Procrastination As A Human Behavior Imbued Into AI Systems: The Case For Autonomous Cars


By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Procrastination. Procrastinator. As the old joke goes, when someone asks you what the word procrastination means, you are supposed to say “I’ll get back to you about that.”

I’m sure we’ve all felt like a procrastinator at one time or another. Often considered a negative aspect of human behavior, some liken procrastination with being lazy, careless, and otherwise less desirable than being prompt and proactive.

We might though be somewhat making a false generalization about procrastination.

Does being a procrastinator always have to be bad?

It is said that prolific and ingenious inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci was known for dragging out the works he owed his patrons and often taking nearly forever to get done what he had been obligated to produce. Charles Darwin had acknowledged that he often put off things that he was supposed to do or wanted to do. Few realize that he took years to write his acclaimed “On the Origin of Species” and was at times using his time to instead study barnacles. If these greats had bouts with procrastination, can it really be that bad a thing?

If you find yourself falling into the procrastination trap and don’t want to be a procrastinator, you can always call upon Saint Expedite.  For those of you have been to New Orleans, or have certain religious interests, you likely know that Saint Expedite is considered the patron for those that want to avert being a procrastinator, and you can ask for his assistance in finding rapid solutions to nagging problems. I suppose too, there are some that say you just need to kick yourself in the you-know-where, but anyway it can be hard to stop the urge to procrastinate however you try to prevent it.

Psychologically, it is theorized that people often procrastinate because they fear the act of doing something that might fail.

As such, in order to avoid failure, they postpone it. Presumably, by not trying, you convince yourself that you are better off. You might even use trivial items to help yourself be a procrastinator. Should I go to the dentist, or maybe instead I need to wash my socks and clean the latrine? One might think that dealing with the health of your teeth would be a high priority in comparison to those other tasks. It’s amazing how we can allow seemingly low-priority items to aid us in avoiding dealing with meatier issues or topics.

For some people, they are an occasional procrastinator. Perhaps most of the time they get things done on a timely basis. A particular situation might cause them to go into a procrastination mode. A personal example is that the other day my car dashboard lit up with an indicator that my low-beam left headlight bulb was burnt out. I probably should have taken my car right away to have the lamp replaced. Instead, I sheepishly admit that for several weeks I drove at night with the high-beams on, rather than the low beams, so that I’d have both headlamps working. I truly meant to go over to have the headlight replaced, but seemed to let other matters take higher priority.

Sometimes a procrastination can have potentially dangerous consequences. You could say that my example about driving around with my high-beams on, rather than using my low beams, made my driving circumstances a bit less safe. Not much less, I’d argue, but certainly a little bit. On the other hand, shortly after I had the left headlight replaced, a few days later my left rear brake light suddenly went out. It was a Murphy’s Law kind of curse because had it gone out just a few days earlier, I could have had it replaced at the same time as the headlight. But, no, it had to wait and then force me to make a second trip to the car repair shop. In theory, I could have driven for many days or weeks with the left rear brake light out, but this for sure would have reduced the safety factor of my driving.

Theories About Our Procrastination

There are the perennial or serial procrastinators. These are the types that just seem to shove everything off into the future. No reason to get something done today, if you can hand it off to the future, they believe. They might overtly have this belief and relish it. Others find themselves gradually getting immersed into this approach, happening almost without them consciously realizing they are doing so. It can be a deathly kind of spiral. You beat yourself up for having procrastinated. It happens again. You beat yourself up again. You then become convinced that you are a “failure” and destined to procrastinate. Nothing is going to get you out of that spiral, other than some kind of direct intervention.

There’s a well-known theory that somewhat covers this, called Temporal Motivation Theory (TMT). You might find of interest a core formula often used to express TMT:

Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (1 + Impulsiveness x Delay)

Your “Motivation” is the amount of desire that you have to achieve a particular outcome. If your motivation score is low, you are more likely to procrastinate. If your motivation score is high, such as if you realize that your brake light being out is putting you in grave danger, you are more likely to take action about it. We can calculate your motivation for a given circumstance.

The “Expectancy” is the probability of achieving success on the matter at hand. The “Value” is the reward that you personally will gain by achieving the desired outcome. By multiplying the Expectancy by the Value, the formula is saying that if one of those variable is low it is going to bring down the combination of them, while if they are both high it will make their combination higher. I think that my expectancy of fixing my brake light is quite high (just need to get the car over to the repair shop), and the value of increasing my safety while driving my car is high.

The “Impulsiveness” is the person’s sensitivity to delay. Some people are very impulsive and need to do things right away. Other people are more prone to taking their time or at least considering that they are willing to take time and don’t need to immediately handle the matter. There’s the “Delay” which is considered the time to realize the needed achievement.

Anyway, it’s kind of an interesting formula because it tries to mathematically express something that we all seem to know is happening, but don’t have at hand a tangible way to calculate why we do what we do. Using the formula, you can become more reflective when faced with a situation that you are possibly going to procrastinate on. You can ask yourself, why is your motivation so low, and whether it is due to the expectancy, the value, the impulsiveness, or the delay, or possibly some combination of those several factors.

