Anti-Gridlock Laws As An Interesting Edge Case For AI Autonomous Cars

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By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Don’t block the box. If you aren’t familiar with that phrase, you likely have not yet been to a high-traffic locale. The rest of us know that it means staying out of an intersection in a manner to prevent others from being blocked by your presence, almost like playing musical chairs, but with cars, in an intersection, and it is a kind of driving task that seems simple to describe though manages to stymie a lot of drivers.

During my morning commute, I drive through a rather troublesome Los Angeles intersection that I affectionately refer to as the Evil Knievel. I’ve co-opted the name of the famous motorcyclist Evel Knievel that was known for having jumped over numerous cars, buses, live animals, and many other intimidating objects, and well known for his quest to do a motorcycle jump across the Grand Canyon (he instead opted to try jumping across the Snake River Canyon). In all of his myriad of jump variants, he always began with a takeoff point on one side, a leap-of-faith to make the precarious crossing, and then he’d aim to safely land on a landing ramp on the other side. You likely know that he often was unable to make the jumps unscathed and ended-up incurring more than 400+ broken bones and fractures, placing him into the Guinness Book of World Records as the person that survived the most broken bones in a lifetime.

The reason that I invoke this imagery is that the intersection that I cross each day is one that often is prone to gridlock. When I use the word “gridlock” it is meant to suggest that cars will at times enter into the intersection while the light is green and fail to make it fully across the intersection before the light turns red, ending up stranded in the intersection and serving to block traffic. You’ve undoubtedly experienced being blocked by cars that were momentarily stranded in an intersection. And if so, you were probably irked (pissed off!) that those drivers misjudged the situation and are blocking your fully legal efforts to get across the intersection.

Here in California, we are known for having been one of the first states to enact an anti-gridlock law that specifically prohibits the blocking of an intersection, doing so in 1987, and it reads as follows:

“A driver of a vehicle shall not enter an intersection or marked crosswalk unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the intersection or marked crosswalk to accommodate the vehicle driven without obstructing the through passage of vehicles from either side.” California Vehicle Code Section 22526.

The law itself seems rather self-evident and easy to understand. Well, of course you should not enter into an intersection unless you know that you can make it to the other side. Seems pretty simple. Basic driving 101, as they say.  To make things even clearer, many locales refer to this as the “Don’t Block The Box” rule, wherein the intersection is considered to be a box as shaped by the four sides of the respective crosswalks. I suppose that the phrase “anti-gridlock” sounds more formalized and intricate, while the less pedantic notion of just don’t block the intersection box is much more forthright.

Blocking Intersections Is A Temptress

Why did the chicken attempt to cross the road? Because it was hoping to get to the other side, and if it couldn’t do so it figured that being part-way there was better than not any of the way there at all. I think that’s how the old joke goes, though maybe I’ve augmented it a bit. Each morning, I see chickens, uh, make that drivers, whom are seeking to get across the intersection. They can plainly see that there is traffic on the other side of the intersection. They can plainly see that the traffic on the other side is completely choked full and backed-up all the way to the crosswalk. There is no chance of squeezing into that morass. And yet, there are drivers that start into the intersection anyway.

Why do they do so?

One form of logic is that the impatient driver hopes that by the time the light goes red, the traffic on the other side will have moved forward, and therefore they will indeed safely and fully make it across the intersection. They are betting that the traffic up ahead will move on a timely basis to allow them to make it across. Often times these hopeful drivers make a lousy bet and it turns out the traffic up ahead stays put. This means that the driver becomes stranded in the intersection and will be blocking traffic that is trying to next move through the intersection from the perpendicular side.

The cars that are blocked by the interloper are likely to get rather riled-up about the situation. Even if you’ve gotten stuck in the middle of intersection previously, you likely have little sympathy for others that do so. You perhaps were even berated by other drivers when you were in the middle of the intersection, and so you might be inclined to berate other drivers for their similar transgression.

Sometimes the stranded car inspires other drivers to honk their horns at the driver. This used to be a common occurrence in many downtown cities that experience much gridlock. You would hear a continual stream of honking horns due to the continual pattern of cars stuck in the middle of intersections.

In California, we passed a law that says you are only to honk your horn if it will facilitate safe driving. If you opt to use your horn and it is construed by a police officer as not being conducive to safe driving, you can get a ticket for honking your horn.

