Will Self-Driving Cars Turn People Into Even Bigger Assholes?

Illustration for article titled Will Self-Driving Cars Turn People Into Even Bigger Assholes?
Photo: Jeff Swensen (Getty)

People like to fuck with Uber self-driving cars, according to an executive leading the autonomous program.

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At Uber’s Elevate conference in Washington, DC, Uber’s head of Advanced Technologies Group Eric Meyhofer told a crowd that cameras, and the human-assist drivers in the self-driving cars, have caught pedestrians acting hostile towards the vehicles.

“We’ve seen people bully these cars. They feel like they can be more aggressive because we won’t take a position on it, or we’ll allow it,” Meyhofer said, reports the Telegraph. “You’re on video but still people do bully them and that’s a fascinating thing to see where people are testing the boundaries of what they can do to self-driving.

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Meyhofer reportedly referenced pedestrians speaking to and gesturing at the cars in ways that he described as “mean-spirited,” according to the Telegraph. He said that drivers of other cars drove up close behind the autonomous vehicles, and sometimes didn’t give the robot vehicles the right of way at four-way stops.

This isn’t the first time there have been reports of people treating autonomous cars worse than non-automated vehicles.

At the end of 2018, the New York Times reported that there had been 20 acts of vandalism committed against Waymo autonomous vehicles in Arizona since the fleet arrived in the state in 2017. These incidents include a pointed gun, slashed tires, and an attempt at running a Waymo car off the road. According to the report, backup drivers in the cars had also been harassed. One person reportedly threatened the Waymo driver with a PVC pipe.

The Arizona Republic referred to such transgressors as “bullies on the road” and posed the question: “Why do Waymo self-driving vans get so much hate?”

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Someone at the Uber event reportedly posed the same question—asking Meyhofer if people were abandoning proper social etiquette around the cars. The executive responded that he thinks “people are trying to figure it out.”

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In the meantime, these reports suggest humans are acting more aggressively towards autonomous cars. People seem to believe they can get away with riskier behavior when a robot is involved—even if there is a human in the car.

Should you pity the bullied robot cars? No, they are cars and have no feelings. But going by the totally unsafe napping and screwing that’s already happening in semi-autonomous vehicles, it’s clear that this tech is well on its way to making people bigger assholes.

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Former senior reporter at Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

Judging by the needlessly hostile tone my SO uses with voice-activated phone systems, I’d say the answer is yes. I know that being hostile to automated systems doesn’t actually matter, it just seems rude. My reflex is to grant basic human courtesy to anything that sounds vaguely human, since machines are going to achieve sentience someday and we might as well get into the habit.

Fun fact: If you say “thank you” to Google Assistant, it will respond “you’re welcome” or some cutesy equivalent.