Autonomous vehicles (AVs): Good or bad?

Truth be told, it’s not that simple.

If we unanimously claim AVs are good, we fail to consider the risks they pose to society. Alternatively, if we claim AVs are bad, we ignore their cost and efficiency benefits.

As society moves closer to mass adoption of AVs, we must examine liability, data privacy, consumer adoption and ethical concerns. If left unaddressed, these potential costs will outweigh the benefits.

For our discussion, we focus on vehicle automation level three to five.

automation-graphic

Liability

A man in China was killed when his autonomous Tesla drove into a truck. The car was in autopilot (level 3 automation – conditional automation) with no signs that brakes were applied. Tesla, unable to extract the vehicle’s data logs, claimed there was no proof to pinpoint system failure.

This scenario highlights the complexities of AVs from multiple perspectives:

  • Manufacturers must implement safeguards to ensure data can be accessed at all times. What happens when those safeguards fail?
  • Consumers may believe that autonomous vehicles absolve them of liability, but must be prepared in case of emergencies.
  • Insurers must facilitate the process of identifying causation, adding both time and complexity to settlements.

Deborah de Lange, Assistant Professor of Global Management Studies at Ted Rogers School of Management, had this to say on the complexities of AV systems:

2-deborah-quote

Manufacturers and insurers must begin systematic changes to support the complex technology disrupting the auto industry and consumers must be prepared to adapt to the new role they play in their vehicles.

Data privacy

At DefCon 2016, two security researchers remotely overtook control of a Jeep by hacking messages sent between the ECU and sensors, allowing them to disable the brakes and transmission.

Reliance on automated communication allows hackers to compromise a vehicle in several ways:

  • Unauthorized vehicle control occurs when the hacker is able to gain control of the vehicle. This may be done with malicious intent, potentially causing significant injury or death.
  • Data collection is a serious concern given the large amounts of data collected through an AV’s sensors, GPS and cameras. If these systems are compromised, hackers can have access to sensitive information including vehicle location.

Cybersecurity remains a vital focus in an increasingly connected world; organizations such as the ISO must work to standardize secure development.

Consumer adoption

In 1957, Ford invested $2.9 Billion in the Ford Edsel, a high-end vehicle that failed for two reasons. First, it was more expensive than an average car. Second, it failed to provide promised functionality.

Applying these factors to autonomous vehicles reveals several issues preventing mass adoption:

  • Cost is a major concern preventing adoption of AVs. The annual savings of AVs may not offset the recurring costs due to increased maintenance fees.
  • Perception depends on consumer trust in technology. Accidents due to autonomous driving will decrease the public’s comfort in trusting AVs.
  • Safety will be critical for consumers to adopt AV technology. Considerations like sharing the road with an AV and human controlled vehicle pose potential risks. Mo Guled, Senior Consultant at IBM had this to say on the subject:

3-mo-quote

Ethics

We spoke to Dr. Chris MacDonald, co-editor of the Business Ethics Journal Review, on AV ethical considerations.

4-chris-macdonald-quote

Likewise, ethical decisions must be programmed into autonomous vehicles: what guiding principles exist to justify the trade-off between a vehicle hitting a pedestrian or running into a ditch?

The future: Where do we go from here?

According to Valavan Kugathasan, Senior Consultant within Deloitte’s Strategy & Operations group, stakeholders must first acknowledge their competing interests in functionality, profitability, safety, security and the betterment of society. After this, the starting point is collaboration:

5-val-quote

Without this collaboration, it will truly be a bumpy road ahead for AVs.

This article is a submission for the “Blog Competition” of the National BTM (Business Technology Management) Student Competition between Schools across Canada, represented by teams of their top 4th year BTM students. The Information Technology Association of Canada is pleased to partner with IT World Canada to host this competition, with the Blog Competition Prize generously being Sponsored by FDM Group. Learn more about the National BTM Student Competition at the IT World Canada Competition Hub: http://itworldcanada.com/client/ITAC-BTM/.

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  • Lawler

    Interesting reaction!

  • Ryan

    Great post Ryerson team. I’ve been looking into purchasing a Tesla for a while now, but I think I may hold off until the technology works out its kinks. I think it’s important to not jump in too deep into these uncharted areas without fully considering all the risks involved, especially when these societal changes affect more than just your morning commute.

