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Sundry

Notes from March, 2019

From 10 Lessons From Uber’s Fatal Self-Driving Car Crash, starting with “Humans Are Bad At Overseeing Imperfect Automation:”

The video of Vasquez looking up from her phone in horror, realizing that Herzberg had just been hit while she looked away from the road, is a glimpse at the terrors that the future may hold. Until full autonomy is completely validated, human-in-the-loop automated driving will encourage us to take ever more liberties with our attention while failing to protect the next Elaine Herzbergs. This is a limited problem in the context of autonomous vehicle “safety drivers,” who are now increasingly well-trained and partnered up while testing, but it shows the problem that seems to be underlying the deaths of drivers using Tesla’s Autopilot. Now that Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” system appears likely to be released to some customers before it’s even validated, another company seems ready to put its own customers in the position of being untrained and unsupervised safety drivers.

Yes, Vasquez had a level of responsibility behind the wheel, but Uber also had a responsibility not to put a single individual in a highly automated car for 10 hours at a time with no supervision. Because full autonomy is taking longer to deliver than promised, the temptation to deliver nearly-full autonomy while telling drivers to maintain awareness will be hard to resist but Vazquez’s look of horror should be a reminder to everyone of the risks of such systems. It certainly makes the prospect of Tesla’s customer testing downright terrifying.

Why do AV testing in Phoenix? Because identifying pedestrians and cyclists, especially at night, is difficult for self-driving vehicles. In Phoenix, “not only is the weather consistently good, but there aren’t many pedestrians or cyclists on the road as there are in other cities.” The article then goes on to endorse the adoption of thermal image sensors.

Of course I enjoyed “The joy of riding an e-bike is contagious!”

A clever but damning innovation in bicycle shipping:

By masking its bikes as TVs, VanMoof, a Dutch manufacturer that exports bikes to customers overseas, has seen the damages reduced by 70-80 per cent. Taco Carlier, the co-founder of VanMoof, told The Independent: “We came up by the idea because we had lots of damage, especially with shipments in the USA.”

Bike Lanes: Dark Humor
Bike Lanes: Darker Reality

Meanwhile, at Boeing:

For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons. Sometimes these optional features involve aesthetics or comfort, like premium seating, fancy lighting or extra bathrooms. But other features involve communication, navigation or safety systems, and are more fundamental to the plane’s operations.

Boeing’s optional safety features, in part, could have helped the pilots detect any erroneous readings. One of the optional upgrades, the angle of attack indicator, displays the can be of the two sensors. The other, called a disagree light, is activated if those sensors are at odds with one another.

“They’re critical, and cost almost nothing for the airlines to install,” said Bjorn Fehrm, an analyst at the aviation consultancy Leeham. “Boeing charges for them because it can. But they’re vital for safety.”

I can understand that new and advanced safety features, which may cost a lot of money to develop and install, might cost extra. But if you’re throwing in a computer that will read a sensor to take over control of the plane, it seems insane to charge extra to indicate when the sensor might be malfunctioning.

Ain’t that America?

The conventional wisdom is that comfortable middle-class middle-aged people who have achieved a degree of financial security–people like me–should become more Republican at this point in their lives. I think this is reasonable, because after all if the system has worked well for you, then it must be a pretty decent system, and you’d like to maintain the status quo.

But I do not see that the system works. I made it through college, and after some trouble, I have found a career that pays well. California’s Real Estate market–the fact that I could never afford my own place–left me feeling disconnected from where I lived. This influenced a certain recklessness in my personal life. We only own a house through due to thrift, good luck, and the near collapse of the American economy a decade ago.

The system is broken and with the bombastic, militant, anti-government Right Wing, it feels like we are drifting ever further from solutions to increasingly urgent problems. Climate Change being the biggest of Big Deals, but we really should provide everyone with healthcare, basic welfare, access to education, and generally spend less effort on military might and more on working collaboratively with the rest of the world to improve the lot of humanity. If anything, in my comfortable years, I am growing more radical in my lefty sentiments.

Even if I wanted to maintain the status quo, the Republicans are no longer the party for that. The platform is to bankrupt the government through tax cuts and excessive military spending, in order to teach Americans the gospel that Government Isn’t The Solution. The only good Republican President I have known in my lifetime was President Clinton. He winnowed down government spending, especially military, to the point of a balanced budget. Then there was Welfare Reform, which is a thing Conservatives like. He didn’t start any (major) wars. (That I can remember.)

The status quo barely works for me just barely. And Climate Change is a growing burden that is going to hurt my kids far more than it already hurts my generation. The stable pattern that I value most is that the Earth will continue to provide for humanity. As a middle aged, middle class, uncomfortable person who supports the status quo, it is the radicals speaking out for good stewardship of Earth, and the radicals speaking out for the idea that people should be free from want and free from fear that most appeal to me.


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