Self-driving cars will soon be able to easily hide in plain sight. We should not let them.

Self-driving cars will soon become easy to hide in sight. Sensors on the roof are now marking many of them as likely to become smaller. Mercedes vehicles have the new, partially automated Drive Pilot system, which carries lidar sensors behind the vehicle’s front grille, indistinguishable to the naked eye from human-operated vehicles.

Is this a good thing? Be a part of us Driverless Futures project at University College London, my colleagues and I recently concluded survey of people’s attitudes self-driving vehicles and the rules of the road. One of the questions we decided to ask, after conducting more than 50 in-depth interviews with experts, was whether self-driving cars should be labeled. The consensus from our sample of 4,800 UK citizens is clear: 87% agree with the statement “Must be clear to other road users if a car is to drive itself” (only 4% do not) agree, the rest are uncertain).

We sent the same survey to a smaller group of experts. They are less convinced: 44% agree and 28% disagree that the condition of a vehicle should be advertised. The question is not simple. There are valid arguments on both sides.

We could argue that, in principle, humans should know when they’re interacting with a robot. That is the argument made in 2017, in a report commissioned by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It says: “Robots are manufactured artifacts. “They should not be designed in a deceptive way to exploit vulnerable users; their mechanical nature should instead be transparent. “If self-driving cars on public roads are actually being tested, other road users could be considered subjects in that test and have to give something like informed consent. be informed. Another argument in favor of labeling, which is practical, is that — as with student-driven cars — it is safer to yield a wide stop to a vehicle that may not function as a vehicle. convenience is controlled by a person who has been well practised.

There are also arguments against labeling. A trademark can be seen as an abdication of responsibility by innovators, implying that others should acknowledge and adapt to a self-driving car. And it could be argued that a new brand, without a clear sharing of the limits of technology, would only add confusion to already-so-distracting avenues.

From a scientific perspective, labels also influence data collection. If a self-driving car is learning to drive and others know this and behave differently, this could corrupt the data it collects. Something like that seemed to be in his mind A Volvo executive told a reporter in 2016 that “Just to be safe,” the company will use unbranded cars for its proposed self-driving test on UK roads. “I’m pretty sure people would challenge them if they were flagged by slamming the brakes in front of a self-driving car or getting in their way,” he said.

On balance, the arguments for labeling are, at least in the short term, more convincing. This debate isn’t just about self-driving cars. It gets to the heart of the question of how new technologies should be regulated. Developers of emerging technologies who often draw portraits of them are disruptive and world-changing at first, tend to paint them merely incremental and no matter once the regulatory authorities come knocking. But new technologies don’t just fit the world as it is. They reshaped the world. If we are to recognize their benefits and make the right decisions about their risks, we need to be honest about them.

To better understand and manage the deployment of autonomous cars, we need to dispel the myth that computers will drive like humans but better. Management professor Ajay Agrawal, for example, argued that self-driving cars essentially just do what drivers do, but more efficiently: “Humans have data coming in through sensors — cameras on the face and microphones on either side of their heads — and the data being fed in, we process data with our monkey brain, and then we take actions, and our actions are very limited: we can turn left, we can turn right, We can brake, we can accelerate.”

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