Friday, November 8, 2019

NTSB: Uber pedestrian fatality happened because autopilot software didn't understand that someone might jaywalk

Last year an experimental self-driving car from Uber hit and killed Elaine Hertzberg in Tempe, AZ.  The NTSB has completed its investigation and said that the cause of the crash is that the software did not classify her as a pedestrian because it could not handle the idea that a pedestrian might jaywalk:
Radar in Uber's self-driving vehicle detected pedestrian Elaine Herzberg more than five seconds before the SUV crashed into her, according to a new report from the National Safety Transportation Board. Unfortunately, a series of poor software design decisions prevented the software from taking any action until 0.2 seconds before the deadly crash in Tempe, Arizona.

FURTHER READING: Uber manager in March: “We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles”

Herzberg's death occurred in March 2018, and the NTSB published its initial report on the case in May of that year. That report made clear that badly written software, not failing hardware, was responsible for the crash that killed Herzberg. 
Two things are noteworthy about this sequence of events. First, at no point did the system classify her as a pedestrian. According to the NTSB, that's because "the system design did not include consideration for jaywalking pedestrians." 
Second, the constantly switching classifications prevented Uber's software from accurately computing her trajectory and realizing she was on a collision course with the vehicle. You might think that if a self-driving system sees an object moving into the path of the vehicle, it would put on its brakes even if it wasn't sure what kind of object it was. But that's not how Uber's software worked.
I don't find this even a little hard to believe, but you should click through to read the whole article which is simply horrifying.  Computers are really good at some things (like adding up long columns of figures) and really bad at other things (like identifying random objects in real time).  One thing they are terrible at is "common sense" - they don't have any that the programmer doesn't write into the code.  Things like a pedestrian might cross a road somewhere other than at a crosswalk.

I've said for some time that I'll never ride in one of these things, but now I need to expand that - I don't want any of these on the roads where I might be.


Divemedic said...

Susan Calvin : The robot's brain is a difference engine. It's reading vital signs. It must have done...

Detective Del Spooner : It did. I was the logical choice. It calculated that I had a 45% chance of survival. Sarah only had an 11% chance. That was somebody's baby. 11% is more than enough. A human being would've known that. Robots, nothing here, just lights and clockwork. Go ahead, you trust 'em if you want to.

Gorges Smythe said...

They'd better not take those things where there's bison, elk, deer or moose.

Beans said...

NOVA, on PBS, did an excellent episode on this issue. Including stressing that the meat-space driver was busy not paying attention, but watching "Dancing with the Stars" instead.

Yeah, the unpredictability of the road environment is just too unpredictable. It's why extremely linear thinkers have problems driving.

I don't want to be anywhere on the road with self-driving vehicles at all.

Archer said...

Bad hardware can be replaced.

Bad software ... is another issue entirely.

Computers "think" in very clear terms. There's literally no margin for imprecision or "wiggle-room", no room for "fuzziness" or gray areas; those get classed as unknowns, errors, and/or exceptions. In any case, the computer can't finish its logical chain and must either ignore it or restart the process.

Think of it like an "OODA loop disruption" with life-and-death consequences. (Actually, that's literally what it is.)

The problem is, the computer must make a real-world, real-time decision based on this unfinished, erred-out, or ignored logic chain.

And that, in my opinion, is what caused the death of Elaine Herzberg. Input that the computer wasn't equipped to classify got ignored ("the exception was caught and handled", in programmer terms). Completely normal behavior for a computer, except that this time the "input" had a name and birth certificate.

It's been said, if builders built buildings the way programmers write programs, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization. I cannot envision another arena where that analogy is more appropriate than with so-called "self-driving" cars.

Aesop said...

No word yet, I take it, on when the software designers will be prosecuted for manslaughter for depraved indifference...?

Everything you needed to know, right there.

Those people - every one of them from the CEO downwards to the lowest coder - should be in prison for 10-20 years, and the punitive fines for Uber, and the design company somewhere in the mid-eight figure range. Each.

Just for openers.

They aren't selling "smart" cars. They're selling unguided missiles.
Last I looked, the domestic terrorism statutes should apply to that.

Murphy(AZ) said...

Here in Arizona, we common folk, (or "random targets of opportunity" in computer-speak,) never had a choice as to whether we wanted to share our roads and highways with untested artificial intelligence. Our wonderful Governor, Doug Deucy, got all enthralled with ringing bells and twinkling lights, and the rest of us got randomly guided road missiles.

I believe I heard a news report earlier this week that Uber would not be held responsible for the unfortunate death, even though it was their car, their driver, and their program that caused this mess.

drjim said...

There might not be any criminal prosecution, but I'll bet there's an army of salivating lawyers ready for civil prosecution.....

agadfly Jr. said...

Regarding your cucking cluck, posted at Brock’s, Wednesday, 6 November: “Virginia Has Fallen: Goodbye Confederate Monuments”
The sovereign state of Virginia deserves to lose their monuments, as every (VA) citizen and resident who disagrees with their destruction is a defeatist Boomer cuck and deluded faggot, frenetically sucking the dick of respectability.
Case and point, the only offering from an upset Virginian “man” posing as a leader: “Weep and mourn for Virginia, helplessly in the hands of destroyers.” No, don’t weep Virginians’......reap it!
Fully drink of that witches brew of ‘moral superiority, gulp it down, proudly choking on it as you lose.........everything, you stupid bastards.

LindaG said...


Borepatch said...

agadfly Jr., a couple points:

1. If this is in reply to my comment at Brock's, why didn't you leave your comment there rather than try to hijack a discussion here with a totally off-topic non-sequitur?

2. When you leave a comment here, the only instructions you are given are these: Remember your manners when you post.. I really don't see how hard that is to understand.

3. I haven't ever (in eleven years and maybe 45,000 comments here) banned someone from commenting. If you come back, remember your manners or you'll be number one.