Self-Driving Auto-Paranoia

A couple of days ago I discovered an article about how and when a self-driving car should be programmed to injure or kill its passengers.  It’s an alarming proposition, but it’s actually a valid point:  if the car has to choose between wiping out ten pedestrians or only its driver, simple logic says it should choose the lesser number of casualties.

But the realization that my future vehicle may be plotting to kill me makes me just a wee bit mistrustful of technology.

Or, in my case, more mistrustful of technology.  I’ve never been good at leaving my safety in the hands (circuits?) of inanimate objects.  (Or even animate objects, for that matter.  I’m a lousy passenger even with a human driver – I spend as much time watching the road as the driver does.  But that’s another story.)

My point is, I’m suspicious of any electronic device that wants to make decisions for me.

Take my GPS, for instance.  The lady inside my GPS can usually get me where I want to go, but she’s not always good at it.  When we’re in unfamiliar territory, Hubby usually drives while I navigate.  Theoretically the GPS should be all we need, but I never go anywhere without a paper map; partly because my GPS has a tendency to announce “Low battery!” and/or lose its satellite connection at critical moments, but mostly because I don’t trust it to choose the best route.

I can set it to ‘faster time’ (which is usually dog-slow) or ‘shortest distance’ (synonymous for ‘via goat-paths and dodgy neighbourhoods’), but there’s no setting for ‘common sense’.  So, after a few forays through dense forest on steep roads no wider than our car (though, as the GPS insisted, that road was technically ‘paved’) our trips have become a power struggle between the GPS and me.

The GPS lady says, “In… two hundred metres… turn left.”

And I say, “Ignore that.  It doesn’t know what it’s doing.  Keep going straight.”

Hubby, like all husbands with a modicum of self-preservation, silently follows my directions while the GPS says in snotty tones, “Recalculating.  In… one hundred metres… make a U-turn.”

Me:  “Ignore that.  Keep going.”

GPS (getting cranky):  “Recalculating.  In… three kilometres… TURN LEFT, IDIOT!”

Me:  “Ignore that…”

Given the choice, I’d rather have an up-to-date paper map and only use the GPS to pinpoint the location of the nearest Dairy Queen.  (And don’t get me wrong; that’s a critical function.  I need frequent ice cream breaks when I’m on the road.)

But antagonizing my GPS is probably a bad idea, because the new cars will have them built in.  And if a hostile GPS triggers the ‘kill-the-driver’ algorithm, I could be in serious trouble.

On the surface, the self-driving car seems utopian:  I could be snoozing or reading or snacking while my car takes me safely and efficiently to my destination.  But in reality I’d probably end up sitting in the driver’s seat with both hands on the wheel, simultaneously watching the road and keeping a wary eye on the car in case it tries to kill me.

But maybe I’m just paranoid.

Or maybe that’s not a ‘maybe’…

* * *

And speaking of technology… there’s a new discussion over at the Virtual Backyard Book Club:  Aydan’s Tech Gadgets – Love ‘Em Or Hate ‘Em?  Click here to have your say!

50 thoughts on “Self-Driving Auto-Paranoia

  1. GPS is only as good as its maps. What I prefer is a compass and a paper map. My Dodge Caravans had a compass. Not sure I will ever use a driverless car. Especially one programmed to kill me. That is my wife’s job.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re definitely not paranoid. Stephen Hawking backs you up. Except he’s talking about technology in general, not just a part of it.

    We’ve never had a GPS and now I hope we never have to! Of course, it’s easier to avoid when you live in a small place and don’t care about going anywhere else. There’s something to be said for living in paradise 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Something to be said about living in paradise”: That’s the absolute truth! Hubby and I are hoping to move outside the city to our little piece of paradise some day. No luck finding it yet, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never used one of those navigation systems, Diane. I tell a lie, I did once, when I was walking and knew where I was going – and the thing was sending me in an entirely different direction. I’ve never used one since then. Don’t trust them. And driverless cars… don’t trust them even more! We have automatic doors that still break down, don’t forget…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never get to go anywhere anymore, but I certainly wouldn’t trust a digital voice to tell me where to go. Unless it sounds like my wife telling me where to go. Of course, I ignore that, too. I would really feel uncomfortable if I couldn’t find my way without relying on something other than a map, compass, and general sense of direction. I rarely get lost (unless my wife tells me to) and can usually survive for a few days if I do. No worries!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OK why am I the only sicko commenting on this statement: “But antagonizing my GPS is probably a bad idea, because the new cars will have them built in. And if a hostile GPS triggers the ‘kill-the-driver’ algorithm, I could be in serious trouble.” I only see this as a problem if Diane is actually driving. If hubby has seriously annoyed her, she’s got time to pull an Aydan, and bail, right? Or have I just come up with a clever new AI plot line for you?

