AI Self-Driving Cars Need To Cope With Human Drivers On The Roadways, Including Drivers With Dementia

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:]

Do you know someone that seems to be progressively forgetting things and their mind cannot remain focused on matters at-hand?

Typically, regrettably, as we get older, humans tend to genuinely have a kind of mental decay and their brains sadly begin to deteriorate.

There are an estimated 5 million people in the United States that are currently experiencing dementia.

Keep in mind that dementia is not a disease per se, though some assume it is, and instead it is considered an umbrella term that encompasses the loss of our thinking skills and also the degradation of various memory processing aspects.

Dementia might start with no especially notable impairment and thus not be readily detectable and be easily shrugged off as inconsequential. Gradually, dementia usually emerges as an increasingly persistent onset, which might then ultimately lead to becoming quite severe and debilitating for the person.

Driving And Dementia

Consider the impacts of being able to drive when someone has dementia.

In general, I would guess that we would all reasonably agree that if someone is hampered by dementia and it does so to the degree that it materially impairs their driving, the person ought to be reconsidering whether they should be driving or not.

Would you prefer to wait until he actually hits someone or something, before we raise a red flag?

I’d say that’s trying to close the barn door after the horse has already gotten out.

Dementia Drivers And AI Autonomous Cars

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One aspect involves the AI being able to discern or attempt to discern that other driver’s on-the-road might be driving while suffering from severe dementia, and the AI should then take necessary driving precautions accordingly.

The use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads.

This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars.

Returning to the topic of dementia driving, the AI of a self-driving car ought to be imbued with an ability to assess other drivers and whether they are driving in a “safe and sane” manner.

Since the AI cannot somehow reach into the mind of human drivers that are on-the-road, the AI must observe the behavior of the car and infer from that observable behavior the likely state-of-mind of the human driver.

Differing AI For Differing AI Autonomous Cars

Let’s acknowledge that once we get to true Level 5 self-driving cars, not all the respective AI’s will be the same.

Different automakers and different tech firms will have developed different kinds of AI systems for their own proprietary self-driving car models. As such, each AI self-driving car model that comes from different automakers will act and react in different ways from each other.

Furthermore, since there will be different AI’s, there will be likely different ways of driving, and the AI of one self-driving car ought to be watching out for the behaviors of the AI of other self-driving cars.

That being said, I certainly concede that presumably the AI of another AI self-driving car is supposed to ultimately be more reliable, more consistent, more prone to proper driving than would be human drivers. Let me make clear that I am not suggesting that the AI only observe other AI self-driving cars, and somehow not observe human driven cars too.

I am instead clarifying and emphasizing that for those that assume the AI would only try to observe human driven cars for driving behavior, I’d argue that’s insufficient and the AI should also be observing the other AI driven cars too.

Fortunately, it will likely be easier for one AI self-driving car to directly communicate with another AI self-driving car, since they will hopefully be using in-common V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications. This would make things easier in the sense that the AI of one self-driving car might ask another AI as to why it just suddenly and unexpectedly changed lanes ahead, which maybe the other AI might reply that there is debris in the lane ahead and thus it then explains the seemingly odd behavior and also aids the other AI in avoiding the same debris.

In any case, let’s get back to the notion that the AI of your self-driving car will be observing the behavior of other cars.

What kinds of telltale clues might a dementia-laden driver provide?

Here’s some that we train our AI to be on the lookout for:

  • Riding of the brakes as exhibited by continual brake lights or slowing inexplicably
  • Pumping of the brakes repeatedly even though there is no apparent reason to do so
  • Signaling to make a right turn and then making no turn or making a left turn
  • Signaling to make a left turn and then making no turn or making a right turn
  • Turn signal continuously on for no apparent reason since no turning action is arising
  • Rolls through a stop sign
  • Speeds-up, slows down, speeds-up, slows down, but not due to traffic conditions
  • Not driving in a defensive manner and gets stuck or trapped in obvious traffic predicaments
  • Runs a red light
  • Comes to a halt in traffic when there is no apparent cause
  • Makes attempts at exits or turns and then suddenly reverts away from the attempt
  • Veers into the emergency lane or bike lane and no apparent cause to do so
  • Nearly hits other cars or pedestrians or roadway objects
  • Goes radically slower than the rest of traffic
  • Goes radically faster than the rest of traffic
  • Other cars are having to get out of the way of the observed car
  • Other cars honk their horns at the observed car or make other untoward motions
  • Keeps changing lanes when there is no apparent reason to do so
  • Cuts off other cars when changing lanes and making other maneuvers
  • Other

