Here’s an important announcement: Please keep your hands, feet, and head inside the vehicle at all times.
That’s something you’ve undoubtedly heard countless times when taking a ride on a roller coaster or perhaps when going on a tourist bus that is taking you on a safari. The notion is quite simple. For your safety, keep within the confines of the vehicle. This is not only for your safety, but as they emphasize, it also can entail the safety of others too.
Prudent advice, which sometimes goes in one ear and out the other.
It seems as though there are invariably some violators that think they are an exception to the rule about staying inside the vehicle. They frantically put their arms outside the window and wave as though the world is their oyster. They are willing to stick their head out as far as a giraffe, or perhaps if on a safari allow their head to butt heads with an actual giraffe.
Admittedly, these violations are generally benign and nothing adverse comes from them. Even on a thrilling roller coaster, most ride designs ensure that someone with outstretched legs, feet, arms, hands, and head are going to survive and not get hurt. There is a sufficient gap, usually, between however far outside the vehicle you can reach and any kind of structures that might ding you or do worse damage to your appendages and your noggin.
I don’t want to seem to be a sour doomsday admonisher, but betting your limbs on the assumption that someone has made sure you are going to be okay when violating the outstretching rules is quite a gamble. The cost to you is going to be extraordinarily high. There are plenty of news reports of people that got badly hurt upon the act of getting some part of their body smushed (or bitten) as a result of extending beyond the expected reach.
The same principle about staying within a vehicle can readily apply to riding in an everyday automobile.
You might have seen videos of frustrated ridesharing drivers that have had to gently and then severely berate some passengers that have gone hog wild while inside the ridesharing car. This seems to especially happen during the infamous spring break and when those carefree college kids are on their joyous vacation. They get into the car that has come to pick them up, and nearly instantly they roll down the windows and start flailing out to whoever will look at them. Party, party, party.
I suppose this seems innocent enough. Shouldn’t they be able to enjoy their time off from taking exams and having to hit the books? Yes, having a good time seems fair, though perhaps after a few too many drinks, they are amping up their chances of getting hurt.
There are numerous ways to get your hands, feet, or head into a really rotten situation. For example, the traffic might be so tightly squeezed together that one of your appendages gets banged against the side of another vehicle or perhaps clipped by an outcropped side-view mirror. If driving in an area with a lot of trees, there is the oft chance that a tree branch is close enough to the roadway that you could bang against it.
Probably the more likely untoward scenarios involve what will happen if the driver of the car has to suddenly and unexpectedly hit the brakes. The odds are that extending yourself out of a window will involve foregoing your seatbelt or at least pulling beyond the proper standard lengths. Upon the powerful forces of physics when rapid braking occurs, you are going to not have the full safety associated with the seatbelt. On top of that, your exposed limbs could rock back and forth and potentially get pinned or otherwise banged up.
None of that goes through the mind of those that are having a good time. Until they should ever experience the downsides of having part of their precious body outside and get severely harmed, the odds are they will not mentally calculate the dangers involved. It is all fun and games. Anyone that has seen or directly experienced what can go wrong is likely to be worried on the behalf of those that naively don’t know what potentially awaits them.
The driver of the vehicle is usually tasked with the unenviable chore of trying to coax people to get back within the requisite and appropriate confines.
Any ridesharing driver or tourist bus driver is somewhat hesitant to play the role of the bad guy in terms of scolding riders that have gone beyond the limits of what is reasonable. The driver doesn’t want to upset the passengers. The driver is hoping to get a nice monetary tip. The driver wants the riders to feel like they are having a grand old time. Nonetheless, the driver is ultimately going to be held responsible for the unsavory deeds of their riders.
Some drivers try to establish the rules at the get-go and add some humor or other clever form of emphasis to make sure the rules about staying inside the car are properly grasped. You might liken this to those flight attendant briefings about safety while on an airplane. Most passengers do not pay attention to the briefing. On the other hand, if the flight attendant tries to make the briefing somewhat memorable, the hope is that the passengers will pay attention and then also abide by the rules so conveyed.
To some degree, warning riders about not extending outside the windows or the allotted safe space can be especially handy for those that might have taken such an act by accident of sorts. We can find ourselves impulsively waving our arms or sticking out our necks, doing so without giving much thought to the matter. A rider is oftentimes feeling as though they are not directly responsible for what happens while someone else is doing the driving. Drivers tend to feel the weight of responsibility for their “crew” upon the ship that they are sailing (one could suggest that the driver is the captain, as it were).
