Could the next step from the self-driving car be the car with thoughts of their own? Is this a dip into science fiction, perhaps, but it’s more likely a dip into future science fact.
Although we think of self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AVs) as “cars with minds of their own” in reality they’re no different from a calculator or a computer. It’s actually just following a sophisticated set of logical steps as a result of stimuli, which is a fancy way of saying when something triggers it the car responds according to it’s programming.
A car having it’s own thoughts comes under the umbrella of artificial intelligence.
To be fair, most of us sort of feel like computers have a mind of their own. When a computer breaks down it feels like its acting out of spite. Even non-autonomous cars are sometime feel like they have minds of their own. And most car owners take refuge in giving their car a personality, sometimes even a name.
There are two possible ways a car might gain the ability to generate its own thoughts.
- True artificial intelligence: where programming become so sophisticated that the program writes additional programming to deal with situations it wasn’t already programmed to handle.
- Creating a digital imprint of a human to act as a logic engine from which programs will feed in questions and carry out instructions
A current example of the first kind is Siri, which sort of spoofs intelligence by being able to intuit what is being asked of it and trying to carry out instructions as best it can. A science fiction example would be HAL 9000 the murderous computer in “2001 a Space Odyssey” who decided it was self-defense to wipe out the astronauts who want to disable it for making an error.
Science fiction is rife with examples of the second kind of artificial intelligence as it has become a common trope. The idea that a human nearing the end of his/her life could “upload” their conscious into an android, for example, is alluring and entertaining. But taking it the extra step and uploading the contents of the human brain into a vehicle is also portrayed frequently. Take for example, “The Tunnel Under the World” by Frederick Pohl (1955), which is perhaps the first story about transferring a mind into a machine. (Earlier works cantered on transferring the mind into another person.)
The advantage (or disadvantage) is that the new computer would have a personality as well as experiences and the ability to really read the subtext of spoken questions or instructions. The result would be giving your car an actual personality.
Do we really need a car to flip out when we pass gas while driving? That’s what our spouse is for, right? We’ll leave you to wrestle with these deep questions.
Current examples the second type of AI don’t exist, but how far off could they really be? Well, the science behind how you might do this is still in its infancy so you are unlikely to get a car with a real brain any time soon, but… there is a Wikipedia page devoted to whole brain emulation (WBE) so efforts are underway.
If a car can’t gain a mind what about cars that can read your mind? An institute in Lausanne in Switzerland reported that they had invented the brain-machine transference that allows wheelchairs to be powered by thought alone in disabled people. The next step, and it could be tricky, is to find a way they can interact with cars.
Nissan plans to look at the brainwaves of drivers to study the patterns as they about to react to driving situations. They Nissan will pilot the cars off their driver based on the actions it reads the driver attempting to make. Right now it requires you to wear an EEG headset which isn’t the kind of thing you might wear out to the mall, so there is room for improvement. The other key part of the research is keeping drivers focused on the road. Most drivers don’t actually concentrate on driving while driving any more than most pedestrians concentrate on walking while strolling down the sidewalk.
It could be said that this system won’t produce autonomic driving cars as much as it is could improving the system of “human driving.”
Nissan is not alone though; there have been similar plans with Jaguar and Renault. As with all things autonomous there’s always the problem of legally deciding who’s driving the vehicle, because our laws currently hold the driver liable for moving infractions. If an AV kills someone in an accident is the human occupant responsible or the company that made the AI in the AV.
Based on the money companies are throwing at these projects, it’s not likely they’ll give up.
The first idea on brain waves came not from a car company but from an EEG company in 2011, no doubt looking for a way to use their product. It’s commonly believed that General Motors got involved in the first experiments into fatigue though it wasn’t officially established. If that sounds a little wonky you have to remember that GM spent decades as the largest defense contractor in the US, and worked on many secret projects for the US military developing technology that we may never truly learn the origins of.
Regardless of origin, the idea of brain scans was seen as a quite controversial idea at the time, maybe we’re just more used to augmented and virtual reality now?
When we throw in the ideas of reading human brains to drive, whether we’re leaving the brain in the head of the driver or transferring it into the vehicle, the better label for the topic should cybernetics. We are, after all, trying to meld man and machine, which is the heart of the idea when you say the word “driving.”
The term cybernetics was created in 1948 and apparently refers to both “control and communication.” So presumably the machine part allows human augmentation, in the case of the Swiss EEG driving experiment, a disabled person gets augmented control and an ability to express themselves.