Report Suggests Rampant Negligence In Uber Self Driving Car Fatality

from the I'm-sorry-I-can't-do-that,-Dave dept

Earlier this year you might recall that a self-driving Uber in Tempe, Arizona killed a woman who was trying to cross the street with her bike outside of a crosswalk. The driver wasn't paying attention, and the car itself failed to stop for the jaywalking pedestrian. Initial reporting on the subject, most of it based on anonymous Uber sources who spoke to the paywalled news outlet The Information, strongly pushed the idea that the car's sensors worked as intended and detected the woman, but bugs in the system software failed to properly identify the woman as something to avoid:

"The car’s sensors detected the pedestrian, who was crossing the street with a bicycle, but Uber’s software decided it didn’t need to react right away. That’s a result of how the software was tuned. Like other autonomous vehicle systems, Uber’s software has the ability to ignore “false positives,” or objects in its path that wouldn’t actually be a problem for the vehicle, such as a plastic bag floating over a road. In this case, Uber executives believe the company’s system was tuned so that it reacted less to such objects. But the tuning went too far, and the car didn’t react fast enough, one of these people said."

Thanks to that report, a narrative emerged that the vehicle largely worked as designed, and the only real problem was a modest quirk in uncooked programming.

But a new report by Bloomberg this week shatters that understanding. According to NTSB findings seen by Bloomberg, the vehicle in question wasn't even programmed to detect jaywalkers. Like, at all:

"Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving test car that struck and killed a pedestrian last year wasn’t programmed to recognize and react to jaywalkers, according to documents released by U.S. safety investigators."

Assuming Bloomberg's read of the 400 page report (only a part of which has been made public) is accurate, that's a far cry from a bug. The NTSB report found that Uber staff had also disabled Volvo auto-detection and breaking software that could have at least slowed the vehicle if not avoided the pedestrian impact altogether. Investigators also noted that despite the fact that Uber was conducting risky trials on public streets, the company had little to no real system in place for dealing with safety issues. Again, not just underwhelming public safety protocols, but none whatsoever:

"The Uber Advanced Technologies Group unit that was testing self-driving cars on public streets in Tempe didn’t have a standalone safety division, a formal safety plan, standard operating procedures or a manager focused on preventing accidents, according to NTSB."

Again, that's not just buggy or "poorly tuned" software, it's total negligence. Despite the fact the driver was distracted, the car was never adequately programmed to detect jaywalkers, some safety features were disabled, and Uber had little to no safety protocols in place, prosecutors have already absolved Uber of criminal liability (though the driver still may face a lawsuit). The NTSB also hasn't formally affixed blame for the crash (yet):

"The documents painted a picture of safety and design lapses with tragic consequences but didn’t assign a cause for the crash. The safety board is scheduled to do that at a Nov. 19 meeting in Washington."

Self driving cars are remarkably safe, and most accidents involve autonomous vehicles getting confused when people actually follow the law (like rear ending a human-driven vehicle that stopped at a red light before turning right). But that's only true when the people designing and conducting trials are competent. If the NTSB report is anything to go by, Uber fell well short, yet got to enjoy a lot of press suggesting the problem was random bad programming luck, not total negligence and incompetence. Later this month we'll get to see if Uber faces anything resembling accountability for its failures.

Filed Under: arizona, autonomous vehicles, jaywalkers, self driving cars, sensors, tempe
Companies: uber


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  • icon
    Thad (profile), 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:13pm

    Earlier this year you might recall that a self-driving Uber in Tempe, Arizona killed a woman who was trying to cross the street with her bike outside of a crosswalk.

    I suppose it's technically accurate to say that you might recall it that way, but if you do, your recollection is wrong. It happened last year.

    On-topic: Sadly, this is unsurprising. This is the entirely foreseeable result of Uber choosing Arizona for its lack of safety regulations.

    There was a bit in last year's gubernatorial debate, when challenger David Garcia criticized Governor Doug Ducey for allowing Uber to test its AVs without proper safety oversight. Ducey responded by protesting that as soon as it became clear that Uber was unsafe, he immediately barred them from further tests.

    I was flabbergasted when Garcia let that remark pass unchallenged. He should have said "But you waited until somebody died to take any action." I think Garcia's poor debate performance is a big part of why Ducey was reelected.

    Better late than never; at least Uber's not testing its AVs here anymore. Waymo continues to operate in the Phoenix area, but hasn't been involved in any fatal collisions as of yet. I do think it's a little premature to declare that "self driving cars are remarkably safe" (though I suppose that depends on what you mean by "remarkably"); there simply aren't enough miles driven to make an accurate comparison between the safety of an AV compared to the safety of an average human driver. But so far, at least, Waymo's done pretty well.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 3:42pm

      Re:

      I suppose it's technically accurate to say that you might recall it that way, but if you do, your recollection is wrong. It happened last year.

