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Comment Re:Short-term numbers versus long-term (Score 1) 80

My opinion has nothing to do with bad drivers. Everybody gets tired. Everybody gets distracted. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding him/herself.

Besides, more than 70% of all drivers eat while driving, and that's responsible (according to one study) for about 80% of all crashes. When I say humans suck as drivers, I mean that the overwhelming majority of human drivers (if not all) suck at driving at least some of the time. The only reason we don't have orders of magnitude more wrecks than we do is that split-second reaction time is only important on very rare occasions (perhaps five-seconds in a typical hour of driving), so being distracted usually doesn't result in an accident.

Comment Re:Short-term numbers versus long-term (Score 2) 80

I'm anti-antibiotic and modern medical intervention because I think knowing that they're available just makes people careless and sloppy when they travel in areas where those interventions aren't available. I would much rather a few more people die because we don't use antibiotics at all than for people to become reliant on them and just become careless and unfit.

First, antibiotics are available nearly anywhere in the world you might go. By contrast, these sorts of autopilot features are available on a tiny fraction of a percent of vehicles, and probably will be for some time to come.

Second, the technology is highly limited, basically useful only on the highway, which means that if people get used to having that extra support during highway driving, it could easily result in an increase in accidents in cities, where accidents are much more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities. So there's a good possibility that this could actually make traffic deaths worse on the whole over the long term.

Early studies strongly suggested that partial self-driving solutions did more harm than good, which is why I think we should wait to make self-driving technology available until it can truly take the place of the human driver, rather than introducing a solution that only works part of the time and can lead to false confidence the rest of the time. I could be wrong, and I'd like to be wrong, but my gut says we'd be better off waiting a few more years for a more complete solution, rather than deploying a partial solution more broadly.

Comment Re:Short-term numbers versus long-term (Score 1) 80

I'm not saying that the challenge of coming up with software that allows a car to autonomously drive itself better than a human isn't possible. I just challenge the assertion that a computer with multiple cameras is likely superior to a human.

I say that for several reasons:

  • Human vision is inherently focused on a single thing at a time. They teach you to move your eyes around and scan for things that might be problems, but the reality is that we're very limited in our ability to do so. Computers don't have that problem. They can see that kid on the side of the road who might fall out into traffic long before a human driver would happen to randomly glance in that direction, which means that on average, they can take corrective action much sooner even if their actual reaction time is much slower.
  • Computers can also look behind and beside them constantly. You might look in your side or rearview mirror when you're about to turn or change lanes or back up. However, the odds of seeing someone cutting into your side or flying up behind you in time to avoid a collision is remarkably small. A computer, however, would see those vehicles every time, and would often be able to prevent the resulting accidents.
  • Statistically, one in five collisions happens in parking lots, where human vision is hopelessly obstructed by other vehicles. Computers should be able to trivially avoid essentially all of those collisions. So right off the bat, even if computers were no better than human drivers while on the road, you'd expect a 20% drop in accidents just from having complete 360-degree vision while pulling out of parking spaces. And nearly half of all pedestrian accidents occur in parking lots, so the seemingly excessive caution that computer-controlled cars use should dramatically decrease pedestrian injuries and deaths as well.

Besides, Tesla's autopilot feature is designed exclusively for highway driving. (AFAIK, it still ignores stop signs and traffic lights entirely.) Highway driving is, on the whole, some of the safest driving possible, with nearly every accident caused by some combination of fatigue, distraction (particularly involving food/drinks), and/or drunkenness on the part of one of the drivers involved. To beat a human driver under those conditions, all Tesla's autopilot really has to do is keep the car in the current lane, reliably detect cars that have stopped in front of it without nodding off after half an hour or chugging one for the road, and avoid other people who have fallen asleep or are drunk. Of those, only the last one is particularly challenging, which is almost certainly why the crash numbers are only down by 40% instead of 80% or more. :-)

Comment Re:Short-term numbers versus long-term (Score 1) 80

I think that two numbers would be deceptive because almost no-one is capable of acknowledging their inattention.

They don't have to. With as much data collection as the Tesla systems do, assuming they collect the same data with autopilot disabled, too, it should be possible to do a post-mortem (so to speak) on a random sampling of accidents and determine whether a reasonable person should have noticed the stopped car in front of them (for example) or not and whether the driver failed to react in a timely fashion or not.

I think that two numbers would be deceptive because almost no-one is capable of acknowledging their inattention. If you found at that that 50% of accidents are caused by inattention, but the autopilot is a 20% *worse* driver than someone paying attention, you *know* that everyone would flee from AutoPilot it on the assumption they won't be part of the 50% failing to pay attention.