Is the honking of a horn at a driver that is stranded in the middle of an intersection a form of facilitating safe driving? Likely not. You might try to argue that by honking your horn you are forewarning the stranded driver that they are doing something that is unsafe. I’d expect that a police officer would say that the stranded driver likely already knew that and did not need a honking horn to make them aware of it. You might argue that your horn is aiding other drivers that might not realize the car is stranded in the intersection and thus you are trying to save other drivers. I can imagine the police officer rolling their eyes at that one.

Each morning I see car after car that ends-up in the middle of the intersection and awaits a hopeful chance of making it to the other side. You can see the look in their eyes as they anxiously try to watch the traffic signal and pretend that it will forever remain green, and simultaneously they are looking at the traffic up ahead and praying that it will move forward. Enough cars succeed that it does not always lead to a blocked intersection. The horn honking is relatively minimal, though the frustration level of the other drivers can get pretty high.

There are some drivers that will butt up against the tail-end of the traffic that is on the other side of the intersection. They often are completely covering the crosswalk. They are also likely somewhat protruding into the intersection via the rear portion of their car. This seems like a better spot to be than to be utterly in the middle of the intersection.

For pedestrian aspects, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/avoiding-pedestrian-roadkill-self-driving-cars/

For my article about rational and irrational driving behavior: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/motivational-ai-bounded-irrationality-self-driving-cars/

For the human foibles of drivers, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ten-human-driving-foibles-self-driving-car-deep-learning-counter-tactics/

For the importance of defensive driving, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/art-defensive-driving-key-self-driving-car-success/

The Dance Of The Hidden Veils

What happens next is a dance of the partially gridlocked intersection.

Pedestrians using the crosswalk will try to walk either behind the stranded car or go in front of the stranded car.

For those pedestrians that opt to go in front of the stranded car, they are essentially blocking the car from being able to move forward if perchance the traffic moves during the time that those pedestrians are crossing the crosswalk. The driver will get frustrated at those pedestrians because the driver wants to extricate themselves from their stranded position and now the pesky pedestrians are in the way.

I’ve seen some drivers that inch forward to try and suggest to the pedestrians that they should stop blocking the stranded car and allow the car to move forward. The logic too is that if the stranded car can move forward sufficiently to no longer block the crosswalk, it will make life easier for the pedestrians that are trying to use the crosswalk. Unfortunately, it’s all a knotted-up situation and the pedestrians are so eager to get through the crosswalk that they don’t really care whether the car is able to move forward or not. To them, the car is in the way and they are going to go around it, either in front or from the rear of the car.

For those pedestrians that try to walk behind the stranded car, they are now dangerously verging into the intersection. They are no longer in the crosswalk and instead are walking around the posterior of the car and therefore stepping directly into the intersection. This can be dicey because there are likely cars now going through the intersection and those cars can be getting quite close to the posterior of the protruding car. A pedestrian can get squeezed between the proverbial rock and a hard place, namely be positioned between the rear-end of the stranded car and a moving car that is within perhaps inches of that protruding car.

From the perspective of the cars that are trying to get through the intersection, and for which there is now a car sitting in the crosswalk and protruding into the intersection, you’ve got a kind of dance that arises there. The cars that are closest to the stranded car will need to judge whether they can make it safely past the posterior and remain in the lane of traffic. At times, those cars will not be able to make it in their own lane and thus need to decide whether to come to a stop, or whether to try and swing into the lane next to them.

If the driver opts to swing into the lane next to them, this can cause the drivers in that lane to then be confounded. Some of those cars might be moving very fast and figure that the blockage of the protruding car doesn’t directly impact them and so they are just going to zoom through the intersection. Meanwhile, the cars in the lane that is partially blocked are fishing around and trying to see how much they can swerve into that other lane without actually causing a crash.

As perhaps is evident, the driver that is in the crosswalk has done a lot to make the entire intersection an unsafe place. The pedestrians that are walking in front of the stranded car are at risk, and could get hit by that anxious driver trying to move forward. The pedestrians walking behind the stranded car are at risk, since a car that is trying to cross the intersection might hit them or hit the rear of the protruding car. The cars in the lane closest to the protruding car and having to veer dangerous around it and possibly disrupting other traffic that is now trying to cross the intersection.

It is a dangerously cascading and unsafe situation, all because of that driver that thought they could try to squeeze into the other side of the intersection but misjudged the matter.