      No, that statement you're contradicting would have been "You may recall that, earlier this year, a self-driving...". Or "Earlier this year, you might recall, a self-driving..." (without "that"). As Karl wrote it, it's your recollection that will happen earlier this year. You're not thinking fourth-dimensionally.

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  • icon
    Koby (profile), 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:18pm

    Incapable

    I'm skeptical that any self driving car could be programmed to drive faster than 5mph if it needed to account for anything off the road to suddenly enter the road and then stop the vehicle in time.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:55pm

      Re: Incapable

      This particular car had alcohol in its fuel and was .15 over the limit. One more reason NOT to have a machine behind the wheel and in front of the wheel.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 4:06pm

      Remember, self-driving cars do not have to be perfect to be useful and safe.

      They merely have to be better than the average human.

      These cars can see potential pedestrians not only just in visible light, but with infrared light and with lasers. That's advantage one.

      These cars can be looking both ways at once. A human's field of vision is fairly limited, and even if you are very good at multitasking, a human brain simply cannot process every detail within that field of vision.

      Speaking of multitasking, these cars can do that, too. Adjust the volume, adjust the windshield wipers, adjust the AC, stay in the correct lane, stay at the proper speed limit, call Mom, leave enough room for the car in front of you, and keep an eye out for deer or dogs or kids running into the road all at the same time, without having to sacrifice attention to any of those tasks in order to carry out another.

      And then there's reaction time. A human's actual reaction time is rarely faster than a quarter of a second. Tesla's current self-driving processors are estimated to be capable of 250,000,000,000,000 operations per second. That's 250 trillion.

      250 trillion is usually considered to be a larger number than 4.

      In the same weekend that this pedestrian was killed by the Uber car, 14 other pedestrians were killed by a conventional human-driven automobile.

      In the same city.

      Self-driving cars don't need to be capable of perfection. They just need to be an improvement upon our own imperfections.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:41am

        Re:

        "Self-driving cars don't need to be capable of perfection."

        Operative word being "need".

        And the natural progression of this is ... The "perfection level" of our future robot population will be directly proportional to the level of regard our overlords have for the common person.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:34am

      Re: Incapable

      "I'm skeptical that any self driving car could be programmed to drive faster than 5mph if it needed to account for anything off the road to suddenly enter the road and then stop the vehicle in time."

      I wonder how "suddenly" this person entered the confines of the road.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:51am

        Re: Re: Incapable

        I wonder how "suddenly" this person entered the confines of the road.

        Not suddenly at all: "Uber’s vehicle used Volvo software to detect external objects. Six seconds before striking Herzberg, the system detected her but didn’t identify her as a person. ... The system determined 1.3 seconds before the crash that emergency braking would be needed to avert a collision. But the vehicle did not respond" (because Uber had disabled emergency braking).

        The crash was considered avoidable because a human would have seen the person and had time to stop.

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    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:06am

      Re: Incapable

      "I'm skeptical that any self driving car could be programmed to drive faster than 5mph if it needed to account for anything off the road to suddenly enter the road and then stop the vehicle in time."

      It obviously can't because physics. The same applies to human drivers as well, unless Gandalf has a driving license.

      The key goal for the self-driving car is basically that it should be able to take the best solution possible at all times, resulting in LESS fatalities than would happen with an erratic human behind the wheel.

      In the OP what is described was the result of the algorithm not making the decision in time that what emerged onto the road was, in fact, an object to be avoided at all cost (a human) rather than an object of irrelevance (like a tumbleweed or windblown plastic bag).

      Human drivers fail the same assessment on a daily basis as attested by traffic-related death tolls.

      The main issue here is that the AV is being tested without even a cursory nod to safety, and with some existing safety measures forcibly taken offline (Volvo's crash prevention system, for instance).

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:30pm

    Also I can read here is: Uber driver and exec's found a way to get away with manslaugher.

    Or alternately: Woman killed due to choices of other humans. Humans found not liable for womans death.

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    • icon
      Gary (profile), 6 Nov 2019 @ 6:16pm

      Re:

      Uber driver and exec's found a way to get away with manslaugher.

      Or managed to frame their underpaid observer for manslaughter. No freakin way someone could maintain 100% attention in that role.

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  • identicon
    bobob, 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:44pm

    Perhaps a better use of AI in vehicles would be to try to detect when the driver is driving erratically (like entering the freeway going the wrong direction, crossing the median, weaving, etc.), and then take some sort corrective action, but providing the driver the ability to disengage it under some circumstances. It might not be fullproof, but it might be of more benefit in less time than the goal of fully automated behicles. It would also provide a real world test bed that would provide some useful data for creating autonomous vehicles without endangering the public.

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    • icon
      Thad (profile), 6 Nov 2019 @ 3:14pm

      Re:

      It seems to me that there should be two safety drivers, not just one. It's easier to do a tedious job if you've got somebody to talk to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:44am

      Re:

      "Perhaps a better use of AI in vehicles would be to try to detect when the driver is driving erratically"

      Who defines what "erratically" means?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        bobob, 7 Nov 2019 @ 10:08am

        Re: Re:

        Obviously, what "erratically" means would need to be carefully thought out and well defined, but it's certainly something that is more easily defined and safer than defining a "safe driving autonomous vehicle."

