Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, are likely to be seen more widely on roads in 2015. Already, legislation authorising the use of autonomous vehicles has been introduced in the US states of Nevada, Florida, California and Michigan, with similar legislation being planned for the UK. To date, these laws have focused on legalising the use of autonomous vehicles and dealing, to an extent, with some of the complex issues relating to liability for accidents. But as with other emerging disruptive technologies, such as drones and wearables, it is essential that issues relating to user privacy and data security are properly addressed prior to the technologies being generally deployed. Understanding autonomous vehicles There is no single, uniform design for autonomous vehicles. Rather, it is best to understand an autonomous vehicle as a particular configuration of a combination of applications, some of which – such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, collision avoidance and parking assistance – are already part of current car design. The most well-known prototype, Google’s self-driving car, uses a variety of technologies, including: a laser range finder (LIDAR) that generates a detailed 3D map of the environment; radars; cameras for detecting traffic lights; and a GPS. Other projects, including prototypes being developed by Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Toyota and Oxford University, use different combinations of technologies. This means that the privacy and data security problems arising from autonomous vehicles depend upon the precise technologies applied in any particular design. Some generalisations are, however, possible. The relationship between the virtual and the real The rules (or “code”) governing the online world have been different to those that apply offline. For example, online activities invariably generate digital traces, including metadata, which can be used to build profiles of users. With emerging technologies, such as drones, wearables and autonomous vehicles, we are increasingly seeing the transposition of virtual models onto the real. One consequence of the range of sensors and data collection devices being deployed (and interconnected) is that our offline activities can leave traces at least as extensive as those generated online. One way to understand types of autonomous vehicles is by reference to the kind of data collected and the ways in which that data is processed. For instance, autonomous vehicles often incorporate event recorders, or “black boxes”, to provide essential information in the event of an accident. This raises questions about who has rights to this data and about who can have access to the data. Anonymising data There is an overlap here with questions of liability, as insurance companies have clear incentives to collect as much data about user behaviour as possible. The potential for intrusive surveillance of personal activities is particularly jarring, as the car has been an archetypal space of personal privacy and freedom. A fundamental distinction must be drawn between self-contained autonomous vehicles, in which the data collected from sensor devices installed in the car are stored and processed in the vehicle itself, and interconnected vehicles, in which data is shared with a centralised server and, potentially, with other vehicles. Regardless of whether a vehicle is self-contained or interconnected, design decisions have to be made about whether or not the data collected is anonymised or linked to individual users. If the data is not anonymised, especially with interconnected vehicles, this poses serious surveillance threats. After all, once the data exists, and especially if it is connected to a server, it is vulnerable to access by third parties. It is possible to envisage implementations of autonomous vehicles where data about a particular user is linked to other data sources, such as an online profile, for purposes such as tracking or marketing. This might take the form of personalised advertising displayed in the car, or even adjusting a vehicle’s route so that it passes retail outlets which match a user’s imputed preferences. What else is at stake: human autonomy and hacking We are now familiar with technologies, such as predictive search, which in the online context, attempt to predict what we want to do and make more or less persuasive suggestions. It is likely that some versions of autonomous vehicles will implement predictive technologies. In any case, the progressive delegation of human decisions to machines raises system-wide questions about the cumulative impact on human autonomy: the more people are habituated to decisions being made for them, the less likely they may be to make their own decisions. We are also now depressingly familiar with the vulnerability of computer systems to malicious third parties. Just as effective data security is essential to online safety, autonomous vehicles must be designed with a high level of data security, especially given the potentially calamitous consequences of hacked vehicles. As interconnected data processing systems are progressively rolled out in applications such as wearables and autonomous vehicles, we seem likely to see an offline version of the same sort of perpetual guerrilla warfare played out online between information security and hackers. Protecting privacy at the design stage Autonomous vehicles promise significant social and economic benefits, especially in potential improvements to road safety. There are, nevertheless, considerable legal and regulatory challenges. As with other emerging disruptive technologies, it is vital that privacy and anonymity be properly protected at the design stage. To date, in the face of significant challenges relating to the legality of autonomous vehicles and liability issues, the privacy rights of users have been relatively neglected. But unless the era of artificial intelligence is to be accompanied by us sleepwalking into ubiquitous surveillance, we must recognise that safety and security needs to be balanced against the legitimate rights of people to control their own data and to retain their fundamental rights to privacy. David Lindsay is a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The cofounder of a pioneering Sydney-based robotics startup, with a