People often make excuses for why they procrastinate. When I refer to these aspects as excuses, I should clarify that maybe they are valid. We often react to the word “excuse” and think it is a made-up aspect or an attempt to deflect blame. Sometimes an excuse is quite valid. It doesn’t have to be a cover story or a deflection.

Here’s some of the traditional excuses or coping responses:

  •         Avoidance of the matter
  •         Denial about the matter
  •         Trivialization of the matter
  •         Distraction about the matter
  •         Mocking of the matter
  •         Blaming about the matter

Procrastination Can Be A Manifest Strategy

This quick introduction to the topic of procrastination then brings us to a major final point before I move onto using this foundation for other purposes herein. I claim that procrastination can occur perchance, but it can also be a manifest strategy.

In the case of my left headlight, I was well aware that I was “procrastinating” about taking in the car to have the headlight replaced. I won’t try to convince you that I was so busy that I couldn’t take it in (that’s a potential “excuse” or coping avoidance). If I had really thought the headlight being out for the low-beam was important, I would have gotten to the car repair promptly. Instead, I made an explicit “procrastination” decision that I would delay taking the car in, and that the use of the high-beam was sufficiently acceptable in the interim.

Someone outside of my situation, looking at what I had done, might label my actions as those of a procrastinator. Okay, if you want to label me that way, for this situation, I’ll take it. Is the word “procrastination” in this instance a showing that I am a bad person that is careless and lazy? I don’t think so. It merely shows that I had calculated that the delay in doing something was in my view a proper thing to do.

You might wonder if I now have gotten bitten by the procrastination virus and everything I do is infected with procrastination? No, that hasn’t happened. Indeed, as mentioned, I opted to right away take care of the brake light, even though it was a hassle as I had just already been the repair shop and so had to go there a second time (wasting my time, in a sense, other than to effect the repair, which could have been presumably done in one visit, had I known the brake light was about to go out too).

Applying Procrastination As Part Of An AI System

What does all of this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are using the core aspects of “procrastination” for two purposes, one is serving as a direct strategy of the AI driving the car, and the other is to deal with what we believe will be a human foible regarding AI self-driving cars.

Let’s tackle the human foible topic first.

As I’ve said many times, an AI self-driving car is still a car. By this I mean that some people are getting into their heads that an AI self-driving car will magically work 24×7 and will never have any mechanical problems or breakdowns. This utopian view of the world assumes that there is some kind of magical fairy dust that we are going to sprinkle onto AI self-driving cars that keeps them from wearing out and from having parts that break. Let’s get real. A car is a car. The brake lights are going to go out, just like on a regular car. The oil will need to be changed. The transmission will need to get overhauled.

This is going to actually happen more frequently and with deeper impact since we are expecting AI self-driving cars to be running all the time, versus today the average car is unused nearly most of the day – see my article about this:

Also, take a look at my overall framework about AI self-driving cars:

Not only will the conventional parts of the self-driving car breakdown, but you can bet that the specialized add-on parts are going to breakdown too. The specialized processors to run the AI systems will eventually start to falter and need to be replaced. The sonar devices will eventually need to be replaced. The radar devices will need to be replaced. And so on.

See my article about kits and AI self-driving cars:

I hope you now agree that an AI self-driving car is a car. It will have all sorts of mechanical problems over time. This will happen to the conventional parts of the car. This will happen to the specialized parts of the car. We don’t hear anything about it today because the few AI self-driving cars on the roadways are living pampered lives. They are like horses that are thoroughbreds. The auto maker or tech firm caters to their every need. These self-driving cars are continually getting primped and revived. The odds of having a part breakdown during one of their journeys is very remote.

Now imagine an AI self-driving car that Joe Smith has purchased and he’s using it for himself, for his family, for his friends, and renting it out too for ride sharing. That self-driving car is busy.

When something snaps or breaks on the AI self-driving car, we need to consider these ramifications:

  •         Does the AI self-driving car realize that something is broken or amiss?
  •         Can the AI self-driving car continue safely operating?
  •         Is there anything the AI self-driving car can do to get itself repaired?

We cannot assume that the AI will even know that something on the self-driving car is broken. We’re developing our AI self-driving car software to purposely try to detect that something has gone afoul. Many of the auto makers or tech firms consider this to be an “edge” problem. An edge problem is something that you don’t consider core to what you are doing. Most of the auto makers and tech firms just want an AI self-driving car to deal with driving the car. Right now, since these self-driving cars are pampered, there’s no need to deal with detecting anomalies automatically and having to deal with them immediately and directly.

Example In The Use Case Of Autonomous Cars

Here’s how procrastination comes to play.

Suppose the human owner becomes aware that some aspect of their AI self-driving car has gone afoul. Maybe an occupant riding in it called the owner to complain. Maybe the AI detected that something was amiss and texted the owner to indicate that the self-driving car is having a problem. What will the human owner do?