On the contrary. If the autopilot is 20% worse than a driver who is paying attention, then having those concrete statistics would provide the motivation to change the behavior of the autopilot feature to be more sensible, such as looking for signs that the driver isn't paying attention, and then automatically engaging when the driver's hands leave the wheel, when the driver's eyes leave the road, when the driver's grip on the wheel relaxes too much, etc., rather than making things worse by engaging when the driver would have done a better job. And as the statistics become more complete, you'd probably decide to add other weighting factors, such as time of day, whether they're driving away from home at night (e.g. to work the night shift) or towards it, etc.

Comment Short-term numbers versus long-term (Score 1) 80

One would expect that. Even a bad computer program with a dozen eyes is likely to be better than a bag of meat with only two.

I'm more concerned about the long-term secondary effects. Do drivers who get used to this technology become dependent on it, and thus have higher accident rates when driving rental cars that lack this technology?

Additionally, I'm less than convinced by the use of a single number here. To be meaningful, you need at least two numbers: the number of crashes avoided because of software intervention and the number of crashes caused by driver inattention. After all, if the system saves a bunch of lives because of things that a human driver couldn't have predicted, but costs a small number of lives because some humans depended too much on the vehicle to drive for them, then it is great from a statistical perspective, but that's little comfort for the families of people who died because the autopilot lulled them into a false sense of security.

Comment Re:He's missing the point. (Score 3, Insightful) 113

It would be nice if people could learn to think in terms of threats that fell somewhere between "safe to ignore" and "extinction level event". Or could distinguish between "extreme and expensive" responses and "effective" ones.

9/11 could have been prevented by simple, conservative and inexpensive countermeasures. After 9/11 politicians droned on about how "9/11 changed everything," but the cold sober fact was that it in fact changed nothing. It just showed that some of the things sensible people had already been telling us to do (like reinforcing cockpit doors or getting agencies to work together despite institutional rivalries) really did need to be done. Instead "9/11 changed everything" became the rallying cry for every pet scheme that had heretofore been correctly dismissed as too expensive, hare-brained, or just plain dumb.

Which doesn't change the fact that something needed to be done. Here's the lesson I think we should take into this infrastructure debate: we should take sensible and conservative steps to secure infrastructure against terrorism now, before events put foolish ones on the table.

Comment Re:Good but... (Score 1) 108

Or... what if anytime anyone called a residential number, a nickel was transferred from the caller's account to the callee's account.

That wouldn't stop anyone from making a call where an actual person is likely to be involved; the labor costs for a three minute conversation would swamp that. But it would discourage people from robocalling a hundred thousand people in order to turn up a handful of suckers.

And the public wouldn't have to pay a regulator to try to track down these boiler room operations.

Comment Re:Agrument in favor of modularity (Score 1) 86

I don't have to do anything. Even stored under ideal circumstances li-ion batteries lose capacity.

What matter is capacity relative to demand. In a phone like the Droid Maxx from a few years ago with plenty of surplus battery the phone will still be usable four years later. But something like a Samsung Galaxy S6 barely has enough battery to make it through the day when brand new and is pretty much unusable two years later even under ideal conditions.

Comment Re:There's a lot more iron much closer... (Score 3, Informative) 254

And there's some twenty million tons of gold dissolved in the Earth's oceans. Jules Verne made it the source of Captain Nemo's incredible wealth.

To put twenty million tons of gold in perspective, all the gold that has ever been mined by humans totals up to about 180 thousand tons. To put in another perspective: sure, it's gold, but at a concentration of thirteen billionths of a gram per liter of seawater it's worthless unless you have unlimited time and energy to extract it.

That's the problem with asteroid mining in general. Until the cost of changing an object's momentum goes down drastically it's not worth doing. If Pysche were a 1000 kg block of pure, refined platinum (market price: $34 million) you'd be hard-pressed to retrieve it and return it to Earth at a profit. Which is not to say asteroid mining is a bad idea; but first things first: you've got to reduce the price of interplanetary propulsion by a couple orders of magnitudes. One thing that never happens in a sci-fi asteroid mining scenario is the hero worrying about running out of gas. Propulsion in stories is always practically limitless and free of charge. Real propulsion will never be that good, but it could get good enough.

Comment Re:One Repository (Score 1) 25

One repository isn't necessary, but one interface would be tremendously useful. If I want to watch a show, I don't care if it is being offered by Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, BBC, Amazon, etc. I just know the name of the show and want to watch it. If I subscribe to the service, it should be trivial for me to key in the name of the show and have it play, no matter which service it came from.

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