish. We have to decide whether we’re okay with these experiences disappearing or at the very least being reduced significantly. 

AI cars could help solve some of society’s most pressing issues and traditionally innovation in technology has done more good than bad. Concerns about AI cars are not unfounded and need to be addressed. In the next five years a lot of questions are going to be answered and the people can decide the direction they want to take their country.

 

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