    I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve muttered under my breath “shut up bitch” when it tells me to turn left on the non-existent road, or that the address I’ve just told it to find doesn’t exist, or the aforementioned “recalculating”. Ugh. It would be funnier if it were in John Cleese’s voice but you only get that download with a Tom-Tom, and I’ve got the native GPS for my car, sadly. I wonder what will happen someday when it starts talking back to us. GPS: Recalculating… Me: Shut up. GPS: What was that? I didn’t quite catch that? Me: F*** Off. GPS: This unit will self destruct in 10 seconds, and F*** you too.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Bahahaha!! Okay, now I want to program the voice for the next-gen GPS!

      And that’s an excellent point about me not being the driver. Unfortunately, the way I treat the GPS it would probably be irritated enough to wipe out Hubby as collateral damage just to get to me.

      Liked by 2 people

      • What if the auto-drive system and software in your car came from Skynet? Remember “The Terminator?”

        “On such and such date, It became self-aware, then yada, yada.”

        So you anger your car. Maybe call it some ugly names. Maybe even as a matter of routine. So one day, it’s had enough. It crashes you into a school bus full of handicapped, minority, lawyers’ kids, then reboots, wipes the memory files, and proudly displays an error message on its screen that says something like, “This unit has been off line due to fatal error caused by operator trying to hack the warranty date file to extend the warranty without payment. This constitutes fraud. Off line for nine months, eleven days, twenty-seven minutes, fourteen seconds. Fifteen seconds. Sixteen seconds. Seventeen seconds…

        Instantly, you’re in the wrong. You have perpetrated fraudulent activity against the manufacturer, clearly it could not have been the cause of the hideous carnage that involved those poor, mangled children, and you’re the scumbag who crashed into a school bus.

        Yep, the tip of the iceberg.


        • FYI, the ‘handicapped, minority, lawyers’ kids’ thing was something I made up when I was working as an engineer. It’s not the least bit politically correct, but it gets the point across with perfect clarity to brand-new, fresh-outta-school engineers that we were absolutely dead serious about product liability and that we were playing for keeps.

          Actually, when referring to it internally, we used “handicapped, retarded, minority, lawyers’ kids” to go for the full effect. But outside the engineering department, we shortened it.

          We were not COMPLETE cretins, after all. Or that was OUR story, anyway…Opinions varied, as I understand it.


  6. My wife and I have been married forty-six years, and the worst fights we’ve ever had have been over the near-mortal conflict between my driving and her, er, navigation. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

    Belle, our pet name for our GPS (the early models went “DING” as an annunciator before the next driving instruction printed on the screen as a heads-up, and the name has stuck) has probably saved our marriage.

    I’m not kidding.

    I’m a big fan of GPS technology…in its current form. Build it into the brain of the car, push Autopilot ON, kick back in rush-hour traffic in strange territory and take a nap?

    I don’t think so.

    I refer to the Will Smith movie, I, ROBOT. It’d be all about the numbers with one of those things driving, built into the car or buckled into the driver’s seat. “I can kill my guy for a 63.91655 percent chance of saving a younger, more potentially productive human.”

    Wrong answer, Electro-Slut! (That’s the *other* pet name for our GPS. I swear, she gets snippy after the third consecutive “Recalculating.” Bitch.)

    And that’s only the tip of the iceburg. An update gets downloaded while you’re being whisked to wherever. Your car door locks slam down, the seatbelt jerks so tight that you can barely breath, and your car heads straight for the nearest police station. Why? Your car matches the description of the getaway car in a convenience store robbery in which hostages were killed. It’s not you, of course, but a panicked bystander gives a totally wrong description of the car. You are gassed unconscious by your own luxury-brand vehicle just before the riot squad tears it open with the Jaws of Life to get your limp form under control before you regain consciousness.

    Impossible? Nope. Just the tip of the iceburg.

    Fingerprint sensors on the steering wheel, of course. Why, to prevent theft! It’s the latest thing, the sales person swoons with delight. Yeah, right. Just like the ones on Samsung phones that can be spoofed with Saran wrap and a photo of the appropriate print.

