Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear Get it Wrong on Self Driving Cars

Since 2012, Top Gear has been in the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘The Most Widely Viewed Factual TV Programme’.

Over 200 different territories around the world broadcast the show.

In 2014, estimates had weekly viewer numbers at around 350 million.

I love the show. I take it on face value. It’s a light entertainment show that happens to be full of the world’s most exquisite cars. It’s also a good laugh.

Some people take what the presenters say as gospel, though. That’s probably more a reflection on society than the presenters themselves.

And that brings us to one of the hosts, Jeremy Clarkson. He’s been in trouble before for jokes about lorry drivers and prostitutes and for using racial slurs in a number of segments.

This time he’s in hot water over a ‘fracas’ with a producer. They might sack him. He might quit. I don’t care really.

I like him. He’s a buffoon and a s***-stirrer. And he’s divisive. That’s what you want in a TV host — someone that says what they think and doesn’t give a stuff about what anyone says. I like that.

But if you take everything Clarkson says as gospel, then you need your head checked. He gets it wrong…a lot. And a few episodes back he absolutely got it wrong again.

Will your car kill you, or the two pedestrians?

Two episodes ago, Clarkson started talking about self driving cars. Now this is something I’ve got a pretty tight grasp on.

Clarkson began his discussion as, ‘philosophy news’. And this is what he said next:

Driverless cars are coming as we know. And somebody pointed out…that they will have to make from time to time, ethical decisions.

You’re heading towards an accident; it’s going to be fatal. The only solution is to swerve onto the pavement. But there are two pedestrians there. What does the car do?

Basically you will have bought a car that must be programmed in certain situations to kill you. And you’ll just have to sit there…and there’s nothing you can do.

These driverless cars, everybody goes ‘oh aren’t they clever they can stop at red lights’. They are going to have to face all sorts of things like who do I kill now. [Humans] are programmed to look after ourselves and these driverless cars are going to be programmed to do the maths, and say, lots of people over there, I’m going to kill you.

Now you might think he’s got a point. Based on that argument, self driving cars will take the less devastating route in an ‘ethical decision making process’. And when it’s your life on the line, I’m pretty sure you’d want to stay alive.

But this argument has a fundamental flaw. So if you think Clarkson has a point, I’m about to tell you why he’s wrong…again.

The ultimate in road safety

In a world where cars talk to each other, there are no fatal accidents. This is because the network they connect to won’t allow it.

Right now new cars come with lots of safety technology. There’s lane departure, blind spot monitoring, active cruise, automatic braking.

These are just some safety features. Other companies are using infrared, night vision, and sensor technology to differentiate between animals, cars, cyclists and pedestrians.

That means as a car drives along, it will monitor the road ahead. As it does so, it picks up all the objects it sees. It then categorises them into various groups. It’s able to determine the speed, travel path and likelihood of interaction with the car.

It can see more things at one time than humanly possible.

Now imagine every car in traffic having that capability. Furthermore, imagine that information feeding back in real time to a network. This network communicates with all the other cars in the vicinity.

This is how a self-driving car network will exist in the coming future…

Imagine you’re in traffic. But it’s moving along nicely. Your self-driving car is doing a reasonable 80kph on the freeway. All of a sudden a car a good 10km away punctures a tyre and has to pull over to the side of the road.

The instant that car detects the puncture, it sends that information and its GPS location straight to the network.

Then, every other car within 10 kilometres instantly receives that information from the network. Because all cars are travelling at safe distances and speeds, there is no threat of an immediate accident.

As this happens you instantly find your car slows down by 10kph to 70kph. And a bit further ahead you see that cars are beginning to merge from three lanes to two.

Then you see why. You see the car on the side of the road ahead. The driver is out of the car changing the tyre. He is on the hard shoulder, but there are no other cars in the immediate next lane. It’s as though there’s a quarantine zone around the driver and car.

Once 500m past the incident, your car accelerates back to 80kph. And the traffic again evens out across the lanes.

All this happens automatically, and well before you’re even near the accident. That’s how self driving cars will work. They always pay attention. They always know what’s happening 10km in front, 10km behind and everything that’s happening inside and outside the car.

Source: Continental Corporation

Click to enlarge

This isn’t some pipedream. Companies right now have this technology. They are working on it. Testing it in real world scenarios. They are testing and testing and testing. And they will continue to do so for the next five years or so, as we work towards self-driving cars on the road.

Technology companies like Continental AG [ETR:CON], Ericsson [STO:ERIC-A], IBM [NYSE:IBM], Volvo AB [STO:VOLV-A], Microsoft [NASDAQ:MSFT], Intel [NSADAQ:INTL] and NVIDIA [NASDAQ:NVDA] are all working on this.

Add in major car companies and you’ve got every car and tech giant in the world working on self-driving cars and a connected car network.

The future is self driving cars, and those companies will benefit from it.

With their tech, your car will make decisions on the road faster and better than humans ever could.

Don’t see that in a negative light. See it as a safer world for you and for generations to follow.

Self driving cars stop at red lights because they know the light sequence and when the light will turn red. They don’t skip through amber lights. They never run a red. They don’t speed. They manage traffic flow to get you to your destination on time in the absolute most efficient way possible.

As humans, we make split second decisions based on split second information. Self driving cars will make nanosecond decisions based on terabytes of data.

And that’s why Clarkson’s analogy is wrong. Self driving car won’t choose who to kill. Fatalities simply won’t happen. And that’s why this coming technology will have a monumental impact on society.

Sam Volkering,
Technology Analyst, Revolutionary Tech Investor

Ed Note: The above article was originally published in Tech Insider.

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Sam Volkering is an Editor for Money Morning and is small-cap, cryptocurrency and technology expert.

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