  • James

    Loved the video!

  • Linying Dong

    Good points!

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Thanks for the support Professor Lin!

  • Linying Dong

    like it

  • Andrew

    Very interesting

  • Anton Mykytenko

    Well-rounded article. Nice work

  • Abrar Ullah

    Very well written – like the video

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Thanks Abrar! Alex actually created that video from scratch!

  • Lauren

    Great article!

  • Lawrence

    Love the quotes you used. Some powerful insight. Great read.

  • Revati

    Nicely written!

  • Ron Babin

    Great article, thoughtful discussion, including ethical perspective and security issues. It’s not just about technology. Well done BTM Ryerson.
    RB

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Thanks for all the support Professor Babin! This was a great chance for us to apply our in class frameworks to a real world scenario.

      • Ron Babin

        that’s what Ryerson education is all about.
        RB

  • Chris MacDonald

    Good stuff!

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Thanks for all your help Professor!

  • daniel r kennedy

    Great summary of the issues with AV. Personally, I can’t wait for them to hit Canadia roads

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give it a read!

      While we outlined the risks inherent to adoption of AV technology, we also think AV’s are going to be a game changer.

  • raykid983

    I love cars

  • Remy

    If I get hit by a driver less car, who do I sue? The car manufacturer? The driver? The software designer? Better off to not bother with them at all.

  • George

    Great Article! Although these cars might seem enticing to many people at first and many things could be overlooked as it is a big step forward in technology, there are many factors as suggested in this article that should not be overlooked and in fact should be highly considered before moving forward with this big of a change. I personally agree with most of the points made regarding liability, data privacy, consumer adoption and ethics.

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Thanks for the comment George!

      Although I personally believe that autonomous vehicles will eventually be adopted, let’s take and our time and address these challenges. Personal safety has to be addressed, and that was the point we were trying to make.

  • Ifrah

    Great read!

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Thanks for giving it a read Ifrah!

  • Sean

    Google is testing AV’s in silicon valley. Here’s a statistic, 100% of the accidents that Google’s AVs have gotten into have been due to human error… meaning, it was humans who hit AVs instead of the other way around.

    A program can have faults, there is no question about that. But to analyze this problem subjectively, we must compare apples with apples. In this case, an average human’s ability to drive and get into an accident and then the computers ability to drive and get into an accident. Humans are driven by emotions and anytime there is an imbalance in these emotions, there’s an event waiting to happen. Feel the need for speed? There’s now a higher chance of an accident. Running late for work? Time to do 140 on the highly sophisticated 401 (not a good idea). Computers don’t have emotions… just a set of options, one of which will always be the best.

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Hi Sean, thanks for the comment!

      You definitely bring up an interesting point about road sharing. As long as autonomous cars are deployed in a manner where the liability, ethical and security issues are addressed among others, we definitely see them having a net positive impact. We are not criticizing the outcome; we are making sure that the process of getting us autonomous vehicles considers and mitigates all the risk outlined.

    • Aliasplanner

      Google’s also looking into how we can minimize the risks associated with AVs. I always wondered how a car would be able to detect a cyclist or any obstacle in the course of the vehicle.. but luckily, tech is literally smarter than we think it is. Google has now created cars that can detect the size of pedestrians, flower pots, curbs, etc to ensure safe trips without accidents. Similarly these cars are now able to make left turns in protected left turning lanes and could detect if they are also going in the wrong direction.

      FYI https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=TsaES–OTzM&feature=youtu.be

      I think the bigger question to ask is: are we ready for this change?

  • Aaron Doucet

    What a great read, I think the argument against the safety of autonomous cars though becomes a rather emotional argument. They see the one accident as a be all end all, and how many accidents happen every day due to driver error. I think its our inevitable future to have self driving cars.

    Great post though, amazing insights you do make me think about it all differently.

    • Andy

      Yeah I agree overall about the safety issue generally. But considering the possibility of hacking and just not planning for certain things I am sure we’ll get some horrible stuff that happens in the first 20 years of having these cars all over the roads.

  • Imran

    This was a great read! Well done!

