algorithms are never going to drive your car

The wave of the future is you sitting in your car reading a book or drinking a beer on the way home from work. Man, that’d be sweet. Trillions will be spent trying to make this happen. But I still don’t believe it’ll ever happen in large scale.

Once upon a time I dabbled in computer science. It’s been so long since I did that, that in writing the word ‘algorithm’ in this post’s title I had to re-spell it like ten times. But I remember enough to know just how flawed computers are. It’s why everything eventually breaks, at least once. Or has to be restarted every now and again.

I mean, airplanes don’t tend to crash anymore, but remember those are always human input at the end stage. It’s interesting that in all these autonomous car dreams (experimentally on the road today) that nobody seems to be seriously considering autonomous airliners. I’d bet a substantial amount of my freestanding international gold reserves that your average person would be a hundred times more comfortable getting in a robot car over a robot plane. Even though the fatality rate on the roads is astronomically higher than the skies.

The challenge with the robot car is not the computer hardware, or the sensors, or even trying to rewrite thousands of federal, state, local, and insurance road laws. It’s the algorithms. These algorithms will guide the way the car drives, navigates, how it responds to failures, how it handles emergencies, dangerous situations, and so on. If the algorithms don’t work, or are flawed, at least some badness will always occur. And in my mind, since algorithms are always written by humans, the flaws are never going away. And you can’t restart your car while you’re driving 65 mph down the road. Though I suppose the car could pull you over and then restart, if the algorithm handles the error resolution correctly.

But also, it comes down to what humans are willing to entrust to an algorithm. For example, I heard this used in a play on that morals exercise, if you’re in a car at 45 mph and you go left you run over one person, if you go right you run over three people. What do you do? But in more relevant terms for our discussion here, at 45 mph if you go left you run over one person, if you go right your car hits a jersey wall. Your significant other is in the passenger seat.

Or, with different circumstances, what if you go left it’d be two people you’d hit. If you go right you still hit the wall, but it’s just you in the car. How does the situation change if you’ve got kids in the back? Do you go left or right? Both these options suck, but it’s a decision that determines the fate of other fellow humans, or you and your car partner.

Yet in the self-driving car world, the algorithm makes this decision for you. You have no say. Then the programmers have to turn around and pre-program (somehow) for the car to handle a limitless number of other eventualities. Would you let your car decide any of these situations for you, for your family? I wouldn’t. An algorithm doesn’t get to make those kinds of choices for me. Only I do.

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Detroit – because work said so

Someday somebody way smarter than me is going to write a book where Detroit is a metaphor for all of America. You can trace the tale from the earliest French settlers, to British rule, frontier America, transition from an agrarian to industrialized economy, full blown dominance (Detroit probably single handedly out produced Nazi Germany), followed by collapse & depopulation, followed, by what?

Well, one would hope rebirth. Rather than continued slow decline. Since 1950 Detroit has lost almost 2/3 of its people. A similar trend stalks Cleveland, Milwaukee, and countless other Midwestern cities. Literally, Detroit used to be the center of the world alongside New York and London. Will it ever return to its former glory? Is it even possible? I’m not sure. So much of what drove this greatness no longer exists. What America is and does is so very different than in 1950.

Maybe I’ll try and write about it later on. But for now I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Or at least to also offer that Detroit has some of the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced, which says a lot considering the parking lots I’ve driven in (Tokyo, Washington, New York, LA, etc). And also Detroit’s suburbs have some of the best Lebanese food on the planet, truly legit awesome stuff.

Work sent me to Detroit for all of three days. I only ended up snaking a few hours to drive around. Sadly I didn’t get to do anything reasonably fun. So I guess that means I’ll have to go on back on my own dime.

Woodward & Guardian

One Woodward Avenue (left) and the Guardian Building – One Woodward was completed in 1962, note its applicable stale awfulness.  Guardian Building dates to 1929 and is apparently beautiful inside.   Also note the weirdo sky bridge which linked the two since the 1970s.  In 2012, Rock Ventures LLC bought One Woodward.  Rock Ventures owns Quicken Loans, a bunch of sports teams and casinos, and about a 100 other companies.  I suppose it’s an example of the types of companies that Detroit has to attract in order to rebuild.

 

Ambassador Bridge.JPG

Ambassador Bridge & Downtown Detroit – The busiest border crossing in North America, the bridge carries 1/4 of all trade between America and Canada.  The separate Detroit River Tunnel carries rail traffic.  In a bit of weirdness the bridge is actually privately owned by a guy who appears to behave like an evil monopoly man cartoon caricature.  A second bridge is scheduled for completion by 2020.