You might assume that the human owner will promptly make sure that the AI self-driving car gets repaired. This would happen in the utopian world. In the real-world, we’re betting that the human owner is possibly going to procrastinate. If there are say ten cameras on the AI self-driving car, and it’s been designed to be able to operate with just nine, though not as good as it could with ten cameras, the human owner might decide to keep the AI self-driving car going and not take it in for repair.

Is this safe? Maybe yes, maybe not. Will the next occupant that gets into that AI self-driving car even know that it is only operating with nine cameras? Possibly not. Should we ensure that the AI of the self-driving car warns any passengers about any anomalies? The owner of the self-driving car might not like that idea, and be worried that as a ride sharing rental that they’ll lose money if the AI starts to blab about what is wrong with the self-driving car.

There aren’t any regulations that force the AI to reveal what’s going on. The owner likewise is not under any direct law to do so, though you could construe various aspects about safety and the public that might turn this into a crime. For the moment, the use of AI for self-driving cars is so new that we have yet to figure out what twists and turns will happen, and nor do we yet know what kinds of regulations and new laws might be required.

See my article about lawsuits and AI self-driving cars:

See my article about regulations and AI self-driving cars:

The overall point is that we need to anticipate the dangers of potential “procrastination” based on human foibles and how it might adversely impact AI self-driving cars and their safety on our roadways.

Our focus is for the moment aimed at the technical side of things. The AI needs to be able to detect that something is amiss. When this occurs, the AI has to be sophisticated enough to know how to try and overcome the aspect that went afoul, if it can, and be aware of any new limitations that arise (maybe the self-driving car can only go 5 miles per hour and no faster, or maybe it can make right turns but not any left turns, etc.).  And, it has to be aware of whom to contact about the matter.

There are some that say this is “easily” solved because once the AI self-driving car detects that something is amiss, it can just route itself to the nearest repair shop. Problem solved.

Well, not quite. Maybe the AI self-driving car is unfit to be able to get to the nearest repair shop. Maybe it is fit to do so, but perhaps it’s Okay for it to instead continue on its journey and later on go to the repair shop. Maybe it cannot detect itself that itself is in trouble. As such, the AI should allow for the human occupants to possibly tell it that something is amiss (“we see smoke coming out of the engine compartment”), and possibly even communicate via V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle communications) and be told by another AI self-driving car that something is wrong (self-driving car X12345 transmits a warning to self-driving car Y87654 that there is smoke coming from the engine compartment).

Leveraging Procrastination In Driving

The second part of the procrastination aspect related to AI self-driving cars involves using procrastination as a driving strategy.

I know that you might be somewhat surprised or shocked at this idea of using procrastination purposefully. Remember though that I earlier stated that procrastination can occur by happenstance, or it can be used as a directed strategy.

Suppose I’m driving on the freeway. My exit is up ahead. I do the right thing and long before the exit make my way over to the rightmost lane. I sit there in the slow lane, maybe a mile ahead of my exit. I’m going bumper-to-bumper but it’s Okay because at least I know I am securely in my needed exit lane. Do humans really drive this way? Some do, many do not. What’s actually more likely is that I’ll “procrastinate” and put off getting into the slow lane until the last moment, just in time to make that exit.

This is more efficient driving, from the perspective of most drivers (I realize that you traffic researchers out there would argue that this is lousy driving and worsens traffic, and it is unsafe driving, but anyway that’s a different debate for another day).

We are building “procrastination” into the AI of self-driving cars. Rather than being the goody two shoes kind of driver, our view is that if self-driving cars are supposed to be able ultimately drive as good as a human, they should be adopting human driving techniques. The utopians out there are going to go ape, since they believe that all AI self-driving cars will be perfectly civil and obey all laws and be sweet and kind to all other cars on the roads. Maybe. I don’t think so.

See my article about defensive driving practices and AI self-driving cars:


Don’t misjudge what I am saying. We are not intending to make AI self-driving cars that are daredevils. Our focus is AI self-driving cars that drive as reasonable humans do. There are many driving situations wherein “procrastination” (the good kind) is actually handy to consider as part of the driving repertoire. Shouldn’t be used all the time. Shouldn’t be used indiscriminately.  Should be used in the right situation, at the right time, in the right way.

Some want us to achieve AI self-driving cars that can pass a variation of the Turing Test. This means that AI self-driving cars would be able to drive a car in the same manner that a human does. If we were standing outside and watching two cars drive along, and we couldn’t see into the cars, and we had to try and say which one was being driven by the human and which by the AI – if we couldn’t discern which was which, in a small way the AI has passed a type of Turing Test.

See my article about Turing Tests and AI self-driving cars:

Today’s AI self-driving cars are programmed to drive a car like a teenage novice driver, and indeed less so since the AI of today does not have common-sense reasoning and lacks a myriad of other human-thinking qualities. This state of affairs is not going to get us to the vaunted Level 5, which is a true AI autonomous car. Using the technique of purposeful “procrastination” is one of the many ways in which an AI self-driving car can drive more like a human can.

Oh, you’ll need to excuse me, I’ve avoided doing more development work on the Machine Learning algorithm for our AI system because I opted to instead write this column —  I guess that was my allotted “procrastination” act for the day.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.