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.

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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:

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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:

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Ethics

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

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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:

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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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