Driverless cars should be like horses (not humans)

The new driverless car from Google has no break pedal or steering wheel. And that’s because the consensus is that driverless cars should completely replace the human driver. Even blind people would be able to drive them. They will be like elevators: push a button and wait till the thing gets you there safely.

Look: no steering wheel! Or breaks!

Look: no steering wheel! Or breaks!

It is sensible to have driverless cars for highway, long-distance driving. Imagine a driverless lane, where you enter and automatically release control of your vehicle to the collective intelligence of the highway traffic system. Such a facility will decrease accidents dramatically, and make long-distance driving more like riding a train. But when it comes to driving in a city or in small roads in the countryside, completely driverless cars make much less sense that it seems.

First there is a number of ethical and legal dilemmas to resolve: for instance who should be held liable when a driverless car kills a human. And there are huge technical challenges to resolve too: pattern recognition is not so advance to deal with unexpected obstacles or very low visibility. To solve these problems will take years. Indeed the computing power to solve these problems requires supercomputing level of power, or a totally reliable broadband connection to cloud supercomputing. If you start doing the maths of millions of driverless cars computing in parallel and solving highly complex pattern recognition problems you get the idea.

But perhaps, the biggest problem all is the safety culture of the automobile industry. Given the wide margins of error when driving a car, safety is often compromised – and rightly so – within accepted limits so that cars are economical. Completely driverless cars change the nature of driving. The automobile industry will have to mimic the aeronautical industry, where new designs are tested to exhaustion and multiple systems run in parallel to safeguard against catastrophic inflight failures. But if the same standards were to be applied to cars, new models would need many years of testing before being released to consumers, and their price tags will be stratospherically (sic) higher!

The driverless car of the future

The driverless car of the future

Perhaps, better to think of future cars like horses. Animal intelligence offers a much better area for the application of machine intelligence for cars. A horse analogy car will have highly advanced sensing, and will compensate for driver ability. It will be able to take over if the driver behaves erratically and bring the car to a safe stop. It will collaborate synergistically with the human driver in a horse-rider analogy of a second order cybernetic system. Under normal driving circumstances it not take over the human driver completely but become an extension of the driver’s sensing and acting ability. The “animal car” will thus be the logical evolution of the current “plant-like” cars.

Writing a cybernetic novel

The Island Survival Guide and narrative reflexivity

The Island Survival Guide and narrative reflexivity

I would like to define a cybernetic novel as one that writes itself, or one where the reader is also the narrator. A novel that possesses self-reflexivity. I made the sketch (see above)  some time ago while thinking about my novel “The Island Survival Guide“. When I say “I thought about my novel” I mean as a reader, not as a writer. In fact, cybernetic writing blurs the distinction between writer and reader, and finally break it down completely: the writer is the reader who is the writer, and so on. As it does so it also undermines and destroys a more significant dichotomy, the difference between the narrative (object) and the narrator/reader (subject). The two become one, one reflecting into the other. This is of course a logical paradox. Cybernetic writing is a logical paradox based on reflexivity.

The paradox of narrative reflexivity that defines a cybernetic novel is what makes it what it is; it is a paradox that creates an escape hatch, or a quantum wormhole, connecting two different universes that exist in different dimensions. The mind is free to travel between these two narrative universes. As it travels it transfers experiences and knowledge between the two universes. Thus, the paradox of narrative reflexivity becomes the act of creation. The novel is created as a dialogue between the 3-dimensional (+time) universe of the narrator/reader/writer (the terms cease to have distinct meaning in a reflexive narrative context) and the multi-dimensional universe of the novel.

DrawingHands

M C Escher’s rendering of reflexivity in narrative: cybernetic writing

As old meaning breaks down because of continuous feedback between the narrator and the narrative, new meaning is created.

The Island Survival Guide was my second experiment in writing a cybernetic novel (my first being The Secrets of the Lands Without).