Smart wheeled black boxes give me an uneasy feeling, do you like them?
Hello friend! 👋 don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of super smart vehicles that can take me where ever I want with the touch of a button, I would be able to work or just look at the window while I commute trusting I’m safer than with a fellow human driver. Great future ahead, the future of mobility is autonomous and there’s nothing to worry about, right? 🤔
Well here’s the thing, I’m that kind of guy, yeah the one that might worry a bit more than the average about where data goes or how is it used and feel uncomfortable when I don’t have full control over the technology I use. That’s why I embrace software libre! it gives me back some of that lost control, transparency and freedom that we are missing, it’s not a silver bullet that protect us from all harm but at least a starting point towards a more respectful happy world :)
And now come the smart cars, the new addition to our collection of connected consumer electronics. Among the many devices hooked to the internet that we use on daily basis, the high speed box where we sit on to move from place to place is one that we definitely want to be as safe as possible, right? car manufacturers have done great work the last century making this machines safer but now that we are adding smart bits to our vehicles we are opening a whole new world of digital threats and a fast moving world this guys are not used to. Between you and me I don’t fully trust car makers are up to the task of responsibly deliver the products we users need 🤫
But what do we need? What should be done differently? I don’t know for sure, I don’t have the whole picture, I have a messy head and is hard to put order to ideas but here are some topics that you are completely free to judge and complement 😉
Take it easy peeps, we don’t need self-driving cars tomorrow. Surely autonomous transportation is a market with huge potential and is only natural for people to want their part in it, but let’s do it right having users best interst in mind.
Right now it feels like car companies are just afraid of being left behind by tech giants taking over their business that they run after their provider of choice and try to smash together some “AI hardware” into their cars, start collecting huge amounts of data without knowing why and hope at the end of the day their car will suddenly get home safely.
Tech companies are no that better either, they are also in the hurry of growing while burning money like crazy without knowing if the topic they are heavily investing on is sustainable in the long run. Step back mates, make the right alianses not to stay relevant and have your share of the cake but to create a healthy ecosystem of mobility innovation.
Who will own the cars? A vehicle that can drive itself and move people around who are willing to pay for that service is a valuable asset! companies know that and will prefer to keep those valuable assets to themselves instead of sell it to you and end up making more money than what you originally paid for. That’s the economy of everything as a service, less owning and more payed subscriptions!
Not necessarily a bad thing but would be nice if things evolve in a balanced way and a very few don’t end up owning all services we use, let us all join the party! Let us own things if we want to and have our small share of the pie. By owning I mean really having complete control over what we paid for, if you buy a car connected to the internet and there is no way for you to know who is in the other end of the line and what is being communicated, is it really yours?
The cost of smartness
Even thought we are getting close to have clever vehicles driving around completely on their own like grownups do, they are actually not that clever yet, there will be a time when a computer chip the price of a potato can know there’s a grandma who dropped her pink hat 2km ahead while trying to cross the street just by listening to the echo of birds singing in the distance … but we are not there yet 😂 For now cars will need lots of expensive sensors generating tons of data that needs to be processed by beefy machines. More fancy hardware is more money the future owner of that car will have to pay, let’s get to the potato priced chip faster! regular Joe saved money long enough and wants his future car to work for him while he has a nice rest.
Whether you bought the car or someone else is letting you ride on their own, as a passenger you are the center of the show, anyone inside a vehicle should always be in charge of how and with whom they ride, I want to drive myself? so be it, do I want robo-driver X to drive me? also cool, I get to chose! :)
Once on the road it’s also important to keep passenger’s discretion in mind, a piece of hardware equipped with tons of sensors and means to collect all kinds of data might be tempting for the one that put those sensors there to peek on things he/she shouldn’t. It’s NOT COOL to exploit the transportation needs of users by making money out of their personal lives, there are smarter more respectful ways of making money! … just keep it in mind 😘
I hope you agree there are important things in play with human mobility, therefore it’s very important that passengers are aware of how the different components of the system that makes their journey possible are working together or at least know the possibility to know this things is there and not be faced with a magic black box.
Problem with black boxes is … they are black ⬛😆 is difficult to know for sure if things are working the way blackbox.inc says they do, even if they look super cool and trustworthy, companies happen to be formed by humans that can lie and have reputations to maintain, maybe they don’t commercialize with your data but they might as well be susceptible to malicious third parties, secrecy is not the a good strategy for keeping things secure but openness is! free and open software has proven to be a much better approach for developing systems in a transparent way and the only way to ultimately be sure about what’s going on with your data and that you are being respected. ❤️
When people start doing things in the open they can greatly benefit form each other, they can complement their work and advance faster as a community. Silos often have to do lots of things on their own and reinvent the wheel several times, but open ecosystems already have lots of knowledge available to build upon. For industries that are as new as the autonomous mobility standardizing workflows and share work is hard because is not clear yet what is the right way to do things, we need to wait for patterns to emerge to be able to draw lines around pieces of functionality that have a specific purpose and can inter-operate in a bigger scale but it’s ultimately necessary to do so and push for standardization as soon as we see the opportunity before a few big players become the only ones able to cope with the complexity of such systems and dictate how everything works in their mysterious black boxes. I hope we start hearing of things like start-up A and B, the new best alternatives for the routing modules of your autonomous commute, instead of BigX announced in its yearly conference that all new models of their fleet will add the security feature of requiring a blood sample in case they need to “call an ambulance with the right blood on-board in case of accident” 😆
The stupid car
Regardless of whether or not we are solving mobility problems the right way with self-driving vehicles everywhere it seems they are here to stay and the industry is heavily invested in making them a reality. It’s not an easy problem for sure but if we are so invested in making it happen let’s put some extra effort into making sure it gets done in a more future proof people caring way :) Knowing is a hard problem that needs tons of smart bits here and there, what about sharing that complexity and not have the smart bits solely on the automaker’s control or the mobility as a service provider.
Dreaming time! 💭 Imagine a user centered design where people are given choice and can feel they truly are the ones in charge. In such a system automakers can continue being just that, the ones selling the hard metal where someone else’s software runs in, there would be an established open runtime with APIs that the user selected modules can use to interact with the car, at first there might be several pieces running there but as our ability to create smart software with low energy requirements improves we can move more and more of those bits to the user’s favorite pocket computer where he/she/it can decide if they drive or the robo-driver their insurance company recommends or the experimental fast and furious robo-drifter a friend developed.
Going up the chain another place where tons of smart bits start clustering is in the mobility providers servers that control fleets of vehicles. There’s nothing autonomous about a car that can’t do anything on it’s own and needs a god in the clouds telling it what to do at all times right? Users could again gain control of the situation by deciding if they want to put their car to work joining a specific local fleet that looks friendly or they personally know where decisions are made automatically by its members without a central organism deciding how everything is done.
Do you have more ideas and dreams of how our mobility needs could evolve? 😃