There is the other variant of a car that gets stranded fully in the intersection and cannot make it to even the edge of the other side. In that case, other cars that now have a green light will try to flow around the stranded car. It is like having a big rock placed into the middle of a stream. The water tries to flow around the rock, either behind the rock or in front of the rock. Likewise, cars try to go to the right or left of the stranded car.

This is another highly dangerous situation. Any of those cars could hit the stranded car. Any of those cars could hit each other. A driver coming up upon the intersection might not be watching for a car that is stranded in the intersection and plow right into it. Traffic is also being slowed down by the stranded car and it will likely reduce the number of cars that can successfully get through the intersection in the green light allowed.

The driver in the stranded car might also try to move ahead, in spite of the cars flowing around it. Imagine s rock in a stream wherein the rock decides to move. This can be confusing to the other drivers.

The stranded car driver figures that if they can even crawl forward and possibly make it to the edge of the intersection, it is better than being in the middle of the intersection. But this crawling action can make matters much worse. The other cars are not able to readily predict where the stranded but now moving car is going to be. In some cases, it is almost better to just sit still and hope for the best, rather than trying to clear the intersection but then getting plowed by other cars that have no idea where you are going (though yes, I realize in theory it is best to be completely clear of the intersection, I am just saying that at the moment in time of choosing whether to move ahead or not, it is not so easy a choice).

So far, I’ve focused on just one car that might get stranded either in the intersection or at the edge of an intersection. There could be more than one car that gets into such a pickle. If you have a multitude of cars that all decide to try and get through the intersection and are unsuccessful, it is as though a dam have been built by an eager beaver in that intersection. The dam will hold-back traffic that is now wanting to use the intersection and legally has a green light to do so.

That’s when you get true gridlock.

Gridlock Is Bad And People Tend To Need Guidance To Avoid It

The basis for calling it gridlock is that most downtown areas are structured into a series of streets that resemble a grid. In your mind, think of a spreadsheet with rows and columns. You’ve got streets that intersect with each other on this grid. New York City is probably the most notable grid structured downtown area.

The grid of streets can get boxed-up by the fundamental aspect of blocking an intersection. If you block one intersection, it can cause the traffic coming into that intersection to get stopped. This can cascade to other intersections. If everyone opts to flood into the intersections and block them too, you effectively lock-up the entire grid and no one can move.

Before the advent of anti-gridlock laws, the gridlock situation would often go wildly out-of-control. It might start rather small, such as one intersection gets blocked, but the effect would spread like a rampant virus and quickly the entire grid would get overwhelmed. It is a nightmare to be stuck in it.

There is also no easy solution to undo the swamped grid once it has gotten into a gridlocked mode. It is almost like having twine that is so interwound that you cannot figure out how to untie it. If you move this string of the twine, it might make things worse. When dealing with humans driving their cars, you also cannot expect they will necessarily be overly helpful in undoing a gridlock.

In fact, the traffic gridlock situation is a fascinating indicator of human behavior. If all the human drivers were completely cooperative, the mutual cooperation of politely keeping the intersection free would mean that the traffic would flow nicely. Mutual cooperation in this case begets mutual benefit. The trouble though is that we humans are endowed with a sense of “greed” and therefore what might be good overall is not necessarily as good for you in particular. You are seeking to maximize your own benefits, which might or might not coincide with maximizing it for everyone all-told.

If you abide by leaving the intersection open, let’s say it means that it will take you an added 5 minutes to get to work. On the other hand, if you try to buck the system and rush the intersection, even if you get stuck in it, perhaps you are able to avoid those added 5 minutes and get to work sooner. If you do get stuck, you run the risk of a car accident, but you are so focused on the timing of making progress that you aren’t clearly thinking about the risks per se.

There are some morning drivers that I’ve observed routinely are seemingly happy to block the intersection. They appear to believe that other drivers will be more civil than them, and thus the risks of getting hit by another car is slim, or so they believe. The scofflaws also don’t seem to care about the California law that clearly says they are wrong to do what they are doing.

Enforcement Saps Resources

One reason that these lawbreakers might not care about the long-arm of the law is that it is a difficult law to enforce.

Think about it. Let’s assume that a police officer has to be present to witness the act of your blocking the intersection. What are the odds of a police officer happening to be there when you make your untoward move? Probably low odds that a police officer will be nearby (and, if you are being intentional and devious, presumably you were on the look for the cops and if you didn’t see a police officer you then took your chance at blocking the intersection).