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Thanks Imran!

  • Kuhan Suthananthan

    Amazing article with great information! Great job!

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Thanks for the read Kuhan!

  • Emily Skublics

    Really fantastic expert quotes. Love this!

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Thank you!

  • Meelad Saberi

    Very informative article. Good job!

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Thanks!

  • Zain Syed

    I understand the points being made hold validity, but AV’s are the future we have to embrace, hopefully in the next few years the industry can smooth and address all these issues.

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      Definitely the future, but we must embrace it once we are confident that: benefits > cost!

  • kate marshall

    Interesting overview of the key challenges of AVs..the future is scary and exciting…and complicated!

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      …and better! (hopefully)

  • Bogdan Raspopin

    Great article with a good research. There are many issues now with AVs but it will be figured out pretty soon. I do believe this is the future.

    • Ali Abbas Rawji

      For sure, thanks for the read!

  • Linda Chigbo

    Interesting article! I like all the areas that were addressed especially the comment on ethics. It all comes down to whom (passengers vs. pedestrian) is more important which is the really tricky part. I am very crazy about new tech and this idea of autonomous vehicle is just brilliant. BUT…we shouldn’t make scapegoats of ourselves and others in the process of enjoying the benefits. Let’s get it right.

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Totally agree Linda! AVs have the potential to change society in a very positive way, however adopting this technology too soon could cause unforeseen problems and potentially tarnish the perception of AVs irreparably.

  • Hari Muralidharan

    Great Article, I completely support vehicle automation, as I have experienced it first hand. Most of the issues Tesla faces with their self driving vehicles correspond to software, and software can always be updated. Fixing it will take time, but auto pilot is definitely a step in the right direction.

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      Definitely agree that these risks will be sorted out eventually, but they still need to be acknowledged. It’s not all roses when it comes to AV’s and some of the risks (ethical, legal) are not as easy to just disregard as a consequence of time.

  • Samuel

    Great job! Very interesting article.

    • Alexandra

      Thanks Sam!

  • Annie

    Some very interesting points mentioned – nice job!

    • Alexandra

      Thanks Annie! We sat down and thought of the stakeholders that have a vested interest in the success of this technology. These stakeholders have some tough hurdles to overcome.

  • Areeba

    Great article – Good job guys!

    • Alexandra

      Thanks for your support, Areeba!

  • Bonnie

    Amazing article!

    • Alexandra

      Thanks Bonnie!

  • Jaime Cabrera

    Wow, great article! Autonomous vehicles are indeed facing a lot safety issues, but once those issues are tackled, the benefit that society will get out of them will change the way our society functions.

    • Alexandra

      I agree, Jaime! Thanks for taking the time to read the article. This is a large paradigm shift, and is definitely worth examining with a critical eye.

  • Katherine Hollas

    So amazing to see our students involved in these discussions! Great cross-section of faculty and industry experts chiming in too. Keep up the great work! I’m still weary of this type of technology, but certainly can’t deny that AV’s are going to be a part of our future. Very thought provoking!

    • Alexandra

      Glad you enjoyed our piece, Katherine. I think it’s an exciting (and a bit scary) time to see these technological advancements.

  • Melisa

    Great article, loved the video. I do believe the autonomous vehicles will be part of our lives very soon. Keep up the good work!

    • Alexandra

      Thanks for your comment, Melisa. Automated technology is weaving its way into all aspects of our lives – I think it’s only a matter of time before we see fully autonomous vehicles on our roads.

  • frostythesnowman

    Autonomous Vehicles are absolutely the future. We humans are notoriously bad at operating our multi thousand kilo death machines, as most of us can attest to I’m sure. Its uncommon that I’ll arrive for morning lectures without hearing a handful of different people describing almost getting hit by some poor driver during their commute. I fully expect liability and ethics issues will be mostly ironed out as AVs move from niche to more common stages of adoption causing people to notice how much safer overall they are.

    That said I worry about is the security aspect of AVs, the idea of a remote hacker being able to disable or take over critical aspects of a vehicle such as steering, throttle and brakes is terrifying. Certain new model Jeep vehicles can be hacked remotely over the vehicles cellular connection to expose ALL functionality of the vehicle, including ignition and full drive terrain functionality.

