Shall We Eliminate Human Driving, Driverless Cars As Chicken-Or-Egg

Dr. Lance B. Eliot, AI Insider

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Will human driving become extinct like the dinosaurs, or will humans always be driving

What is your relationship with driving?

Kind of a curious question, I realize, but it goes to the heart of the matter about whether you are someone that craves being able to drive a car or instead consider driving to be a burdensome task that happens to be a necessity. Ponder for a moment where you fall on the spectrum of driving interests, consisting at one end of the gamut are those that are extremely passionate about being able to drive and at the other end are those that would just as soon not drive if they could avoid doing so (perhaps even abhorring the act of driving).

Driving Is A Privilege, Not A Right

For those that do drive a car, they often are quite strong willed about their perceived “right” to drive.

There are some people that seem to think that driving a car is a constitutional right, which is a misnomer. I am not sure why there are people that believe they have a right to drive.

Let’s be clear that by-and-large there is no viable “right” of driving. It is not in the Constitution. In the United States, driving is considered a privilege. This means that there is a governmental authority, usually the states, upon which there is a granting of the privilege to their citizens that they can drive a car.

Since it is a privilege, this also means that the granting authority can invoke it, or the authority can revoke it, or the authority can suspend it. If you abuse the privilege and violate the restrictions, the granting authority can opt to suspend your privilege of driving.

Once your driving privilege is suspended or revoked, or if you never had it invoked to begin with, it is generally illegal for you to be driving a car. I point this out because there is nothing that physically bars you from driving a car per se. You could still get behind the wheel, but you’d be driving unlawfully. In California, someone caught driving without a valid driver’s license is subject to being prosecuted as a criminal and could get up to one year of jail time.

There is another myth about driving that many people harbor, namely that they falsely believe that the privilege of driving applies only to driving on public roads. They could be mistaken. It is up to each state in the USA to decide what posture the state wishes to take as a granting authority about the driver license requirements concerning private roads and private properties. In Mississippi, it is against the law to drive DUI anywhere, including both public and private property.

Being Protective Of The Driving Privilege

For many drivers, the privilege of driving is a form of personal freedom. It provides a vital personal means of mobility.

The act of driving involves not merely the technical motions of maneuvering a car, it also includes a basket of other societal and cultural elements. You might drive because you enjoy it. You might drive because it gets you to work. You might drive because you can.

Currently, we are a car focused society. It permeates most aspects of our daily lives. Gen Z is said to be eschewing owning a car. They are growing up with a ridesharing approach to transportation. This means that they are used to someone else doing the driving.

This raises in interesting question. Will the newest generation and future generations perceive the act of driving in a different way than most of the rest of us do today? As the existing and older generations expire, will society shift toward a less vital perspective about individuals being able to drive?

When this topic comes up, there are some that will exclaim that you will take away their driving privilege over their dead body. You will pry the steering wheel from their cold dead hands. That kind of resistance is often heatedly offered.

AI Self-Driving Cars And The Human Driving Debate

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

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. At many AI and Autonomous Vehicles (AV) conferences, attendees often bring up whether or not human driving is going to last or not. This is a topic that can rapidly devolve into a muddied shouting match. I’d like to instead offer some calm thoughts on the matter.

I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars. The topmost level is considered Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For self-driving cars less than a Level 5, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task.

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. Indeed, 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.

Some Claim To Replace Human Drivers Entirely By AI Self-Driving Cars

There seems to be a contingent of pundits that often will get people agitated by saying that we should replace all human drivers with AI self-driving cars.

When stated in that manner, it certainly seems like a rather stark proposition.

The rationale is usually predicated on the belief that AI self-driving cars will be safer as drivers than are humans. It is assumed by these pundits that by eliminating human drivers, there will be a complete elimination of all driving related injuries, deaths, and property damages that come from car accidents or incidents.

The first point to thoughtfully consider involves the timeframe involved in this claim. The proposition is often stated as though starting tomorrow we will round-up all driver’s licenses and toss them into a mighty bonfire.