If a police officer happens to be present and sees you blocking the intersection, they need to presumably try to pull you over to chat with you and likely issue you a ticket. The act of pulling you over is certainly going to disrupt traffic even more so than the stranded car does. Also, if there are a multitude of cars in the intersection, which of them will the officer try to stop? You figure that it hopefully won’t be you and the officer will pick some other scofflaw instead.

Here, the ticket is only considered a parking ticket, unless the intersection has a posted warning sign or unless you perform some other kind of untoward act, and in that case it is a moving violation ticket. Thus, you are likely hoping that if you do actually get caught, the officer will only issue you a parking ticket. A parking ticket is easy to deal with and you won’t usually get any dinged points on your driving record.

In general, and especially for a bold scofflaw, they will likely decide it is “better” to try and get stuck in the middle of the intersection or make it to an edge, presumably allowing them to reduce their travel time and get to their destination sooner, for them alone, and that since the likelihood of getting caught seems relatively low, and even if they do get caught the nature of the penalty will likely be low, it all adds up to a go-for-it mentality.

Some locales have mounted intersection cameras to catch these scofflaws. This helps to deal with the aspect of not readily having a police officer around to see the act and also it reduces the time and disruption to traffic of an officer issuing a ticket. On the downside, the cost of setting up the cameras and its actual role in being able to discourage the scofflaws all tends to make it not particularly viable as a solution to preventing the gridlock instigators (they also have at times tried to fight the law, when caught, by claiming issues associated with the cameras).

It is actually kind of surprising that I don’t see more cars stranded in the middle of the Evil Knievel intersection each morning. I’d guess that it is partially due to a cultural aspect. Those that have calculated the odds of getting caught will tend to realize pretty quickly that it is not so much the law that will get them as it is their fellow drivers on the roadways. When cars do get stranded, the anger from the other drivers is quite palatable. I’ve not seen actual efforts to dismount from cars and go to fisticuffs, but the sense overall seems to be that those intruding on others by blocking intersections are somehow going to get bad karma (Ha, that’s a California thing, for sure!).

In quick recap, you can have partial gridlock or you can full-on gridlock. There are some drivers that know exactly what they are doing and don’t care that they might get stuck in the intersection. There are other drivers that misjudge the situation and are hoping they will make it to the other side. There are some that figure it is sufficient if they make it to the other side and block the crosswalk. All in all, most of these drivers are not particularly giving much weight to the dangers they are creating and the unsafe nature of their efforts. They’ve either decided the odds of getting hurt are low or they are oblivious to the chances of creating a collision and causing injury or death.

For more about head nods and drivers, see article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/head-nod-problem-ai-self-driving-cars/

For why greed is a key motivator in driving, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/selfishness-self-driving-cars-ai-greed-good/

For the tit-for-tat of driving approaches, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/tit-for-tat-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For my article about road rages, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/road-rage-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

AI Self-Driving Cars And Dealing With Anti-Gridlock

What does this have to do with AI self-driving cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One core aspect involves the AI being able to contend with the potential of gridlock situations.

Allow me to elaborate.

I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars. The topmost level is considered Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For the design of Level 5 self-driving cars, the auto makers are even removing the gas pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel, since those are contraptions used by human drivers. The Level 5 self-driving car is not being driven by a human and nor is there an expectation that a human driver will be present in the self-driving car. It’s all on the shoulders of the AI to drive the car.

For self-driving cars less than a Level 5, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task. In spite of this co-sharing, the human is supposed to remain fully immersed into the driving task and be ready at all times to perform the driving task. I’ve repeatedly warned about the dangers of this co-sharing arrangement and predicted it will produce many untoward results.

For my overall framework about AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/framework-ai-self-driving-driverless-cars-big-picture/

For the levels of self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/richter-scale-levels-self-driving-cars/

For why AI Level 5 self-driving cars are like a moonshot, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/self-driving-car-mother-ai-projects-moonshot/

For the dangers of co-sharing the driving task, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/human-back-up-drivers-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

Let’s focus herein on the true Level 5 self-driving car. Much of the comments apply to the less than Level 5 self-driving cars too, but the fully autonomous AI self-driving car will receive the most attention in this discussion.

Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  •         Sensor data collection and interpretation
  •         Sensor fusion
  •         Virtual world model updating
  •         AI action planning
  •         Car controls command issuance

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on the public roads. Currently there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

Indeed, the use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads. This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars. It is easy to envision a simplistic and rather unrealistic world in which all AI self-driving cars are politely interacting with each other and being civil about roadway interactions. That’s not what is going to be happening for the foreseeable future. AI self-driving cars and human driven cars will need to be able to cope with each other.

For my article about the grand convergence that has led us to this moment in time, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/grand-convergence-explains-rise-self-driving-cars/

See my article about the ethical dilemmas facing AI self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ethically-ambiguous-self-driving-cars/

For potential regulations about AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/assessing-federal-regulations-self-driving-cars-house-bill-passed/

For my predictions about AI self-driving cars for the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/gen-z-and-the-fate-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

Returning to the topic of gridlocks, here’s what we need to consider for the AI of an AI self-driving car:

  •         Detect that a gridlock exists when it is there,
  •         Determine how to best maneuver within a partially gridlocked intersection,
  •         Deal with stranded cars that are sitting in a crosswalk,
  •         Be on the watch for cars behind you that might get panicked due to a brewing gridlock,
  •         Avoid getting stuck in the middle of an intersection as part of a gridlock,
  •         Don’t instigate the starting of a gridlock,
  •         Aid other cars as to dealing with the gridlock if feasible to do so
  •         Other

There are some AI developers that would assert that there is nothing special for the AI to do about a gridlock situation. For them, the normal everyday operation of the self-driving car should be sufficient for dealing with gridlocks. If the AI can drive a self-driving car and navigate the roadways, it is perceived by the AI developers that there is nothing extraordinary about the gridlock circumstances and therefore no special attention is needed.

We disagree.

The gridlock circumstance is a special case and requires a specialized module or capability to be handled.

Dealing With The Edge Case

It might well be considered an “edge” problem by some, namely that it is not necessarily at the core of what the AI needs to do to drive a car minimally. There are though so many driving aspects that are entangled with the capability of dealing with gridlocks that we argue it is not readily classified as an edge problem and needs to be placed higher up in the priority of aspects needing to be dealt with by the AI.

Some AI developers use the piped piper approach of having the AI simply follow a car that is ahead of the self-driving car. This is not a wise move necessarily for the gridlock situation. Just because the car ahead of you opts to go into the intersection does not mean you should too.

For my article about the pied piper approach, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/pied-piper-approach-car-following-self-driving-cars/

You’ve likely seen many times that cars sit at the intersection waiting to rush across it, the moment that there is a spot open on the other side. Typically, one car at a time opts to make a dash across the intersection. It is as though a door opens momentarily on the other side and so one car can make it into that door. The door then closes for a moment. If the door opens again, another car makes the dash.

If you blindly follow a car that is making the dash to the other side, you are likely going to end-up starting the gridlock because the other car will make it but you won’t. That’s why many times you’ll see a gridlock start to form. One or more cars tried to follow one lead car, and the lead car made it across while the other cars did not. Those other cars are now stranded and panicked.

So, the pied piper approach won’t cut it. The AI needs to be looking further ahead and trying to predict whether or not there is a viable opening for the AI self-driving car to make it fully across the intersection.

For more about the pogoing human issue, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/egocentric-design-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For why AI developers aren’t necessarily focusing on these matters, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/developer-burnout-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the aspect of edge problems, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/edge-problems-core-true-self-driving-cars-achieving-last-mile/

For resiliency in driving, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/self-adapting-resiliency-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

For idealism about AI, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/idealism-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

I am sure there are some AI developers will say that the problem is the human driver. If we had only AI self-driving cars, they would all be civil toward each other and not cause any blocking of any intersections. Furthermore, they could use their V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications to ensure they coordinated their efforts. If somehow an AI self-driving car did get stranded in an intersection, it would merely use V2V to forewarn all other nearby self-driving cars.

As I mentioned earlier, we are not going to have the Utopian world of only AI self-driving cars, certainly not for a very long time from now. Thus, cross out the “there won’t ever be gridlock” notion for the foreseeable future.

In terms of identifying traffic situations that might include the emergence of a gridlock, it is possible via analyzing large-scale datasets of traffic data to be able to more readily spot such moments. Using Machine Learning (ML) and deep learning, usually consisting of Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), you can deeply analyze thousands upon thousands of traffic situations and train the neural network to be able to identify the potential gridlock aspects. When a driving situation begins to arise, the ML can potentially participate in making the detection of it.

