Humans must not become back-seat drivers for computers | Editorial
Any system which requires humans to play backup to computers will be less safe than one which works the other way round
The death of Joshua Brown may well be remembered for as long as the death of William Huskisson, the member of parliament run over by George Stephenson’s Rocket, who in 1827 became the first railway accident victim in history. Mr Brown, a Florida businessman, was killed when his self-driving car drove itself at around 60mph under the trailer of an articulated lorry that had turned across the road in front of him. Tesla, the manufacturers, put out a statement explaining that neither the car’s cameras nor its driver had been able to detect the dazzling white side of the truck trailer against the dazzling Florida sky. It is easier, perhaps, to believe that the cameras failed while the driver wasn’t actually looking very hard.
The accident is more than a curiosity for several reasons. Self-driving cars might provoke as much of a social and economic revolution as the railways did. If that happens, Mr Brown will be, like Mr Huskisson, the first of many. But of course it is a claim of the technological enthusiasts that machines will save lives. Cars driven by artificially intelligent computer networks will be safer than those driven by fallible humans. And there is some statistical evidence that this might be true: semi-autonomous vehicles like the Tesla have now driven 130m miles with one fatality, whereas among all cars in the US there is a fatality every 94m miles. This is itself a remarkably low figure by world standards: in Mexico motor accidents kill far more people than the drug wars do. An optimist could argue convincingly that autonomous cars might save far more lives than the alternatives if they ever become truly mass-market devices.
Source: Guardian Transport