Will Overly Polite Self-Driving Cars Brake for Jerks?

Will Overly Polite Self-Driving Cars Brake for Jerks? by Philip E. Ross.

Pedestrians will quickly learn how to game tomorrow’s robocar-dominated traffic system, often bringing it to a halt, according to a model based—of course—on game theory.

“From the point of view of a passenger in an automated car, it would be like driving down a street filled with unaccompanied five-year-old children,” writes Adam Millard-Ball today in the Journal of Planning Education and Research.

Millard-Ball, who teaches environmental studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz, modeled what he calls crosswalk chicken, in which a brazen pedestrian crosses in front of oncoming cars, daring them to run him over. Of course, in today’s world, such effrontery is dangerous because drivers may be inattentive, particularly when operating under the expectation that pedestrians will not act like total jerks. …

“Autonomous vehicles … cannot credibly pretend to be sociopathic,” writes Millard-Ball. “Pedestrians and other human road users, in contrast, gain incentives to behave erratically, even where they do not have the legal right of way. The more it seems that a bicyclist will run a stop sign, a pedestrian step into the road, or a human driver ignore a red light, the more cautiously an autonomous vehicle will behave. Pedestrians gain an incentive to pretend to be drunk, or to ostentatiously behave as if they had no conception that cars could be dangerous.”

Self-driving cars, which have politeness and caution built in from the start, will always fall for such a ruse. And, once robocars make up most of the vehicles on the road, stopping the general flow of traffic will literally be child’s play.

Tomorrow’s parents may feel confident enough to let their kids off their leashes near busy roads. Dogs too. … Robocars will be pushovers for any passing cat, squirrel, or pigeon.