I think this is either unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally) used to get a knee-jerk reaction and have a shock effect. That being said, I know some that have lost a loved one via a car accident, and for which they are desirous that no one else ever suffer such a loss, therefore the AI self-driving car seems like a welcome way to ensure that others don’t have to undergo what they have had to deal with. Those people are doing what is in their hearts, and sincerely believe in the idea of getting human drivers out-of-the-loop of driving.

The thing is, realistically we are decades (at least) away from being able to even consider doing what they are proposing.

There are about 250 million cars in the United States today. About 15 million or so new cars are sold each year in the United States. If we had true Level 5 AI self-driving cars, how many years would it take to gradually do away with the existing stock of conventional cars and bring into the marketplace the new Level 5 self-driving cars?

Do you realize how long it would take to make that many cars? And how long it would take for people or companies to purchase such cars and put them into use?

This means that when you start saying that there won’t be anymore human driving, due to the advent of AI self-driving cars, you are really talking about something that might happen many decades from now, maybe.

Furthermore, we don’t really know what society might be like by the time that such a possibility even might be available. Flying cars? Personal jet packs? Mass transit unlike the kind that we know of today? There are so many changes bound to happen that it is not contextually sensible to claim that we would overnight stop people from driving.

It could be that by the time the advent of mass-scale use of AI self-driving cars arises, people won’t be doing conventional driving very much anyway. There might be an ongoing shift in society toward not driving a car. care much about it anyway.

Narrower Elimination of Human Driving

In another perspective, the scope of human driving elimination might be narrowed, so let’s consider that alternative.

Suppose the emergence of AI self-driving cars suggests such autonomous vehicles can work safely and appropriately on our roadways, but maybe only best when geofenced and kept to areas that are comprehensively mapped and understood. Rather than using them everywhere, perhaps they are limited to being used in certain areas. A downtown area might declare that henceforth there are only AI self-driving cars allowed to drive in their downtown area. No human driven cars allowed.

Does this mean that human drivers are going to lose their privilege to drive?

Not really. It means that you cannot drive a car while inside the downtown area. You can still drive a car on the freeways, highways, and streets that are outside of the downtown area.

Some though tell me that they are worried this is a kind of slippery slope. First confining step, they cannot drive in a downtown area. Next confining step, it will be that you cannot drive in a suburb area. Next down the rabbit hole, you cannot drive on certain freeways or highways. In a “death by a thousand cuts” manner, your privilege of driving is being eroded.

In any case, notice that human driving is still being allowed, at least over some period of extensive time. It is not the complete elimination overnight of human driving.

Restricting Human Driving for the Sake of AI Self-Driving

One reason that some favor “eliminating” human driving is due to the notion that the AI self-driving car will presumably be able to drive more safely than human drivers.

Another reason for “eliminating” human driving is due to the potent dangers of mixing human driving with AI self-driving car driving. It doesn’t really matter how safe your AI self-driving car might be, in the sense that a drunk driver can still come upon your driverless car and ram into you.

As such, there are some that suggest we keep human driven cars away from AI self-driving cars. Or, if you prefer to see it the other way, we keep AI self-driving cars away from human driven cars.

My earlier example of a downtown area that bans human driving is illustrative of this aspect.

There are some potential hurdles and difficulties with this separation approach overall, namely, how do you enforce the separation?

If the separation does not involve physical barriers of separation, it means that human driven cars can still mix with the AI self-driving cars. The human driver might do so illegally, and be subject to a ticket, but nonetheless they are still able to drive where the AI self-driving cars are. This means that you’ve reduced the chances of mixture incidents, but not eliminated it.

Another approach involves setting up barriers to prevent the human driven cars from getting into the stream of AI self-driving cars. This tends to require substantial changes to the roadway infrastructure. Those kinds of changes will cost money to put in place. How much will we be willing to pay to enforce the physical separation?

There’s another reason sometimes given to argue for a separation between the human driven cars and the AI self-driving cars, namely making life easier for the AI self-driving cars.