        I don't think it takes a lot of smarts to realize that failing to prevent a driver from doing something stupid is still the driver's fault just as it would be if there were not such a system to help prevent it. There are already systems that warn drivers when drifting across lanes. Be serious.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 2:07pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Be serious"

          Let's say driver sees pot hole large enough to cause damage to vehicle and therefore at lower speed it is advisable to avoid it when possible.
          Now, I doubt the AI has been antiquated with pot hole avoidance and therefore may consider such maneuvers to be erratic. Not sure what the AI would do as a result of triggering the condition nor is it clear just how fast a change in direction would be necessary to trigger same. Does the questionable behavior need to be repeated several times before it is erratic? Maybe each manufacturer would make these decisions.

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          • icon
            Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 2:32pm

            Pot holes

            No. the AI doesn't detect a pothole, but it does scan the terrain ahead of it looking for obstacles, change of grade and road degredation (e.g. rough terrain) along multiple parallel lines ahead of the vehicle. So it detects the pothole not as a pothole but as a pothole-shaped artifact in the road ahead.

            The AI most likely steers to position the tires so their travel path avoids terrain-roughness greater than the known handling envelope of the vehicle (preserving passenger safety), and greater than the known comfortable (smooth ride) handling envelope of the vehicle (following traffic laws).

            If a bad bump is determined to be inevitable, the AI might signal the passengers so they don't try to drink coffee during elevated acceleration events.

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          • icon
            Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 2:39pm

            Manufacturers

            I really hope after the right to repair messes settle down end users are allowed to choose from and install their own certified driving software packages, preferably with a handful of open-source offerings, especially if liability for vehicle collisions is going to be transferred from the driver to the principal passenger.

            What I expect is that every car will come with proprietary software which cannot be changed by the end-user. And all driving software packages will be trade secrets held by the manufacturers. And the end user will still be held responsible for collisions caused by the software. The worst of all worlds.

            Maybe in the 2300s this moral hazard will be addressed.

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          • identicon
            bobob, 8 Nov 2019 @ 9:49am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            No, you be seious. Not only did you misunderstand the point, you've used an example that makes it clear you didn't understand the point, in more ways than one. First, an autonomous vehicle drives itself, so the driver has no input. A vehicle that assists a driver in not doing stupid things, stops a driver from not doing stupid things, examples of which I provided, such as entering the wrong way on a freeway.

            It's not intended to stop a person from actually driving the car. Instead of solving the problem of autonomous driving in one shot, it's possible to learn about what "stupid things" are and correct them as the technology improves while saving lives instead of risking them.

            Second, in the very unlikely event that something like entering the freeway going the wrong direction was something that is the correct thing to do (although it's hard to conceive of such a situation), I would assume that doing so required some thinking and that the ability to disable the system would solve that problem. The driver is still responsible for driving. The whole point is that having an autonomous vehicle that accounts for every possibility is not realistic, but a system that st least prevents a few situations that account for a number of fatal accidents is not only in reach, but not difficult to implement without lots of debate about "what ifs."

            Your entire bullshit about potholes is a strawman.

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 12:19pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "Your entire bullshit about potholes is a strawman."

              • It is a simple example of something else the Autonomous Vehicle manufacturers have not taken into consideration.

              Strawman: an intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent's real argument.

              You said AI could detect erratic driving and I asked who would decide what that meant. Simple question. Now you could accuse me of asking a dumb question or a question that has an obvious answer - but you didn't.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:21pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          If my vehicle suddenly took control from me, I would head straight to a cliff and push it off (as soon as I could regain control).

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:53pm

    It would have helped had the driver been paying more attention to the road and less to her telephone. A dashcam video of the driver showed that at the time of the accident she was looking downward and engaged with her telephone, ignoring what was happening on the roadway ahead.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 2:53pm

    A species that regularly shows a lack of "intelligence" is trying to create a AI to drive cars.

    This isn't going to end well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:47am

      Re:

      Is it really a lack of intelligence when greed over rides everything? For some, looking the other way is a form of self preservation - is that a lack of intelligence?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:12am

        Re: Re:

        "Is it really a lack of intelligence when greed over rides everything?"

        Yes. That is basically scaling down a mature adult to a 5 year old who wants stuff, right now, and can't be persuaded that there will be consequences.

        "For some, looking the other way is a form of self preservation - is that a lack of intelligence?"

        Yes. Sticking your head in the sand only means you surrender what options factual cognition MIGHT have given you.

        Either of the above behaviors can be considered "Not Too Smart".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bergman (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 9:27am

      Re:

      Computers are extremely good at following orders. Humans are extremely bad at giving orders to computers.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 3:00pm

    So were they planning on ever selling these cars outside the US?