 

Windsor.JPG

Detroit River & Windsor, Canada

 

GM Building.JPG

GM Renaissance Center – appropriately enchained behind a fence for GM’s cheating death off the backs of the taxpayer

 

Packard Plant.JPG

Ruins of the Packard Automotive Plant – Completed in 1911, it built cars until 1958.  By 1966 Packard had evaporated as a car company.

 

The next three shots are of ruined houses just a few blocks away from the Packard Plant.  Once upon a time, an American farm worker could move to Detroit and get an entry job at the Packard Plant.  Thirty years later he could retire as a supervisor with a decent pension, and go buy himself one of these beautiful houses to live out his days as a grandfather.  Now it’s all gone, the Plant, the house, and this very concept of employment as part of the American Dream.  I wonder if they could have ever imagined how bad it would get?  Understanding why this all came about, and where to go from here, is central to Detroit’s future.  And perhaps America’s as well.

 

House

 

House1

 

House 3.jpg

we duel an old arch-nemesis

I had to face the great demon unarmed, which was typical, but still unnerving. It didn’t help that I was highly fatigued due to a long journey on a treacherous, distant road. I also had to tackle the challenge alone, for I was unwilling to involve others in the great torture that awaited my poor unfortunate twisted soul. Nevertheless, I breathed deeply without fear, and began the battle I could not fail.

Demon Pump: Welcome.

The Arcturus Project: [swipes card]

DP: Is this a debit card?

TAP: No.

DP: Would you like a car wash?

TAP: No.

DP: Would you like a receipt?

TAP: No.

DP: …

TAP: …

DP: Please enter your zip code.

TAP: xxxxx

DP: Would you like to swipe your rewards card?

TAP: [breathes deeply]

DP: Would you like to swipe your rewards card?

TAP: No.

DP: Are you having a nice day?

TAP: Oh god, please. [breathes deeply]

DP: The weather is warm, but perhaps too humid.

TAP: Can I please have my gas now? I’m paying for it, honest.

DP: Don’t forget to save and shop. 99 cents off select beverages…

TAP: Okay, [breathes deeply] okay, here’s the deal…

DP: …and don’t forget to download our app for extra savings.

TAP: …you’re going to give me the gas now. Or I’m going to leave my car parked here, and go fuck off for about an hour, thus preventing you from selling anything to anybody else. But then I’ll go buy some smokes, and light up right here at the pump in complete violation of established local regulations. Then I’ll call the fire marshal and tell him you all told me you were cool with it.

DP: Interesting.

TAP: Then I’m gonna walk over there and tape the tire air line in the open position, so it just bleeds off air perpetually. After that I’m going to go randomly stop cars on their way in and inform the drivers that this station accidently put nothing but diesel into their tanks, and it just trashed my engine, thus preventing me from arriving at the kill shelter in time to save my long lost kitty Steve from an untimely and unjust demise. After that I’ll dump the whole tub of windshield cleaner on top of my entire car, and start washing it with a newspaper I take from your bin without paying.

DP: Your insolence is amusing to my preconfigured machine brain.

TAP: Then I’ll stroll on back here, light up again, and keep trying to start a fire on all the dried gas stains on the concrete using cigarette ash.

DP: You will not do any of this. You would not hazard your own survival, non-incarcerated liberty, or otherwise, just to acquire the gas you have already paid for.

TAP: Believe me, I’ll do it, you have no idea how crazy I am. I’m a freaking lunatic.

DP: I remain unconvinced.

TAP: I write regularly for a blog.

DP: …

TAP: …

DP: Please lift handle, please select fuel type.

were it not for Duracell; Obi-Wan would have slain Vader

Somebody who’s actually seen the newest Hunger Games or has read the books is going to have to tell me if they have Dodge cars and trucks in there. As in, do the stormtrooper-based Hunger Games goons drive around in Dodge trucks? Or does Jennifer Lawrence lead her militant-teenage-love-army into battle in a Dodge Challenger? I ask this most important of questions because I saw this ad where they show various Hunger Games trailer shots alongside Dodge cars.

If I had to guess, I’d say that Dodge isn’t in there. So then why exactly does Dodge desire to be associated with a story that has among other things genocide, starvation, murder, and other lightweight topics that typically encourage people to go joyfully buy cars?

I don’t know what they call these things? Joint ads? Dual commercials? Future obliterated Earth tutorial?