Powerhouse Museum display and a successful crowdfunding campaign under its belt, says the sector is set to get much bigger but finance for projects remains an issue. Robological cofounder Damith Herath told Private Media there are a number of exciting robotics startups founded by Australians, including Marathon Robotics and Navisens, and the sector is gaining momentum globally. “It’s kinda like the ‘70s in computing and the ‘90s in the web. It’s the same feeling in the robotics community and the general consensus is it’s getting a lot bigger,” Herath says. “A few good examples are some of the startups Google has recently purchased, or Baxter, or Cynthia Breazeal, who quit her job at MIT to do a startup called Jibo and raised $2 million on Indiegogo. “But we have to be careful, because a lot of people over-promise and under deliver. Robots will move into other spaces, though not in the anthropomorphic sense. “One of the issues is finding people to finance you is tricky, especially for hardware. People are more comfortable with apps and things that get a quick return on their investment.” In January, Robological raised $3031 on Indiegogo for Ro-buddy, a pre-built board that integrates with an Android app, making it easy to build a robot without needing to learn a programming language such as C. Herath says the startup is finalising the board for fabrication in China. “You can build a Raspberry Pi robot straight away, plug in a camera and motors, and within 10 to 20 minutes you have a spy cam working with the Android app,” he says. “We think it’s useful because it’s in the pro-maker space, but it’s not as complex as Arduino. So if you’re building something in home automation, you can get something going with Android.” Aside from Ro-buddy, Herath says Robological does consulting and research work, including working as a research partner with the Australian distributor for Rethink Robotics’ Baxter robot and on Curtin University’s Alternative Anatomies project. It is also “chipping away” on a variation of the cloud-based internet of things robotics ideas put forward by UC Berkley professor Ken Goldberg, although Herath is remaining tight-lipped about what the project involves. The startup began with a robotics display called the Articulated Head, which was on exhibit for two years at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. “The three founders – Zhengzhi Zhang, Christian Kroos and I – met at the University of Western Sydney six years ago on a project called Thinking Ahead, which was a project of the Australian Research Council into AI (artificial intelligence). “We each had a slightly different background, myself with robotics engineering, Zhang with software engineering and Christian with linguistic and cognitive science. “Stelarc is one of the top performing artists in the world; an Australian artist who’s done a lot of work with robotics on stage and theatre. And the project I worked on was conceived of by Stelarc.” The project ended when funding ended, but this allowed the team to develop valuable intellectual property on robots and human interaction. The founders decided to form Robological to continue their research. One of its first projects was called Adopt a Robot, a research project looking into interactions between humans and robots. “It got a lot of good publicity because it captured the public imagination. We gave away seven robots and over six months we changed its behaviour and added a face… Each person who got a robot had to care for it and fill out a questionnaire every four to six weeks,” Herath says. Next month, Robological will jointly organise a workshop on robots and art with Curtin University as part of the Sixth International Conference on Social Robotics in Sydney. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
One of the issues of self-driving vehicles is legal liability for death or injury in the event of an accident. If the car maker programs the car so the driver has no choice, is it likely the company could be sued over the car’s actions. One way around this is to shift liability to the car owner by allowing them to determine a set of values or options in the event of an accident. People are likely to want to have the option to choose how their vehicle behaves, both in an emergency and in general, so it seems the issue of adjustable ethics will become real as robotically controlled vehicles become more common. Self-drive is already here With self-driving vehicles already legal to drive on public roads in a growing number of US states, the trend is spreading around the world. The United Kingdom will allow these vehicles from January 2015. Before there is widespread adoption, though, people will need to be comfortable with the idea of a computer being in full control of their vehicle. Much progress towards this has been made already. A growing number of cars, including mid-priced Fords, have an impressive range of accident-avoidance and driver-assist technologies like adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane-keeping and parking assist. People who like driving for its own sake will probably not embrace the technology. But there are plenty of people who already love the convenience, just as they might also opt for automatic transmission over manual. Are they safe? After almost 500,000km of on-road trials in the US, Google’s test cars have not been in a single accident while under computer control. Computers have faster reaction times and do not get tired, drunk or impatient. Nor are they given to road rage. But as accident-avoidance and driver-assist technologies become more sophisticated, some ethical issues are raising their heads. The question of how a self-driven vehicle should react when faced with an accident where all options lead to varying numbers of deaths of people was raised earlier this month. This is an adaptation of the “trolley problem” that ethicists use to explore the dilemma of sacrificing an innocent person to save multiple innocent people; pragmatically choosing the lesser of two evils. An astute reader will point out that, under normal conditions, the car’s collision-avoidance system should have applied the brakes before it became a life-and-death situation. That is true most of the time, but with cars controlled by artificial intelligence (AI), we are dealing with unforeseen events for which no design currently exists. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Who is to blame for the deaths? If car makers install a “do least harm” instruction and the car kills someone, they create legal liability for themselves. The car’s AI has decided that a person shall be sacrificed for the greater good. Had the car’s AI not intervened, it’s still possible people would have died, but it would have been you that killed them, not the car maker. Car makers will obviously want to manage their risk by allowing the user to choose a policy for how the car will behave in an emergency. The user gets to choose how ethically their vehicle will behave in an emergency. As Patrick Lin points out the options are many. You could be: democratic and specify that everyone has equal value pragmatic, so certain categories of person should take precedence, as with the kids on the crossing, for example self-centred and specify that your life should be preserved above all materialistic and choose the action that involves the least property damage or legal liability. While this is clearly a legal minefield, the car maker could argue that it should not be liable for damages that result from the user’s choices – though the maker could still be faulted for giving the user a choice in the first place. Let’s say the car maker is successful in deflecting liability. In that case, the user becomes solely responsible whether or not they have a well-considered code of ethics that can deal with life-and-death situations. People want choice Code of ethics or not, in a recent survey it turns out that 44% of respondents believe they should have the option to choose how the car will behave in an emergency. About 33% thought that government law-makers should decide. Only 12% thought the car maker should decide the ethical course of action. In Lin's view it falls to the car makers then to create a code of ethical conduct for robotic cars. This may well be good enough, but if it is not, then government regulations can be introduced, including laws that limit a car maker’s liability in the same way that legal protection for vaccine makers was introduced because it is in the public interest that people be vaccinated. In the end, are not the tools we use, including the computers that do things for us, just extensions of ourselves? If that is so, then we are ultimately responsible for the consequences of their use. David Tuffley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
No sleep needed: New technologies are emerging that could radically reduce our need to sleep - if we can bear to use them, writes Jessa Gamble for aeon magazine. Imagine a disease that cuts your conscious life by one-third. You would clamour for a cure. We’re talking about sleep. There may be no cure yet for sleep, but the palliatives are getting better. “Work, friendships, exercise, parenting, eating, reading — there just aren’t enough hours in the day,” Gamble writes. “To live fully, many of us carve those extra hours out of our sleep time. Then we pay for it the next day. A thirst for life leads many to pine for a drastic reduction, if not elimination, of the human need for sleep. Little wonder: if there were a widespread disease that similarly deprived people of a third of their conscious lives, the search for a cure would be lavishly funded. It’s the Holy Grail of sleep researchers, and they might be closing in.” Dilbert does startup: When Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams turned himself to entrepreneurship, he wasn’t prepared for some of the weirder ways of Silicon Valley. Describing himself as an “embedded journalist” this week he takes on the pivot. “The Internet is no longer a technology,” Adams writes. “The Internet is a psychology experiment. Building a product for the Internet is the easy part. “Getting people to understand the product and use it is the hard part. The only way to make the hard part work is by testing one hypothesis after another. Every entrepreneur is a behavioral psychologist with the tools to pull it off.” And he’s distilled it all down in “the system”, which looks like this: 1. Form a team 2. Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet. 3. Collect data on user behavior 4. Adjust, pivot, and try again What the gospel of innovation gets wrong: “In the last years of the nineteen-eighties, I worked not at startups but at what might be called finish-downs,” write Jill Lepore in a piece titled ‘The Disruption Machine’ in The New Yorker. Lepore’s thesis is that Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruption, accepted across American industry as “the gospel of innovation”, is wobbly at best because it rests on a group of handpicked case studies that prove little or nothing. “Most of the entrant firms celebrated by Christensen as triumphant disrupters no longer exist, their success having been in some cases brief and in others illusory,” writes Lepore. Anyone who has anything to do with the startup industry will relate to this point: “Ever since “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” everyone is either disrupting or being disrupted,” she writes. “There are disruption consultants, disruption conferences, and disruption seminars. This fall, the University of Southern California is opening a new program: “The degree is in disruption,” the university announced. “Disrupt or be disrupted,” the venture capitalist Josh Linkner warns in a new book, “The Road to Reinvention,” in which he argues that “fickle consumer trends, friction-free markets, and political unrest,” along with “dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and mind-numbing technology advances,” mean that the time has come to panic as you’ve never panicked before.” Don’t worry about the robots: Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen does not believe that robots will eat jobs. “Robots and AI are not nearly as powerful and sophisticated as people are starting to fear, writes Andreessen, “With my venture capital hat on I wish they were, but they’re not. There are enormous gaps between what we want them to do, and what they can do. There is still an enormous gap between what many people do in jobs today, and what robots and AI can replace. There will be for decades.” Image credit: Flickr/jdhancock
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