Aaron DiManna
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Hey, Let’s All Go Easy on Self-Driving Cars

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Self-driving Chevy Bolt
Photo: GM

As we all know, self-driving technology is breaking into the mainstream in a big way. Putting aside high-profile tests from companies like Uber and Google, major companies like GM have taken an interest in what they believe to be the future of driving with systems like GM Super Cruise, formerly known as Cadillac Super Cruise.

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Look, I’m not paranoid, but it’s only a matter of time before we, as humans, create something smarter and more capable than we could ever hope to be. Maybe it’ll be Terminator’s Skynet, Blade Runner’s Replicants, or any other artificial intelligence inspired by Phillip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov. So, with the world moving quickly toward a model where our cars take us where we tell them and require no further help from us, it seems like a good time to suggest some simple etiquette tips for communicating with a vehicle that is — or will eventually be — smarter than you.

Say please and thank you

Right now, machines are machines, and they do what we tell them without any regard as to how we phrase our demands. However, as humans — a species that has historically allowed its emotions to influence just about all of its decisions, for better and for worse — continue to program artificial intelligence based on the way our brains work, the AI we create will take after us more and more.

So, consider whether you would be frustrated if you were giving someone a ride to a place you’d never been, given two situations. If they said, “Please take me to (fill in the blank address),” and upon arriving at said location, said “Thanks a ton!” you’d probably feel positively toward your rider. If they didn’t, there might be some ill will between you.

So, if you use voice commands to request directions from your self-driving vehicle, think about using the same courtesy you would if you were taking a taxi or using a ride-share service. If your Amazon Alexa-enabled Silverado ever gains sentience, I’m sure it will appreciate the courtesy.

Apologize for whoopsies during the testing phase

I remember one lecture in college where we watched a frankly incredible video of multiple fully autonomous robots developed by Boston Dynamics traverse several obstacles and manage a wide range of terrains. One such “obstacle,” as it were, was one of the BD engineers giving a quadrupedal machine a good kick to see if it could recover.

It did.

My professor said something to the effect of “When these machines gain sentience, this will be the first thing they see, and we’ll need to have a good explanation.”

Now, I’m not in any way trying to claim that your Alexa-enabled Silverado is secretly plotting your downfall. I’m just saying that trying to be nicer to everybody — including our potential future robot overlords — may make things easier and better for everyone.

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