What Google’s cars can teach us

Google’s autonomous cars can teach us a lot of things. This Lifehacker article gives good hints on what kinds of things we should be learning from our soon-to-be codrivers.

  1. Pay attention to where others are going, and how fast they are moving. This will help you to anticipate your future moves. And it doesn’t only apply to cars. If you see that a bicyclist is approaching a parked car, you know that they will be moving over. Make room for them or slow down.
  2. Turn signals are helpful, but don’t trust that the other driver is using them properly. I know that I’ve forgotten to cancel mine sometimes, or turn it on too soon. But it helps to anticipate what the other driver will probably do soon, including moving into your lane.
  3. Maintain proper following distance. You should be keeping 3 seconds of distance between you and the car in front of you, so you can react and slow down if needed. Many times other drivers will move into this space. Don’t get upset about this. Just give enough space again. Personally, I like to go a little slower than the prevailing traffic on the highway. This makes driving much less stressful. The difference in timing is minimal, and the reduced hassles more than makes up for it.

The autonomous cars will be “driving like a grandma”, that is, playing it safe. This can upset us, but it really is better to be driving this way. Life isn’t a race. If we treat it as one, we place ourselves, and others, in danger.

The ethics of self driving cars

An interesting article brings up one of my favorite philosophical problems. Suppose Google’s self driving cars become common. You’re riding in one. Then something goes wrong, an oncoming car loses control and is headed right for you. The only alternative to a head on collision is to swerve into the right hand lane, where there just happens to be a full school bus. Swerving will cause the school bus to crash. What should the self driving car do? Should it protect the car’s owner at the cost of a bus full of children?

This is called the trolley problem. There are a number of interesting variants, but just how should the autonomous car react?