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10 months ago
What Self-Driving Cars Tell Us About AI Risks

 
Originally published in IEEE Spectrum, July 30, 2023. 

Five conclusions from an automation expert fresh off a stint with the U.S. highway safety agency.

In 2016, just weeks before the Autopilot in his Tesla drove Joshua Brown to his deathI pleaded with the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to regulate the use of artificial intelligence in vehicles. Neither my pleading nor Brown’s death could stir the government to action.

Since then, automotive AI in the United States has been linked to at least 25 confirmed deaths and to hundreds of injuries and instances of property damage.

The lack of technical comprehension across industry and government is appalling. People do not understand that the AI that runs vehicles—both the cars that operate in actual self-driving modes and the much larger number of cars offering advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS)—are based on the same principles as ChatGPT and other large language models (LLMs). These systems control a car’s lateral and longitudinal position—to change lanes, brake, and accelerate—without waiting for orders to come from the person sitting behind the wheel.

Both kinds of AI use statistical reasoning to guess what the next word or phrase or steering input should be, heavily weighting the calculation with recently used words or actions. Go to your Google search window and type in “now is the time” and you will get the result “now is the time for all good men.” And when your car detects an object on the road ahead, even if it’s just a shadow, watch the car’s self-driving module suddenly brake.

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