When I’ve been referring to windows, there is also the opportunity to extend beyond a sunroof or moon-top of a car. Those are windows that are aimed at the stars above are pretty common these days. You can open the roof and allow the wind to gush into the vehicle, giving a sense of truly being on the roadway. At the same time, it is quite possible that a passenger might stick their head outside of the rooftop opening. I don’t need to tell you what could go wrong, it seems relatively self-evident.
Now that we’ve covered that groundwork, let’s consider the future of cars. The plain fact of things is that the future of cars consists of self-driving cars (for my extensive coverage about self-driving cars, see the link here). AI-based true self-driving cars are driven by an AI driving system and there isn’t a human driver at the wheel.
Without a human driver, one serious concern that can arise (after giving the matter some soulful thought) is that the passengers might become even more careless and “carefree” about what they are doing while inside the vehicle. As mentioned earlier, the driver is usually the caretaker of making sure that the riders won’t get themselves into dire postures.
Today’s intriguing question: Will the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars include having the AI driving system warn riders about keeping their hands, feet, and head within the vehicle and if so, what will make this admonishment have any substantive teeth to it?
Let’s unpack the matter and see.
Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars And Rider Admonishments
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that today’s AI is not sentient.
In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can. I mention this aspect because many headlines boldly proclaim or imply that AI has turned the corner and become equal to human intelligence. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the outsized headlines seek to amp further the matter by contending that AI is reaching superhuman capabilities (for why the use of “superhuman” as a moniker is especially misleading and inappropriate, see my discussion at this link here).
Why this emphasis about the AI not being sentient?
Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.
With that clarification, you can envision the AI driving system doesn’t natively somehow “know” that people are apt to extend their hands, feet, or head outside the windows or confines of the car. The AI doesn’t “know” that the riders can get physically hurt and possibly severely damaged by taking such action. And so on.
Those are all facets that need to be programmatically devised by the automaker or self-driving tech firm that makes the AI driving system. If they aren’t considering those facets, there won’t be anything somehow innately in the AI driving system that will “realize” that humans are foolish or foolhardy when it comes to such practices.
Right now, most riders in any of the self-driving cars that are doing these experimental tryouts are taking the ride as a quite serious matter. They are excited to be inside a self-driving car. They are unsure of what to do. They act as though they are in a veritable delicate store or shop of glassware and crystal, wanting to avoid touching anything that might upset the ride or get themselves into trouble (for my discussion about what it is like to ride in a self-driving car, see the link here).
Once self-driving cars become prevalent, you can toss that timidity out the window. Indeed, you can fully expect that riders will decide that they can really let loose while inside a self-driving car. They know that a human driver is not there to boss them around. This means that they can presumably do whatever they wish. Wild times are at hand.
In short, if the AI driving system is not augmented to act as a parental-like influencer in this particular matter, riders are going to be giddy and feel that they are being given a free license to have a rowdy time.
You can readily imagine the extensive lengths to which some riders might go. With today’s world of wanting to have selfies and gain your own bit of fifteen minutes’ worth of fame, there are assuredly going to be some that will carry things a bridge too far. One shudders to think of how people might dangerously even attempt to crawl out a window or ride on the trunk or hood of the vehicle. There is also the crazy possibility of trying to shake hands with someone in a car next to you or other nutty approaches.
The lack of a human driver opens the door to some rather frightening antics. Those antics can produce extremely unfortunate consequences. As they say, it might be sensible to try and close the barn door before the animals get loose. This means that the AI driving systems should caution riders about staying within the confines of the vehicle.
Of course, that seems a pretty simple thing to do. Just have a prerecorded message that plays each time that someone gets into a self-driving car. There, that’s all you need to do.
Would that be sufficient?
It is akin to those flight attendant briefings. People would probably listen intently the first time they heard or saw the precautionary warning. By the second or third time of riding in a self-driving car, they likely would be already sticking out their feet, hands, and head, doing so either by outright ignoring the droning cautionary words or maybe by being reminded about what they aren’t supposed to do (and, therefore, ironically, opt to do that very thing).
There needs to be more than just the telling of what to not do.
A human driver would watch for misbehaviors of riders and then sternly inform them to stop their antics. If the driver felt that things were going overboard (a bit of a pun!), they would have ways to try and assure compliance. This might involve stopping the ride and telling the riders that they are on their own and cannot continue the driving journey. Another possibility entails informing the riders that they will be placed onto a “banned” list that means they won’t be able to use that ridesharing service again. Etc.
These are all feasible actions for an AI driving system too.
