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Teaching Computers to Be Impolite

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On: Wed, Dec 3, 2014 at 11:18AM | By: Karen Cook


Teaching Computers to Be Impolite

As we inch closer and closer to having self-driving vehicles become commonplace, Google is learning more and more about what an autonomous car will need to do and how it will need to behave to provide the most dependable, comfortable, and safest experience for the passenger. Recent findings suggest that the current versions are too polite and need to be able to be a little more aggressive.

According to the Safety Drivers, which are Google employees who test drive and take notes on how the car reacts in different situations, the vehicles need to respond in a more human-like way in order to be able to compete safely in traffic that contains human drivers.

For example, when a driver is on a busy roadway and is coming up on the desired exit, it is common to speed up in order to change lanes if adequate space is not immediately available. The autonomous car is programmed instead to maintain its current speed and simply wait for an opening. Presumably, it would be able to calculate other cars on the road and the speed at which they are traveling and determine when it would be advisable to begin searching for said opening in time to exit. If this is not the case, however, or if it is not possible to change lanes in time, the Safety Drivers recommend programming that would allow the car to speed up for the lane change, if necessary.

Another problem spot for the self driving machine is the 4-way stop. For most of us, we stop at the sign, then roll just a bit when we believe it is “our turn” to let the other drivers know of this belief. It’s kind of a question, and if no other car moves we have our answer and we proceed into and through the intersection. The Google car is programmed to wait a certain number of minutes after the other cars have stopped. If there is no movement the car assumes it’s “his turn” and proceeds. The problem here is obvious. The passenger in this vehicle will be stopped for a long time. The Safety Drivers have determined that the car should be able to ask its question with a slight roll to inch forward, notifying the other drivers of its intention.

According to one Safety Driver, the car is going to behave best when “it’s natural and the car abides by social norms on the road; it’s also safer.”

There is no word on how soon this new programming will take place or how to teach the vehicle to “abide by social norms”, but it’s apparent that until most of the traffic on the road is computer-driven, computers will have to learn to drive like humans.

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