    ‘Way too much can go wrong. It happens with high-end, limited production industrial robot controls. Just think what can happen with millions-per-year parts that are sourced from low-bid suppliers that are slammed into place by bored-outta-their-skulls assembly line workers.

    Just think about that. Oh, robot-drive is gonna happen, alright. But we will pay for the ineptitude of the innovators with our own blood. ‘Twas ever thus, no?

    I want no part of self-driving cars for a long time. A VERY LONG time.

    Besides, if Microsoft has anything to do with the operating system, it’ll be worthless until after Service Pack 3 is installed anyway.


    • AHA! Just this minute saw something on the news about a man killed in a crash. He was driving a new TESLA with autopilot, and the autopilot was engaged at the time. The truck in front of him did something his control software was not programmed to anticipate and/or handle.

      And a guy is dead because a programmer missed a possibility.

      I rest my case.


        • Testify, sista, testify! And it’s not only that they hire incompetent nitwits to do their coding. Look at the STAGGERING amount of decisions and possibilities that pour through any complex situation…like predicting what ANY GIVEN PERSON will do at any given moment in heavy traffic.

          Then, just kick back, down another Red Bull, and start coding. I’d wager the soft drink of your choice that that’s what happened to the Tesla control software. Whoever wrote (or didn’t write, more to the point) that particular subroutine probably read the same blurb on the net that I saw. did a face-palm, then hollered out, “Hey, whoever’s closest to the fridge, gimme another Red Bull! It sez here on the news that we crashed a car and killed a guy today. C’mon, guys, boot up. It’s gonna be a long night…”

          Gad, I’m glad I’m not on that team!


    • I, ROBOT was a great movie (in a terrifying way). It was far too plausible for comfort.

      I got a chuckle over your marriage-saving GPS! The marriage-saver for us is to keep Hubby in the driver’s seat – not because he’s a better driver, but because I’m a better navigator. He always knows where we are and where we’re going and he can read a map just fine; the problem is that he doesn’t share that knowledge. For some reason he’s incapable of realizing that when I have to traverse six lanes of traffic in order to reach an exit, I need more than ten seconds advance notice. If he’s navigating, I do my best to memorize the map before I start driving.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I will admit GPS has taken me on some interesting journeys. No goat paths as far as I know. However we credit the invention of GPS as if not saving, then at least enriching our marriage. Paper maps and I do not see eye to eye. I seem to always hold them upside down. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yeah…. I don’t like the sounds of that at all….I don’t want a “killer car”. However, I do like to mess with my GPS by making it re-route -…is that too passive aggressive of me???

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Random thought as you do at 4:25 in the morning, if car can drive its self, would you need a driver’s licence? Coz if not then I’m not sure I’d want one, but on the other hand I don’t drive, and don’t have a driver’s licence maybe it would be the car for me and would encourage me to actually get my licence, not that I need one, I can get everywhere I want or need to be on public transport, and I have my dad if there’s somewhere else that I can’t get to.

    I live about an hour away from them by public transport and it’s about 20 mins by car. But it means they don’t visit unless asked.

    Right back to trying to sleep the cough has settled down to a wheeze again so I might get a couple of hours before I have to get up and start the day

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just had an interesting one- my daughter was driving and the “lady” told her to make a U-turn at a particularly busy intersection. She did. Across 4 lanes of traffic and through a traffic light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yikes! Fortunately there’s an ‘avoidances’ section in the settings of my GPS, so I’ve disabled U-turns. I’m not going to make a U-turn unless I’m out in the middle of a country road with no other vehicles in sight, and I got sick of it nagging me every time we came to an intersection.

      Liked by 2 people

          • I concur. Malls as envisioned by “planners” on this continent are huge wastelands. 95% of the goods sold within the walls fall into one of the following categories: needless, useless, overpriced, and overadvertised junk. I live within 7- 14 miles of 6 major malls, one of which is the Mall of America. I have gone to any of those malls to transact business about 6 times in the past 40 years. Never have I shopped at any of them between October and February. I tend to make my gifts or give useful things as gifts. I shop at the hardware store or art store, or I get materials for creating stuff at thrift stores.

            One of my sisters lives an hour from Melbourne, Australia. The malls we went to there were great! The anchor stores were never high-end department stores, they would have one discount department such as Target, a food supermarket, a DIY home repair store, and then the smaller shops would sell fruits, or spices, shoes, electronic goods, and a few boutiques. In their plan, 95% of the goods sold were things you actually NEED and use every day. It was so handy to have all your items located in one place.