Again, this would need to be programmatically devised and won’t happen merely by an amorphous hope of sentience. Let’s dig a bit further into these rider dunning modes.
First, how will the AI driving system detect that passengers are going outside the confines of the vehicle?
Keep in mind that self-driving cars are outfitted with a slew of sensors, including video cameras, radar, LIDAR, ultrasonic units, thermal imagining, and the like. These are sensors that are usually aimed away from the vehicle. This makes sense because the idea is that the sensors are trying to detect the driving scene that surrounds the vehicle.
That also tends to imply that those sensors are not going to be especially helpful when trying to figure out what the riders are doing. The usual sensor suite is intended to figure out what pedestrians are doing, what other cars are doing, and not necessarily paying any attention to the interior of the self-driving car.
There are though likely to be additional video cameras that are pointed inward. This allows for providing a Skype-like capability that would enable passengers to do interactive online activities, such as conferring with people at work while commuting in a self-driving car or perhaps taking an interactive online class for some added training.
The AI driving system could be augmented by using those inward-facing cameras and do so to detect misbehaviors of those within the self-driving car. Woefully, some people might be tempted to mark graffiti for tear-up the interior, thus the use of video cameras would hopefully curtail that kind of miscreant activity.
One aspect of the video cameras that are pointing inward is the fact that you are being recorded. This implies that at some later time there is a record or proof of something that you did wrong. That doesn’t though deal with the real-time aspects of someone attempting to reach outside the windows of the car. Thus, the AI driving system or its augmented component would presumably be continually monitoring the riders and be programmed to figure out when someone tries to outstretch. A form of facial recognition that applies to the body and appendages would generally be capable of making these types of detections.
You might be thinking that the AI driving system should just deny anyone from being able to open any of the windows. In essence, lock the doors and lock closed the windows. That solves the problem entirely. Yes, it might, but the odds are that passengers are not going to favor a self-driving car that won’t let them roll down a window. People are still going to want the “thrill” of having the wind blowing on them and the sensation that they are riding inside a moving car.
Okay, so people are going to be able to open windows of self-driving cars. The AI driving system or its augmented component will be mathematically scanning the video camera images to detect if someone is reaching outside the windows. If someone does so, the AI will produce a verbalized alert and inform the transgressor to please pull back into the car. And if the violator continues to be unwilling to abide, the AI would presumably indicate that the ride will be safely brought to a halt, and the passenger is going to be placed on a banned-rider list.
That’s all part of the normal playbook of a human driver.
In case you are concerned that people will feel upset that a piece of automation is telling them what to do, another possibility would be for the AI to contact a remote agent of the fleet operator. The remote agent, a human, would come online and tell the rider to please obey the instructions given. In this manner, it is a fellow human being that is doing the chaperoning, as it were, rather than the AI system.
Will people be concerned that they are under constant surveillance by the AI driving system via the use of those inward-facing cameras (a potential privacy intrusion of some magnitude)?
You might try to argue that this is no different than a human driver watching their passengers. One supposes that there is a bit of a difference, namely that the rider is being videotaped in the case of the self-driving car. Their every move and activity is being diligently recorded. That can be disturbing. At the same time, many of the ridesharing services have their human drivers doing the same thing right now, and thus you are not necessarily avoiding the video capture by simply taking a human driver rather than using a self-driving car.
With all of these potential controls in a self-driving car, there is admittedly a chance that those that are purposely aiming to have an “outstretched” ride (wherein they can stick most of themselves outside the car) are going to gravitate back toward a human driver rather than using a self-driving car. The odds are that a human driver can be swayed into allowing that kind of craziness.
Additional caveats are involved in this matter.
For example, just because someone inches out their fingers and hands, this doesn’t seem to warrant getting the fifth degree and being excessively harangued. Indeed, that kind of policing would certainly make riders decide they don’t want to use self-driving cars. The point is that the programming of the AI that is going to be doing the real-time video analysis will need to be devised to allow for some reasonable amount of going out-of-bounds.
Assuming that the AI is devised to provide a bit of latitude, you can just hear the glowing review by a rebellious teenager that took a ride in a self-driving car and was allowed to wave at their friends, saying that the AI was a cool driver, and they ended up giving the ride a stellar five-star rating.
The parents would undoubtedly showcase a knowing grin, realizing that fortunately their beloved teen has all their limbs still intact, and be appreciative that the boundaries of riding inside a self-driving car were being judiciously observed.
Somebody, or something, has to make sure that those hands, feet, and head remain whole and are kept safely inside the vehicle at all times.
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