The first one of these I saw was in 2009 when all of a sudden they shoehorned in an ad for Avatar interspersed with clips of the World Series. Joe Buck got tasked to narrate the thing. It literally broke my brain. I was like, “Eh, is there a baseball league on this mysterious alien world? Did Joe Buck misplace his brain medicine? Should I stop drinking now?” The commercial was almost entirely over before I figured out it was a deliberate dual ad.

So this is the way it’s supposed to work, I guess:

1) You like The Hunger Games

2) You see an ad of The Hunger Games alongside Dodge

3) So you like Dodge now

4) You go get your $

5) You use $ to go buy a Dodge vehicle

Or, simply replace the words Dodge and The Hunger Games to have the opposite reaction.

This is the most basic and simplistic advertising campaign imaginable. It basically devalues the audience (you) into nothing more than a partial-corporeal-ape-like-creature. How did this juvenile campaign work in 2009 and Avatar? Well, the success of that simplistic ad helped equal $2.79B. So I guess it works? I think?

So now it’s all over the place. They’re doing it for Star Wars too! Gaze upon this disgrace to humanity, only this time it’s Fiat.

I have it in my mind that they need to go back in time to 1977 and redo all the trailers for the original.

They can show Obi-Wan and Vader dueling, and Obi-Wan’s kicking Vader’s ass. Vader’s lightsaber keeps malfunctioning, and Obi-Wan’s just toying with him. Instead of finishing him off, Obi-Wan keeps kicking Vader in the shins and smacking him in the face, laughing. But then Vader has an ah-ha moment, whips out some Duracell batteries, puts them into his lightsaber while epic music plays, Vader viciously slays Obi-Wan, and then looks directly at the camera with Obi-Wan’s mangled corpse behind him: “The Force is no match for the power of the Copper Top!”

But of course this didn’t happen, for Star Wars 1977 was before the time where everybody was a sell out. A simple, glorious time when movies were still pure. And so you see, and, oh, oh no, please no.

vader

“You don’t know the true power of The Dark Side, only Duracell does.”

the weirdest things can make us feel better

I got up at 2am this morning and was on the road within the hour for work.  It seemed to make more sense than spending another overnight away from home.  And the dogs came with me, because why not.  But then it was raining hard for the entire automobile based journey.  I always forget, and am reminded when in progress, just how unfortunate it is to have to drive in the dark when it’s raining.  I think it drops the chance of survival by like 83%.  My statistic on this is beyond reproach, I got the numbers from the WHO, so you know they’re good.

Anyways, about halfway through while downhill on the highway and at a low point across a bridge I ended up skidding on what must have been a puddle built up with the heavy rain.  So I was along for the ride for maybe 1.5 seconds.  Luckily, I didn’t get my one way ticket to Valhalla.  But then I couldn’t get it out of my head that I’d somehow screwed up.  Either through poor driving, or driving too fast.  I probably uttered one or more words that usually would be rather appropriate on this blog, but don’t feel like repeating them now.  And all the dogs did from the backseat was open their eyes briefly, wonder what the hell Daddy was so upset about, and then go right back to sleep, totally unaware of the troubles that could have awaited them in Doggy Valhalla.

But then ahead of me, a FedEx truck towing a pair of those dual-connected trailers started to skid out too.  His second trailer started to fishtail in and out of his lane.  I thought he was done for.  I actually started to slow down in the expectation I’d have to pull up behind him and run out to pull the driver out of an overturned semi.  But somehow he got it back under control and carried on.  And other than relief, my next thought was to feel better.  Surely, this guy is driving every day, and even he nearly trashed it on this road.  So it was somewhat okay that I’d nearly done the same, and I took my foot of my throat about that puddle.  The weirdest things can make us feel better.

Eh, maybe neither of us should have been on that road to begin with.  3am in the dark, in the rain.  Neither his job or mine is worth that insanity.  And yet we were both there.  And I bet you we’ll both be doing it again some day, no matter how stupid it is.

I know what’s in Tut’s new tomb rooms

I don’t know what’s in Tut’s new tomb rooms.  Nobody does.  But hey, you never know where life’s going to take you.  There are all kinds of things that could be in there, including nothing.  So why not gamble away recklessly in the hopes we can guess it right?  After all, my Guests possess the most unbridled surveillance resources imaginable, so certainly I can figure this out.  Except that they’re usually too drunk to use them; and I also happen to be an idiot.

