Key to her argument is an insight about how cars learn. We’re accustomed to thinking of code as a series of instructions written by a human programmer. That’s how most computers work, but not the ones that Tesla and other driverless-car developers are using. Recognizing a bicycle and then anticipating which way it’s going to go is just too complicated to boil down to a series of instructions. Instead, programmers use machine learning to train their software. They might show it thousands of photographs of different bikes, from various angles and in many contexts. They might also show it some motorcycles or unicycles, so it learns the difference. Over time, the machine works out its own rules for interpreting what it sees.
The more experiences they have, the smarter these machines get. That’s part of the problem, Kalra argues, with keeping autonomous cars in a lab until they’re perfect. If we really wanted to maximize total lives saved, she says, we might even put autonomous cars on the road while they’re still more dangerous than humans, to speed up their education.
Even if we build a perfect driverless car, how will we know it? The only way to be certain would be to put it on the road. But since fatal accidents are statistically rare—in the U.S., about one for every 86 million miles traveled—the amount of necessary testing would be mind-boggling. In another Rand paper, Kalra estimates an autonomous car would have to travel 275 million failure-free miles to prove itself no more deadly than a human driver, a distance that would take 100 test cars more than 12 years of nonstop driving to cover.
At a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting a few years ago Warren Buffett stated the relentless upward trajectory of insurance premiums was partly driven by texting while driving. As the pungent aroma of cannabis wafts its way through the streets of California, and other US states, I would opine driving while high is another hazard that is likely to further increase actuarial calculations of risk.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top