            Liked by 1 person

            • That sounds like a much better type of mall! The other thing I hate is that all the malls contain exactly the same chain stores and products. On one hand, the consistency might be convenient if you’re looking for a specific store or product and don’t feel like driving across town, but it’s boring as hell for those of us who aren’t interested in those specific things. Then again, it’s just another reason to avoid the malls and avoid the crowds at the same time. Win-win!

              Liked by 1 person

  11. I personally think that self-driving cars will be the savior of the roadways. I sometimes wonder if I am the only good driver on the roadway I am currently using. I see people who never bother to take a peep at the freeway traffic they are about to merge with, motorists who stopped completely at the base of the entrance ramp rather than merge, so now they are stuck. There are drivers who don’t stay centered in the lane they have chosen, those who can’t quite commit to the turn, so they only use a small portion of the turn lane. It seems that most people don’t understand that solid white lane markers, much less double white lines mean that you aren’t allowed to change lanes here. Then there are all the drivers who must feel lonely if they aren’t almost touching the cars surrounding them. Following distance? Escape routes? Who needs that!

    My brother knows the rules of the road and knows his route incredibly well, yet is so incredibly distractable that every car he has ever owned has massive damage to the front end and pristine sides and rear end. He had a scooter that did freeway speeds until he had the inevitable single vehicle accident which kept him in Intensive Care for over a month and in rehab for several months thereafter. He’s the kind of guy that shouldn’t be allowed on the roads without an autopiloted vehicle driving for him. I love him, I am thrilled that he has had a complete recovery, but I’ll never allow him to drive my car or to be a passenger in a vehicle he drives.

    If the vehicle decides for him that he is the logical sacrifice, I’m sure it will all work out in the end.

    The big question is would I entrust my safety to a computer driven vehicle? Only after all the other drivers are also are so equipped.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aye, there’s the rub! I’m the same – I want everybody else to have self-driving cars so I can count on them to drive consistently. Then I might feel safer in a self-driving car. But I also had a bit of an issue with the scenario the article proposed: If I was driving on a road with walls on both sides and I was coming up to a blind corner in a populated area, I’d slow down enough to allow a safe stopping distance in case there was a surprise (like a flock of pedestrians) around the corner. So what kind of driver is programming these cars in the first place…?

      And if we’re smart enough to build self-driving cars, wouldn’t you think we’d also be smart enough to install sensors at blind corners that could communicate the road conditions to our cars well in advance?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love your emails. You’re funny. Here’s one for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. ooo just looked at the graph for book 12, go Diane go Diane, I’m not gunna rush you this time i’ll be trying to learn my new job for a while yet and it gives me something look forward to later in the year

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I know how you feel well not exactly but you know what I mean.

    OK so no actual technology was involved but things try to kill you, on Friday I was was building my new desk with my dad he passed me one of the legs and asked me to hold it, then said he needed something a screw or Allen key from the floor so placed the leg against the chest of draws and picked up what I had been asked for, and the bloomin leg lunged for my toes, I’m proud I didn’t cry or swear (well my dad was right there) we finished building he desk and the chair (which is very comfy)
    the new PC only 3 days young in my paws works like a dream

    the toe is now fine it was black and the purple, now normal (its the cold trying to kill me off)

    my dad doesn’t trust GPS, mum always had a map to go places, and that’s still true today, if mum isn’t in the car then I have to map read (I found it hard at first but dad taught me orienteering at a young age so it wasn’t like I couldn’t read a map) my dad stil doesn’t trust GPS and I can’t say I blame hime ive heard far too many stories of it leading people down a stream or a river to trust it.

    hope everyone is fine and dandy

    Karen xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, your poor toe! Damn those inanimate objects and their sneaky attacks! But at least your new computer is cooperating. 🙂

      I can definitely relate to your dad’s mistrust. I prefer a paper map anyway because it gives me a bigger picture, but I do like the GPS for narrowing down the vicinity – in the old days I spent far too much time scouring paper maps just to find a street name. And it’s nice in places where the streets are miles long to know which end to start looking for an address!

      Liked by 1 person

      • the streets in the UK aren’t generally that long.

        I have turned Cortana off on the new PC, anything that wants to learn about me can buy me drink and a dinner the old fashioned way than just snooping over your shoulder as you go about normal life, if Microsoft is too cheap to buy a few drinks and dinner then tuff I’m not playing with Cortana lol

        Liked by 1 person

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