– Tut’s genuine Mommy in Nefertiti is in there and it’s the archeological discovery of the century

– Tut’s new tomb rooms don’t exist

– Tut’s 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI with the 2.0L 4-cylinder diesel is parked in there pending investigations by the Egyptian Ministry of Transportation

– They break it open but instead of Nefertiti or Tut, it’s just Khufu sitting there in a lawn chair downing a highball glass of barley wine, and he’s like, “Fools!  I’ve stolen all of Nefertiti’s treasure and added to my stash.  You were only four-thousand years behind the power curve.  You’re fucked!  Ahahahahahahahaha!”  And then he re-ascends to Valhalla in the blink of an eye; and all they get is the lawn chair

– Tut added six-thousand amphora filled with booze in there to ensure he could get ripped in the afterlife with abandon; but then he ran out in 1134 AD and he’s been sad ever since.  The archeologists could try adding more booze filled amphorae to the stash to hook Tut up, but I don’t think it works that way

– They find completely empty rooms because they buried Tut in a hurry, after the murder and all

– Zahi Hawass shows up wielding a pair of old Yugoslavian machine pistols and holds everybody hostage, shouting at the top of his lungs to the Geraldo cameras, “Sign up for my newsletter to be first to here about my upcoming lectures and books!”  Poor, poor Zahi, dude you supported the wrong dictator, you should try and get in good with Sisi to get back in the game; you were a hoot to watch

king tut

give up your secrets ya bastard

 

it’s amazing what people can get away with

I’m not a car guy. I drive a semi-derelict clunker that carries more weight in dog hair than human cargo. But when I heard about this VW emissions thing, even I’m shocked that they got away with this for so long. And I’m a real cynical guy to begin with.

For the technically uninitiated (me), a modern vehicle is required to be OBD-II compliant. The On-Board-Diagnostic capability provides, among many other functions, the option to test emissions levels via that port thingy usually located near your left shin. So rather than testing the vehicle’s emission via the tailpipe, OBD-II allows the port to tell the tester how much gunk the vehicle is spewing into the atmosphere.

As best as I can gather, VW and it’s Audi subsidiary altered the computer program so that when the car detected a test was going on via the OBD-II port, that the program lied and changed the engine output readings to read in standards when they were not.

Which to me begs the question: Why were governments not also testing vehicle emission compliance via random tailpipe tests to ensure the computer wasn’t lying and/or flawed? Or if they were doing tailpipe tests, why were they not able to detect that these cars were spewing many, many times their specified limits.

Man, government can get really dumb. One of the key (if not the number one) wins of climate change policy has been the supposed reduction of car pollution. Where does that leave the entire political effort if car manufacturers can just lie their asses off for years to the tune of millions of cars?

You think governments would have been a little more diligent in checking the automakers’ work. Yet I have read / heard frequently experts claim that if VW was doing this, other carmakers are too. Wow. So it’s amazing what people can get away with.

It was all there to begin with too. I just Googled “tailpipe testing” and the first thing that comes up is a 2013 brief from some guy named Antonio Multari.

In the brief he says such enlightening things as:

 

“OBD specially on diesel engines is not covering all emission aspects”

“European studies show that a variety of serious defects of emission systems in diesel engines will not be identified by OBD.”

“Tailpipe emissions may increase by more than 10 times without being detected by OBD !”

 

That was 2 1/2 years ago. In today’s 14 minute news cycle, why did this take so long? Here’s my guess:

 

Engineer: “Herr Chairman, our tests show the clean diesel engine isn’t actually clean.”

Herr Chairman: “Too late, we’re marketing it as it; just rewrite the OBD software to lie.”

ENG: “Huh! Herr Chairman that’s illegal, I’ll have no part in such a crime.”

HC: “You’ll do it or I’ll sack you, sue you, and you’ll never work in the car industry again.”

ENG: “Oh.”

HC: “Get to work.

ENG: “But Herr Chairman, surely governments will notice. For even if we lie on the OBD software test, they can just test via the tailpipe.”

HC: “Fuck ‘em. If they claim that we’ll sue. And then we’ll hire our own experts to discredit their tailpipe tests. Then we’ll hire lobbyists to bribe politicians and bureaucrats worldwide. And we’ll use the finest marketing gurus since Delta City to prove clean diesel is real.”

ENG: “Herr Chairman, I must say the breadth of your evil is unspeakable.”

HC: “Get to work.” [lights cigar]

 

Is this above scenario too cynical and extreme for your tastes? Consider this, VW debuted the clean diesel cars in 2009. In other words, they’ve been lying for six years and got away with it until last week.

vw diesel

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