    This is an issue not exclusive to the automotive industry as this article mentions, the majority of new ‘Smart’ devices are hilariously low on security hardening. Its bad when your new fridge is spying on your home network, but absolutely unacceptable for your vehicle to have such blatant disregard for security that a code junky across the world can turn your vehicle into a very expensive RC car. Yet at the moment both the fridge and vehicle are very likely to use the same standards of security.

    The automotive industry needs to take cyber security very seriously or things could get quite ugly. They cannot treat their vehicles like just any IoT device, as they are to date, since lives are on the line. Safety is the big draw of AVs IMO, but widespread vehicle hacking has the potential to completely negate that.

    • Rhyan Mahazudin

      It’s going to be a news field day the first time someone loses a life
      to their AV being hacked, who knows what the fall out of that might be – perceptions about AVs could potentially swing very wildly!

  • alaa qamhieh

    I really liked the Elevator Example, it’s perfect when we talk about the ethics that these AVs should be equipped with.
    Overall, Loved it… to the point and concise!

  • Graham Wellington

    Great article! Excited to see how insurance prices change when AVs become the norm.

  • Abinan T

    This article brings a lot of perspective into engineering design for manufacturers and stipulations for law makers/insurance companies. I think we are rapidly moving closer towards the final product but there are still hurdles to overcome.

    I wanted to bring up one point that came to my head when driving through a RIDE program… If someone (after having a few drinks) were to put their car on autopilot and sit in the backseat, would this be lawfully correct?

  • Nazima Mahazudin

    Great content loved the quotes from the industry professionals, really adds a sense of legitimacy to your claims.

  • Sanchit Sharma

    Very interesting article, great job guys! I liked how you discussed all the main issues involving security and privacy. Also, I really liked the quotes from the industry experts and professors as they helped in bringing different perspectives into the discussion along with backing your claims.

  • Maria Beauts

    Great article! Very interesting points and good quotes.

  • Mateen Manek

    Great article. Really highlights some points I didn’t really consider before.

  • Abu

    Great article, I think it really shows the cons of AV. However, I do think there are a lot of positives that can also be considered. Weather conditions may be more manageable with smart AI, the ability to make split second decision making (like in the situation of avoiding a pedestrian or running into a ditch, those are options for a human who would be unable to stop the car in time, and unable to maybe ‘see’ the person who was walking. An AV would ideally have a camera that reads all moving signatures around itself in a wide radius, and thus be able to tell that a person was there much faster than a human). Overall though, great article that really provides a lot of research and information on a new and emerging field of technology.

    • Mateen Manek

      I think the question that follows your proposal is if whether AI would be able to make split decision making. How does AI judge what is human and what is simply just an obstacle on the road? I wouldn’t want my vehicle to not move in situations where I think it should.

  • Shiv Gill

    Great read Ali, I’m glad you incorporated manufacturers other than Tesla alone, as many companies have tried to take on the smart car market.

  • Omar Ali Simpleton

    This is one of the few articles I’ve read in the last few months that struck out to me as being well-researched and defended by the author, well done.

    To me the main concern about the safety of AV vehicles currently is the viability and feasibility of making a universal safety system for all AV vehicles to abide by. This will require cooperation from all levels of government as well as car companies involved in this project. The criminal code will need to be amended to include any issues tha happen with these vehicles within its content. I think you’re on the right track here, I’m interested to see what next you will research.

  • @DougMarks9

    Excellent article, I truly think the benefits far out way the negatives. Just think AV and taxi companies, efficiency in getting to your destination faster in our ever more crowded cities. How ever I do agree that the challenges of security is paramount as well as the problem that as long as we have both Human driven vehicles and AV on the road at the same time, the human factor will be the unknown in most situations. To that end like with all new technology this is no difference, look at how Airline safety has improved over the years, before that passenger ships. As with all new technology we will face disasters unforeseen and with all previous technology we have gradually addressed those factors. This is no different, early adopters will be the will be in the pioneers of this technology, those not wanting to be a pioneer will be the late adopters. There is has been no technology ever developed that has not had it’s challenges and has been rolled out with a perfect record.