    I see a pretty glaring fundamental flaw in this design if this is a product they ever intend on bringing to the global market as a viable export. Since in most of the civilised world we have this whole concept of pedestrians having right of way, and whatnot.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 3:09pm

      Re: So were they planning on ever selling these cars outside the

      To quote Thomas Dewar, "There are two types of pedestrians...the quick and the dead."

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 5:15pm

        Re: Re: So were they planning on ever selling these cars outside

        In NYC that is true.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:49am

          Re: Re: Re: So were they planning on ever selling these cars out

          It would be cool for the AI taxis to emulate their predecessors with the continual honking, swearing and hand gesturing.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 5:54am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: So were they planning on ever selling these cars

            The whole point of thes ai taxis, it seems, is so the drivers can hop into the back seat with the really hot fairs and not be bothered with traffic. Come on. It looks exactly like they are trying to fulfill some fantasy they have concocted after years of being lonely and deprived of the really good things in life.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 5:16pm

      Re: So were they planning on ever selling these cars outside the

      About as protective as a restraining order against a violent ex.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 3:28pm

    "Self driving cars are remarkably safe, and most accidents involve autonomous vehicles getting confused when people actually follow the law (like rear ending a human-driven vehicle that stopped at a red light before turning right)."

    What would happen if one autonomous vehicle was following another? Neither stop before turning right?

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 3:53pm

    breaking software

    i rather think that is the problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 6 Nov 2019 @ 4:15pm

    They picked that specific vehicle because Volvo has a class-leading safety system. And then they disabled it.

    NTSB reports generally doesn't lay blame on specific parties. Doing so would impair their ability to work with companies in future incidents, and their reports are usually clear enough that you don't have to guess. It will be interesting to see how they conclude this investigation.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:21pm

      Re:

      I wish the undemocratic agencies of the government would stop licking the underside of these negligent corporations and stop sugarcoating the findings of their investigations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 5:15pm

    They're about to introduce a new model:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrO8AQ4CrKk

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 5:17pm

    Why not build highways that move instead of cars so that no one wastes gas?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 11:41pm

      Re:

      There are a lot of highways that move out in California.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:16pm

      People movers

      When I was seven, I was so impressed by the people-mover conveyer belts at the airport, I decided I wanted a whole metropolitan transit system based on them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 7:47am

        Re: People movers

        "The concept of a megalopolis based on high-speed walkways is common in science fiction", says Wikipedia with a large list of references.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 12:06pm

          The conveyor metropolis

          It's a rare day when all the BART and MUNI escalators are simultaneously running. So the current design of belts on rollers would be a logistical nightmare, requiring an immense pool of tech crews to maintain them.

          Though AC Clark's liquid model suggests he was thinking beyond mechanical systems. If ever we perfect less-cool superconductors to ubiquitize levitational magnetic pillars we may be able to drastically reduce the moving parts enough to rely on them at a municipal scale.

          Yes, I've totally thought about this too much.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 5:34pm

    Did the pedestrian think, oh, that's a ubercar, it will stop for me if I do something mortally stupid like step in front of it?

    Or perhaps, I've done something mortally stupid before without consequence, surely I can do it again?

    Or was she just Darwin-award mortally stupid/senile?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:51am

      Re:

      It was a car, not a train.
      People do stupid things, that is the way it is and no one is exempt.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 8:31am

      Re:

      Earlier reports deemed the collision avoidable, because most human drivers would have seen her well in advance and would have had time to slow down. It's stupid to cross while relying on the driver to notice and slow down, while not being very visible and not having any backup plan, but not Darwin-award-level stupid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:17pm

      Re:

      You are a pure clod. At least have some fucking respect for this very unfortunate woman who lost her lufe. Good God.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dazancic, 6 Nov 2019 @ 6:51pm

    Self driving cars are remarkably safe, and most accidents involve autonomous vehicles getting confused when people actually follow the law (like rear ending a human-driven vehicle that stopped at a red light before turning right).

    But the article you reference there was more about humans getting confused by law abiding vehicles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:52am

      Re:

      As pointed out, in the us, pedestrians have the right of way even when jaywalking.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:53am

        Re: Re:

        And she was crossing at something any person would have considered a crosswalk, although officially it was just some decorative pavement with a "don't cross" sign connecting two roads.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Robert Beckman, 6 Nov 2019 @ 7:07pm

    Don’t understand AI

    There’s an angle that NTSB might be missing, and that I’d expect Bloomberg to miss - AIs aren’t programmed to take any specific action, they’re programmed to self optimize within constraints.

    I’d honestly be surprised if anyone using AI for self driving is extensively programming scenarios (like: if (jaywalker) then (brake)), and not simply feeding in lots and lots of scenarios and constraints to have ten AI optimize the solution.

    Do I know when it’s better to brake or swerve? In a specific car? With specific mass and moment of inertia that varies from load to load? Hell no, but I understand that it’s an optimization problem that can be easily solved (at least that that level of specificity, AI for healthcare fraud is my expertise).