For my article about the dangers of irreproducibility, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/irreproducibility-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the nature of uncertainty and probabilities in AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/probabilistic-reasoning-ai-self-driving-cars/

For Federated Machine Learning, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/federated-machine-learning-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

For Ensemble Machine Learning, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ensemble-machine-learning-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

Context Matters Significantly

The context of the detected driving situation will then shape what action the AI self-driving car should next take.

It could be that the AI will opt to proceed cautiously and not get stuck in the middle of the intersection. Or, it could be that the AI will opt to wait it out and try to step into the matter after some iterations of the traffic signal, hopefully without further exasperating the gridlock.

The AI needs to consider the possibility too of escaping the situation altogether – I’ve done the same when some mornings I take a different route to work that avoids the Evel Knievel intersection, or I stay in the rightmost lane and if the intersection is especially testy that day I then opt to make a right turn and forego trying to get across that particular intersection.

I realize that some AI developers try to reduce the complexity of the situation to a simpleton perspective. They would say that if the AI self-driving car comes up to an intersection and the light is green, all the AI needs to do is calculate the time remaining on the green light and the distance and time needed to reach the other intersection. If the numbers don’t look good, then the AI self-driving car should just sit still and not try to make the leap across the intersection.

It’s not that easy.

For example, I’ve sat at the front of the Evel Knievel intersection and watched carefully the advent of the green light, along with knowing how long the green light lasts, I know the amount of time it takes for me to scoot across the intersection. I’d wager that most people don’t know how long a green light will last and so only have a hunch about it, and nor do they know how long it takes to drive across an intersection. The average driver just does this by gut feel. In my case, I’ve driven this intersection so many times that I know exactly how long the green light will last and how long it takes for me to drive across the intersection.

You also need to consider that you cannot just gun it and zip across the intersection at 80 miles per hour. There is the need to come to a reasonable stop when you’ve reached the other side. You need to be able to maintain control of your car while in the intersection. You need to be watching in case any pedestrians suddenly decide to cross, even if jaywalking. There are a lot of added factors about making the scoot across the intersection.

Furthermore, you need to include the factor of the other cars nearby to you and what actions they might take.

Here’s one of my “favorite” actions that often catches other drivers completely off-guard. Suppose you are sitting at the front of the intersection and trying to decide whether to proceed. Meanwhile, in the lane next to you, a car has proceeded forward, but they timed it poorly and are now stranded in the intersection and are sticking out like a sore thumb.

For your lane, let’s suppose that your lane as it exists on the other side of the intersection suddenly gets an opening to allow a car to fit into the lane. You could in theory scoot over and take that position, doing so because you are “guaranteed” that there is a spot open. But, the other car, the one stranded in the intersection, and yet in a different lane, realizes they could snatch your open spot, and so they switch lanes mid-intersection and move into your spot.

If you had already started into the intersection, you now are the loner that sticks out like a sore thumb. At the moment you began into the intersection, you had an opening on the other side. The other driver though as taken it from you, doing so in a manner that caught you unawares. If you were merely calculating the distance and the time, you would have most certainly calculated that you could make it to the other side safely. A simplistic mathematical formula is insufficient, I assure you.

Generally, we assert that the detection and contending with gridlocks should be a core part of the AI’s capabilities for driving a self-driving car. It involves sophisticated driving tactics and cannot be ignored, nor can it be handled by formulaic expressions.

Gridlock detection and maneuvering are vital to an AI self-driving car being able to drive safely in real-world driving situations.

For my article about the safety aspects of AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/ai-boundaries-and-self-driving-cars-the-driving-controls-debate/

For the reframing of AI levels for self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/reframing-ai-levels-for-self-driving-cars-bifurcation-of-autonomy/

For the Turing test and AI, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/turing-test-ai-self-driving-cars/

For my article about AI as a potential Frankenstein, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/frankenstein-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the potential coming singularity of AI, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/singularity-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

Conclusion

Traffic gridlocks.

 

We all abhor them.

Yet, our very own actions can spur them.

Even if your locale does not have laws that specifically ban gridlocks, it is likely that if gridlock begins to grow, there will be a backlash against those drivers that spark them. An AI self-driving car needs to be an active participant in aiding anti-gridlock actions. Just like the old question about chickens, we need to ask, why did the AI self-driving car try to cross the road?

The answer ought to be because it ascertained that it was safe to do so and accomplished the feat like a champ.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.