What Exactly is Your Self-Drive Car Learning?
As Uber’s first self-driving cars hit the road in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania it’s only natural to wonder what computer operated driverless vehicles are learning. More specifically, what are they learning about us?
We already know that the first generation of self-driving vehicles, no matter who’s developing them, are collecting data as they’re being tested. It’s no secret that they gather information for better maps. These vehicles require detailed maps to work, so it really does make sense that they’re out there collecting the data they need to be safer and more reliable. No one really objects to more detailed maps. Why should we when our robot overlords so kindly share the data with us, making our human lives better.
It’s not a big leap to assume that self-driving cars are collecting other information. Things like traffic patterns at certain times of day. Or, that pedestrians in certain areas are more likely to jaywalk than those in other places. It makes sense. It’s even a bit of a safety feature. No objections there really. But what else are they collecting?
Will self-driving cars with their computer brains start looking at where you go and offer to take you to similar places that spend ad money with vehicles makers? It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to imagine that your car would soon be suggesting some place different for your morning cup of coffee or to drop off your dry cleaning because those businesses are sponsors.
It’s fairly safe to assume that the cars would remember where you’ve been, when you went, and how long you were there. That leads to questions like who would have access to that information. Could someone who thinks their significant other might be cheating go into the car’s history and find out if there have been visits to hotels or homes when they shouldn’t be there? Would employers be able to access the information to track exactly when you were in transit between meetings and doc an employee’s pay for stopping at a drive-through on the way back to the office? On the plus side, it would make getting reimbursed for mileage easier, but could someone be fired for not taking the shortest route?
Self-driving cars could be a huge source of information for the police. The cars would be able to tell the authorities when exactly you left that party, and what time you got home. It could potentially tell them who was in the car with you and every stop made along the way. The information could be life-saving if someone goes missing or gets caught in a blinding snow storm. It could also just help people get caught.
As self-driving cars move forward and become a commercial possibility, people will have to do some serious thinking about what personal information they want to have collected, and how they want it use. 12 organizations developing self-driving cars have signed a pledge to be open about the kind of information they collect and to limit the amount of time they keep it. But, Google has already successfully lobbied to have all of the privacy protection removed from legislation when California passed its first self-driving car regulations. What do these organizations need personal information for and what are they going to do with it?
No one wants to sound paranoid. But as responsible and independent human beings, we need to consider what information we want our cars to collect about us and what they’re going to do with it. If we don’t, the joke about robot overlords may not be so funny in the future.