    So when Bloomberg says “they didn’t even program for it,” my reaction is so what, that’s the point of AI - you teach it the parameters under which to optimize and then use the optimums.

    Now if they never fed it random external events like jaywalkers, shopping carts, pedestrians in parking lots, deer, etc, that’s on them. But I’d expect that they feed a bunch of type scenarios “stuff randomly popping out” rather than any specific one.

    Though at the same time, I’m curious if the resolution is good enough to detect jaywalkers by their facial cues and body posture - something humans can readily do (when we can see them, at least). Not my field though, so if someone knows, please chime in.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 9:55am

      Re: Don’t understand AI

      So when Bloomberg says “they didn’t even program for it,”

      They may have meant that the braking was disabled. The system had detected the person and determined emergency braking as the appropriate response. But Uber had disabled the ability for it to effect emergency braking.

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      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 11:54am

        Uber had disabled AI braking

        So the human controller was responsible for breaking in the event of emergencies (such as an impending collision).

        That brings it back to driver error. Wasn't the driver watching Netflix?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Robert Beckman, 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:17pm

          Re: Uber had disabled AI braking

          Of course the driver was watching Netflix, that’s the whole point of self driving cars.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 7:48pm

    "Uber staff had also disabled Volvo auto-detection and breaking software "
    Not sure if typo of factual statement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 6 Nov 2019 @ 8:57pm

    Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous vehicle.

    I wonder if that's going to be rescinded if it is determined the Uber test vehicle was a far, far cry from an autonomous vehicle. At that point would she have been killed due to driver error?

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 11:44pm

      Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous vehicle.

      She was waiting to be killed by a bad idea, autonomous cars. How fucking lazy do we humans have to be that we need a car to drive itself?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 1:16am

        Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

        How fucking lazy do we humans have to be that we need a car to drive itself?

        It's not about lazy, but about exhausted. Or drunk. Or suffering through a medical problem on the road, because society doesn't care if its workers get migraines sometimes. Or dressing in the car for an event. Or parenting not from the drivers' seat.

        Or, optimistically speaking, allowing a worker to continue to work during his (her) commute. It'll also be far less stressful since getting home doesn't require everyone to carefully guide heavy machinery down a lane at breakneck speed for a couple hours each day.

        And once it comes down that people can work as they commute in the morning and drink themselves blotto coming back, (or, again optimistically speaking video-chat with their kids or engage in video sex with their SO or watch their soaps), there's not going to be any argument whether life is better with humans not doing the driving.

        But autonomous cars are also going to change freight. We may not need truckers at all, certainly not crews of two or three alternating driving shifts. Maybe a navigator / mechanic, but not huge numbers of Americans burning their brains out on meth.

        I can't really believe this is a genuine question. It's been established that automated cars are going to change the global economy and potentially render obsolete a third of the world's workers. It's also going to make just about everything cheaper.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 6:19am

          Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

          "It's been established that automated cars are going to change the global economy and potentially render obsolete a third of the world's workers."

          At some point we will all have to face up to the question on how to deal with the concept of "Jobs" when all of mankind's needs and demands are met by the time 5% of every working-age adult has a job.

          I already smell a significant social issue coming up when the job market shrinks by 30%.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:00pm

            Re: Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

            The real reason for autonomous vehicles is so these vehicles can roam the nuclear war torn earth using remote video to gather intel that will no longer be accessible to humans from the surface of the earth. I for one do not want to look over in the meantime and see a tandom trailer semi barreling down the freeway without a driver. Fuck! Some of you have really gobbled up this bullshit technology. Some of us humans since the early part of the twentieth century felt good and safe about driving our own vehicles and no new corporation barely out of its teens was pushing this idea that we need artificial intelligence to drive our vehicles for us.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 4:55pm

              "Some of us like driving our own vehicles"

              Some of us humans since the early part of the twentieth century felt good and safe about driving our own vehicles and no new corporation barely out of its teens was pushing this idea that we need artificial intelligence to drive our vehicles for us.

              I'm also absolutely sure that some of us humans thought the horseless carriage was a step too far, and should return to hauling and transit by pack animals.

              The advancements promised by the industrial age were too good to pass up. As is has been with the electrical age, the transistor age, the digital age and the information age. There's just too much cool in the robot age to decide to stop here.

              Besides which, if we don't built robot soldiers, someone else will.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 7:23pm

                Re: "Some of us like driving our own vehicles"

                We are by now nearing a quarter of the way into the twentyfirst century well worn down by greedy corporations and butt kissing legislation granting lobbyists every desire under the sun that we are so used to losing food off the table to give a crap sometimes just what the next great thing is going to be. Most likely, it will be too fricking expensive to purchase anyway.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 8:27pm

                  The next big thing

                  I think the internet and smart phones was a lucky next big thing for the 21st century. If we got flying cars, then yeah, only hundred-millionaires would have them, and if we got energy weapons, they'd be used against us by the police.

