Although it still is early in the news cycle, so far we know from Tempe police reports that an Uber robot has murdered a women.
The Uber vehicle was reportedly headed northbound when a woman walking outside of the crosswalk was struck.
The woman was taken to the hospital where she died from her injuries.
Tempe Police says the vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash and a vehicle operator was also behind the wheel.
First, autonomous mode indicates to us that Uber’s engineering team now must admit their design decisions led to this easily predictable disaster of a robot taking a human life. For several years I’ve been giving talks about this exact situation, including AppSecCali where I recently mentioned why and how driverless cars are killing machines. Don’t forget the Uber product already was caught ignoring multiple red lights and crosswalks in SF. It was just over a year ago that major news sources issued the warning to the public.
…the self-driving car was, in fact, driving itself when it barreled through the red light, according to two Uber employees…and internal Uber documents viewed by The New York Times. All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. “In this case, the car went through a red light,” the documents said.
This doesn’t sufficiently warn pedestrians of the danger. Ignoring red lights really goes back a few months before the NYT picked up the story, into December 2016. Here you can see me highlighting the traffic signals and a pedestrian, asking for commentary on obvious ethics failures in Uber engineering. Consider how the pedestrian stepping into a crosswalk on the far right would be crossing in front of the Uber as it runs the red light:
Second, take special note of framing this new crash as a case where someone was “walking outside of the crosswalk”. That historically has been how the automobile industry exonerated drivers who murder pedestrians. A crosswalk construct was developed specifically to shift blame away from drivers going too fast, criminalizing pedestrians by reducing driver accountability to react appropriately to vulnerable people in a roadway.
Vox has an excellent write-up on how “walking outside of the crosswalk” really is “forgotten history of how automakers invented”…a crime:
…the result of an aggressive, forgotten 1920s campaign led by auto groups and manufacturers that redefined who owned the city streets.
“In the early days of the automobile, it was drivers’ job to avoid you, not your job to avoid them,” says Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. “But under the new model, streets became a place for cars — and as a pedestrian, it’s your fault if you get hit.”
This might help illustrate the problem from an engineering standpoint (pun not intended).
Even more to the point, it was the Wheelmen cyclists of the late 1800s who campaigned for Americas paved roads. Shortly after the roads were started, however, aggressive car manufacturers manipulated security issues to eliminate non-driver presence on those roads.
We’re repeating history at this point, and anyone who cites crosswalk theory in defense of an Uber robot murdering a pedestrian isn’t doing transit safety or security experts any favors. Will be interesting to see how the accountability for murder plays out, as it will surely inform algorithms intending to use cars as a weapon.