One of the hardest challenges for AI self-driving cars involves dealing with human driven cars.

In theory, if you had only AI self-driving cars, they would be able to coordinate with each other. They would use V2V (vehicle to vehicle) electronic communication and be able to collaborate while driving in traffic. They would not be likely to ram into each other.

By allowing human driven cars to mix with AI self-driving cars, the AI needs to be a lot cleverer than it would otherwise with only AI self-driving cars in the mix. Some believe that we are being delayed of getting to AI self-driving cars because of the arduous chore of getting them to deal with human driven cars.

Rather than waiting until we can figure out how to deal with human driven cars, some AI developers say that we should just get rid of the human driven cars. This seems like an easy solution. The problem is those pesky human drivers, so get rid of them.

Some have suggested that we might build freeways that are only for AI self-driving cars. Maybe we could build tunnels and have AI self-driving cars be isolated away from these other “distractions” that make driving difficult.

Those are all potential options. It does increase the overall cost of AI self-driving cars, due to having to build and maintain various specially set aside roads or tunnels for the use of the AI self-driving cars. As a society, we would want to include that infrastructure cost into the adoption cost of AI self-driving cars.

I also often point out that these efforts to make life easier for the AI can become a kind of crutch. If the AI does not need to be good enough to handle these real-world driving matters, I say that we need to make better AI.

You might want to argue that we could temporarily use as a stopgap measure the less-clever AI self-driving cars on roads by restricting the driving environment. What would be the cost for that short-term Band-Aid solution? How long would we then go until we improved the AI to undo the needed restricted driving environments?

Some Extra Parts Of The Debate

One additional aspect is that we might all become so comfortable with AI self-driving cars and be relieved to not be driving and be overjoyed at being able to use the time while inside an AI self-driving car for other more useful purposes, we won’t want to do driving.

Human driving will be eliminated by choice, by the advent of something so much better that no one will want to do human driving.

Some would say that not everyone will necessarily be of the same mind about this overjoy for AI self-driving cars and there will still be some “extremists” that will want to drive, in spite of the preponderance of society willingly and eagerly embracing AI self-driving cars. For that tiny percentage of malcontents, the thinking is they would be able to do a kind of closed track driving areas to keep up their driving skills.

Another angle is that you might be able to do pretend driving via the use of Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR).

You get into an AI self-driving car and put on special AR glasses or a VR headset, or perhaps the front windshield is your portal for the AR or VR, and the AI starts to drive the self-driving car. You are able to be seated inside the AI self-driving car at a set of virtual or make-believe driving controls. The AI is doing the driving, you are not. But you have the sensation that you are driving, it makes you believe you are driving, and you feel exhilarated to be able to do so.

As you can imagine, not many of those that are in the human driving camp are very enamored of this AR or VR approach. They say it is like putting a baby in a car seat, inside a car, and the baby is given a plastic toy wheel, elated to be “driving” the car, when of course the baby is not doing anything of the kind.


Mark Twain indicated that the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, doing so when an obituary about him was published in a major newspaper.

I would suggest that the elimination of human driving is akin to that same kind of exaggeration.

There are some that also worry about the deskilling of humans as it relates to driving. If driving gets restricted or eliminated, would humans “lose” the skill of driving. And if so, would this make us humans vulnerable to technology, meaning that only AI could do our driving. We could become slaves to technology since we cannot drive, even if we wanted to drive, because we no longer know how to drive.

I’d say that you are starting to head into the wilds of science fiction stories. In any case, it seems that we as humans are relatively easily able to drive a car. The barrier to entry of driving a car is quite low. Suggesting that we would become deskilled and not be able to take-up driving again, well, it isn’t brain surgery (even though it is a hard thing to get AI to do!).

Should you stay awake at night so that you can worry about the extinction of human driving?

I’d say no.

You can have comfort that during your lifetime, the odds are quite high that no one is going to take away your driving privilege. There might be some restrictions, such as not letting you drive where AI self-driving cars are driving, but this is likely going to be decades from now.

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Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance 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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