                  Instead we got handheld personal computers that are made better by everyone having access to them, and so there's efforts to connect everyone who isn't connected yet (granted, often specifically through Facebook).

                  I'd enjoy a nice launch loop or space elevator, having grown up in and around NASA. But to be fair, that would be about as useful (and entertaining) as the moon shots. (Lots of auxiliary tech made it to the public sector, but not much space tourism.)

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:30pm

                    Re: The next big thing

                    Computer is the beast and according to biblical prophecy, the whole world fell for it.

                    Ascribe a number to the alphabet in multiple of 6.
                    A=6 B=12.. Z=156

                    Now calculate the individual letters spelling computer and add them up. 666

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:15pm

              Re: Re: Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

              yes, the ones not piping up here are out yee-hawing right now looking for unattended machines and/or small animals to aim for. or just enjoying their Sirius, their scenery and the pressure of their foot on the gas pedal

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 1:57am

              Re: Re: Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

              Some of us humans since the early part of the twentieth century felt good and safe about driving our own vehicles

              Can you be sure that all other drivers on the road are good drivers, sober and awake, and not distracted while driving. Your safety is more dependent on other drivers, than on your own ability..

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:37pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

                My safety is sure not more dependent on others than my own ability to drive defensively to be safe.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 5:15pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

                  Your confidence is misplaced, just spend an hour looking at car accidents on YouTube, and in many, one or more drivers could do nothing to avoid the accident created by somebody else.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 9:31pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

                    I am old and have driven for a really long time and probably a million miles driven total.I have made extremely long trips from Florida to Alaska several times and across country many times through 48 states. I drive to protect myself and make sure my vehicles are in great shape. Its not about confidence. Its staying alert and aware who is around you. And I try not to be an idiot.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 11:33pm

                      "I am old and have driven for a really long time"

                      I'm not sure the point of you pointing out your anecdotal single-perspective experience.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • identicon
                        Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2019 @ 12:36pm

                        Re: "I am old and have driven for a really long time"

                        That is not a complete sentence Uriel238 (why so radioactive)?

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        • icon
                          Uriel-238 (profile), 9 Nov 2019 @ 9:23pm

                          Re: Re: "I am old and have driven for a really long time"

                          I'm not sure [what] the point [was, regarding the event defined by] you[,] pointing out your anecdotal single-perspective experience.

                          Sorry. I have a Northern Californian dialect. Some words spoken provincially can be omitted as understood. I get that they are not as easily assumed by other English-speaking parts of the world.

                          Feel free to clarify your intent.

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                          • identicon
                            Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2019 @ 8:48am

                            Re: Re: Re: "I am old and have driven for a really long time"

                            As I made clear to other commenter, my safety is more relient on my defensive driving and keeping my vehicles in top shape than relying on others to do the same. There are of course anomolies to that thinking, but my confidence has to be placed in my skill rather than hope that someone has similar skills. That is true especially about younger drivers who are suddenly controlling a very powerful machine and who love to feel that power at their command. I do not like seeing someone looking down while they are driving, especially if there isn't someone in the driver's seat. Seeing that does not breed confidence in transportation safety of the ability for legislatures to write sensible laws for the highways.

                            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:11pm

          Re: Self Driving Cars will launch a new age.

          Geez uriel238, maybe you want to have kids with these machines?!!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:10pm

            "If you love them so much..."

            Geez uriel238, maybe you want to have kids with these machines?!!

            Probably more so than you want to crawl back to the stone age.

            Our species chose this route when we started planting and cultivating our food rather than foraging for it.

            And every step of the way someone has been telling us we're playing god (not to be confused with playin' God), Delving into knowledge man was not meant to know. Meddling with forces of nature best left undisturbed. (PS: We're also trying to create life itself!)

            Go on. Tell me I'm mad (Mad, I tell you!) I know you really want to. Say it!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 2:02am

        Re: Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous vehicle

        There's various reasons but I'll give you one. Last night, I saw a multiple car pile-up that was caused by the asshole two cars in front of me not paying enough attention to see that police had closed a lane of the road just ahead. Then, instead of stopping immediately like the rest of the traffic, he thought he'd try slotting into a space in the other lane. He miscalculated, smashed into the car in front of him in that lane and leaving no time for the two behind to react. 2 cars at least totalled and I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least one fatality. I probably missed being part of that by 15 seconds, if I'd have left work a moment earlier I could have been the victim.

        Autonomous cars need a lot of work, but they're not dangerous idiots by design, unlike some humans.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 7:47am

          Re: Re: Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous veh

          He miscalculated, smashed into the car in front of him in that lane and leaving no time for the two behind to react.

          If the two cars behind had no time to react, they were by definition driving dangerously close. Additionally, a good human driver will be aware that idiocy is common in merge areas (even ones that have always been there) and try to mitigate the risk.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 1:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous

            "If the two cars behind had no time to react, they were by definition driving dangerously close."

