After all, shouldn't your employees know that they shouldn't discriminate against a co-worker or give a female subordinate a kiss on the cheek?
Instead of jolting forward or honking — as some human drivers would be tempted to do — the car allowed me to go. In this case, the interaction was pleasant. How polite of the car to let me cut it off! But as a sociolinguist who studies human-computer interaction, I started thinking about how self-driving cars will communicate with the human drivers they encounter on the road.
Driving can involve a range of social signals and unspoken rules, some of which vary by country — even by region or city. How will driverless cars be able to navigate this complexity? Can they ever be programmed to do so? Image sensors can interpret signs, lights and lane markings. A separate radar detects objects, while a computer incorporates all of this information along with mapping data to guide the car.
But any autonomous vehicle will also need to be able to interact with traditional cars and Follow the rules drivers, as well as pedestrians, bikes and unforeseen events like lane closures, disabled stop lights, emergency vehicles and accidents.
The complex language of driving This is where things can get murky. In order to interpret the meaning, a person will consider the context: But how would an autonomous vehicle react? There are other forms of communication to help us navigate, ranging from honks and sirens, to hand signals and even bumper stickers.
Of course, humans use all sorts of hand gestures — waving a car in front of them, indicating that another driver needs to slow, and even giving the finger when angry.
Sounds can communicate love, anger, arrivals, departures, warnings and more. Drivers can express total disapproval with a hard, extended hit of the horn. Of course, emergency sirens encourage drivers to make way. But specific meaning can vary by region or country.
Traffic moves through Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt.
Written communication also plays a role between cars and drivers. Yet navigating construction sites or accident scenes may require following directions from a human in a way that cannot be programmed. This creates a huge opportunity for error. Because hand signals vary widely from region to region and even person to personautonomous cars could fail to recognize a signal to go or, more catastrophically, could mistakenly follow a hand gesture into a barrier or another car.
This gives me pause: How much knowledge about our societal and linguistic values are built into the system? How can driverless cars learn to interpret hand and auditory signals? Who gets to embed the algorithm in the machine, and how are sociolinguistic values assigned? But had I waved it in front of me, would it have been able to respond appropriately?
A story in Robotics Trends described how a bike and a Google car got stuck in a standoff when the car misread signals from the biker.
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Cities and countries possess a variety of sociolinguistic cues. It remains to be seen if the engineers working on driverless cars will be able to program these subtle — but important — differences into these vehicles as more and more appear on the roads.The latest Tweets from Follow The Rules (@followtherules).
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