Caveats About Dementia Driving Behaviors

Please make sure to review this dementia-laden driving symptoms list with a grain of salt.

I am sure all of us have performed one or more of those kinds of driving actions from time-to-time.

Maybe you are groggy from that late-night partying and in the morning your driving is not at your usual peak performance. Maybe you are in a foul mood and taking it out on the rest of the traffic.

Plus, novice teenage driver often performs those same moves, primarily because they are still wrestling with the basics of driving and aren’t sure of what they are doing.

You might be wondering what the big deal is about detecting a car that has these kinds of foul driving actions?

The odds are that once you spot this kind of behavior emerging, it will likely continue if the driver has some systemic issues involved in their driving. This gives the AI a heads-up to be especially wary of that car.

Some of you might be saying that these kinds of driving moves could be undertaken by a drunk driver.

You are indeed right!

I would suggest that a drunk driver could do any or all of those kinds of driving moves. A drunk driver might do those and even go further and make even worse moves. Can you for sure distinguish between a drunk driver and a dementia-laden driver, based on the behavior exhibited by the car’s actions? It is hard to assert that you could make such a distinction without otherwise scrutinizing the actual human driver to figure out what is afoot.

If an AI self-driving car is able to detect a potential dementia-laden driver, it could try to alert other nearby AI self-driving cars about the matter.

Using the V2V, the AI might send a message to be on-the-watch for a blue sedan that is at the corner of Main and Sprout street and heading west.

Other AI self-driving cars would then be able to likewise be prepared for evasive action. There is even the possibility of using a swarm-like approach to provide a safety driving traffic cocoon for the driver.

Some drivers that have dementia will at least try to minimize their chances of getting themselves into trouble.

For example, if they have an especially difficult time when driving in a location they do not know, they will drive only on streets they do know. If they have a difficult time comprehending traffic at nighttime, they will purposely only drive during daylight. If they know that lots of other traffic confounds them, they’ll wait until the least traffic periods to then get onto the roadway. Etc.

Ultimately, if the dementia overtakes the ability to appropriately drive a car, something will need to be done to ensure that the person does not get behind the wheel. The so-called “taking away the keys” has got to be one of the hardest acts to undertake. It is hard for the person that is forfeiting their keys and the privilege of driving. It is hard for whomever has to take away the keys. The matter can create ill will and taint the rest of the person’s existence.


Family members and friends are usually the first to realize that someone is succumbing to dementia. Allowing an untoward driver onto the roadways is nearly the same as letting a drunk driver onto the road. Most of us would likely try to stop someone that is drunk from getting behind the wheel. It’s easier, of course to do so since it is likely a one-time stopping action and not something of a more permanent nature.

The person with dementia will eventually reach a crossover point that makes their driving dangerous for themselves and dangerous for everyone else. Hopefully, if you do need to intervene and take away the keys, the advent of AI self-driving cars will have become so pervasive that their shifting into a ride sharing mode of using AI self-driving cars will ease the agony of losing the privilege to drive a car.

Since we will have a mixture of both human driven cars and AI self-driving cars for a long time, you’ll unfortunately still need to be ready to be the gatekeeper of dealing with the key’s removal aspects. In any case, the AI of the self-driving car has to be savvy enough to be watchful for dementia-laden drivers and take the kinds of evasive actions to save the lives of those intertwined in traffic with that untoward driver. I think we can all agree we’d want the AI to be watchful and have the capability to contend with these potentially life-and-death matters.

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Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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