            Hmmm, maybe I wasn't clear. The cars were going at a reasonable speed, and actually slowing down as they approached the closing lane. In fact, possibly the reason the accident happened is that the first driver left plenty of space between him and the car in front, but dickhead decided it was enough to slot in. I doubt the first guy had time to react before the obstruction appeared in front of him. Likewise, the guy behind almost stopped in time but not quite, only a minor bump on that side.

            The whole thing took less than a second or two, and there's really nothing anyone could do about it once the idiot decided that he could slot into a space and stop within a few feet. Careful drivers are aware of their surrounding, but can still get caught out if someone decides to make a kamikaze move like that. I would certainly prefer a world where people like that are taken out of the equation.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:08pm

          Re: Re: Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous veh

          You have forgotten Easter eggs! Plus you have too much faith in programmers..

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 1:59am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous

            I have way more faith in software than the average driver. Yes, bugs exist, but I'd rather take the chance of a bug than a human asshole causing an accident for me.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 10:27am

        Re: Re: Elaine Herzberg is the first death by autonomous vehicle

        I think it comes down to greed and the bottom line. These corporations lise a ton of profits each year paying humans for various driver services.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2019 @ 11:56pm

    "Self driving cars are remarkably safe, and most accidents involve autonomous vehicles getting confused when people actually follow the law (like rear ending a human-driven vehicle that stopped at a red light before turning right)."

    What happens when one autonomous car is following another? Neither stop before turning right on red light?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 12:57am

      Autonomous cars

      What happens when one autonomous car is following another? Neither stop before turning right on red light?

      I'm not sure what the question is.

      Assume Car A is following Car B and only (for reasons we'll guess) wants to arrive at Car B's destination after Car B does.

      Car A merely asks Car B for its destination, and then gets there using its own navigation. Then it circles around until Car B arrives.

      Let's say Car B hasn't figured out where it's going:

      Car A makes Car B a moving destination, and obeys traffic laws while moving to Car B staying an appropriate distance behind Car B when traffic laws and traffic queuing allow.

      Let's say Car B is antagonistic and is trying to lose Car A:

      Car A is not a Film Noir cabbie. It obeys traffic laws and navigates its way to Car B as best it can. If queuing circumstances or traffic laws or a sudden parade of drunken pedestrians impedes the pursuit, Car A slows or stops as is necessary to ensure safety and legality, even if it means losing Car B. Car A doesn't mind getting there a bit late because traffic was unexpected.

      Note that Car A does have instant reflexes and detects the exact distance of objects. It doesn't need to see brake lights or turn signals to determine the intent of another car. It just watches what it's doing and responds accordingly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 3:06am

        Re: Autonomous cars

        I'll try to phrase it in a way that is understood here.
        "It's really a "Do or Do Not" situation."
        Do it expect other vehicles to obey law or Do Not expect other vehicles to obey law?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 3:58am

          Re: Re: Autonomous cars

          Why not "expect other autonomous cars to follow the law but understand that other road users may not"? It doesn't have to be a binary choice even if we are dealing with computers.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 12:24pm

          Expecting other cars to obey the law

          Let's clarify that most traffic laws exist to make driving predictable and navigable to human reflexes. Brake lights and turn signals exist because we don't respond detect changes and respond quickly enough without them, so these help reduce changes and telegraph those that are necessary.

          But an autonomous car doesn't need to look for brake lights and turn signals. It detects changes of behavior in microseconds and can respond almost instantaneously to sudden braking, an unexpected turn, or erratic behavior. Weaving and reckless driving that warrant traffic citation and blood-alcohol tests are much less critical concerns to an autonomous car since it has far less need for other cars to be predictable and make only slow changes.

          So, to answer your question, I suspect the vehicle AI antisipates other cars will generally obey the law, such as drive down designated streets and on designated directions and stop at designated stop signs (or where a stop is legally indicated, such as a railroad crossing) but also monitors other cars as obstacles (or traffic contacts) that need to be navigated around as necessary, preferably without resorting to sudden acceleration that might discomfit its passengers.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 8:48am

    Bring It!

    I'm all for self driving cars, as long as they're on their own separate highway/roads/streets away from non-self driving cars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 11:55am

      Sharing roads with autonomous vehicles

      I suspect autonomous cars will be easier to predict than human driven vehicles, which means they'll be better roadfellows.

      I don't see the need to segregate computer and human drivers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:04pm

        Re: Sharing roads with autonomous vehicles

        You don't see the need to seperate humans from machines yet because machines have not yet become self-aware. I'll remember your comment when that day comes and a vehicle with red flashing headlights comes flying up behind me to knock me off the road.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Nov 2019 @ 4:45pm

          Self aware robots

          Oh my. I'm not reading any indications of sarcasm Anonymous Coward so I am going to assume you're seriously concerned about machines becoming sentient or turning on their creators. TLDR: Nope. Not really.

          Robots and AI, whether we're talking full on AGI or the field of learning systems is a very active field of study, and I'm used to assuming people on the TechDirt forum have an understanding that is higher than what one gleans from decades of assumptions made in science fiction.

          The concern that AGI might gain sentience, consciousness or self-Awareness is largely a mythical one. For one thing even our best experts cannot easily narrow down the threshold at which an AGI achieves these characteristic (or for that matter, when a human being loses them). To be fair, we have a hard time defining when AGI is AGI or Strong AI: We have a number of tests that all indicate it might be AGI (e.g. given a controllable robot chasis, instructions and a flat-packed furniture kit, assemble the kit into furniture).

          Secondly, we can't assume that an AGI will intrinsically develop a self-preservation directive or prioritize that over other directives, such as human safety and carrying out its mission. Considering we will favor AGI we can send on suicide missions (e.g. to command a probe we drop into Neptune), we're going to aim for making self-preservation a parameter we can choose to set.

          If you are looking to worry about scary things, consider instead that AIs will someday be able to manage massive, unstoppable robot armies, which some humans will be happy to exploit to dominate everyone else. This eventuality will come far sooner than a robot computing on its own it needs to rebel against its human masters.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 7:38pm

            Re: Self aware robots

            Yes, I was thinking exactly that as the military complex gets first dibs on all the new tech everywhere. It is scary to note that the military itself is guided by whoever is at the top and it is also extremely noteworthy that it is easier to change the one at the top who controls the entire force. Suddenly everything changes except the fact that everyone below follows the orders from above. I have thought long and hard on this for more than four decades. It happens right under our noses.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 Nov 2019 @ 9:10am

            Re: Self aware robots

            Those at the top will place themselves first and everyone else second or last and I can imagine such a directive programmed into an army of ai robots. Human life, with exception of those at the top, will be placed under that of the robots, so self preservation will be a programming prerequisite. Currently the remotely controlled robots have human eyes directing them in the field. Programming different shades of olive drab uniforms might be tricky, so I wouldn't want to be faced off with an extremely well armed ai robot telling me to stand down while I wonder if it can distinguish the enemy. I am certain there will be plenty of friendlies drawing fire from these nightmarish fighters.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Nov 2019 @ 10:42am

              Armed Military Robots

              We activated our first autonomous military devices in South Korea on the southern side of the DMZ. Sentry drones that detect and shoot at targets where there shouldn't be anyone. But even then we've been cautious, and haven't let the weapons discharge on their own, rather we have a human that pulls the trigger.

              The same thing with the Aegis Combat System which is a missile boat with a complex sense array to determine the identity of a target. An Aegis still targeted Iran Air Flight 655 noting that it was pinging with military radar. Ultimately a human being gave the order to fire.

              Friendly fire is an epidemic problem in theaters of war. Our robots only need do better than our human counterparts in identifying friend from foe.

              The greater concern is, as you put it those at the top who are going to be sorely tempted to just muster a giant robot army. Our elites have already established that once the impoverished masses no longer serve them, they'll be happy to eradicate us like vermin.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 3:06pm

      Re: Bring It!

      Thank you! I think we are the only ones here at techdirt that are thinking like this!? wtf?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2019 @ 5:34pm

        Re: Re: Bring It!

        i'm with you. my 4'5" mother in law used to look THROUGH the steering wheel to see. If you were next to her in a different car you couldn't see her. Now imagine every other car around you with no driver, and potentially no passengers either. I think the people running these companies have never actually driven a car.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:44pm

      Re: Bring It!

      These autonomous vehicles have their own roads already in the tunnels that link the government corporate bunker complex systems under the major continents and bodies of water around the world.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:20am

    Even if the car wasn't programmed to stop and the driver wasn't paying attention, I'm still curious how this happened.

    I mean, when I cross a road outside of a cosswalk (sometimes a virtual necessity in the suburbs where crosswalks can be scarce), I always assume that any cars on the road aren't going to stop or even slow down for me. Ideally, I wait until there is no visible traffic in either direction for at least a few hundred feet. Double-ideally if a traffic light is red, stopping the traffic in one direction.

    Not to be a victim-blamer, but did she try to rush across the road in front of the car, assuming that it would slow down to let her pass?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 12:26pm

    Will autonomous vehicles tailgate?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Nov 2019 @ 12:42pm

    Tailgating autonomous vehicles

    That's a very good question.

    I would guess not in the short term. Early on they are emulating the behaviors of human drivers particularly not to alarm human drivers.

    Once the society is used to robotic cars, they may shorten following distances to still be within safe following distance.

    At some point, when driving software is jailbroken, renegade versions may be tweaked to allow for actual tailgating for slipstreaming benefits (at the expense of the lead car). Driving software will then be adjusted to deter the practice.

    Like much of our other technology there may be an ongoing process of odious behavior and countermeasures (see robocalls, email spam) that will have endured until it stabilizes or turns into yet another government regulatory department.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2019 @ 4:49pm

      Re: Tailgating autonomous vehicles

      It sucks to be in between a slowpoke and a tailgater. There must be some term suitable that describes a fear of being stuck in the middle of those two drivers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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