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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Tuesday that “operational limitations” in the Tesla Model S played a “major role” in a May 2016 crash that killed a driver using the vehicle’s semi-autonomous “Autopilot” system.

Reuters reported on Monday that the NTSB is expected to find that the system was a contributing factor because it allows drivers to avoid steering or watching the road for lengthy periods of time. The NTSB is also expected to find that Tesla Inc. could have taken additional steps to prevent the system’s misuse and will fault the driver for not paying attention.

“Today’s automation systems augment, rather than replace human drivers. Drivers must always be prepared to take the wheel or apply the brakes,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumalt said.

Continue reading:  Operational limits played key role in Tesla crash on autopilot — NTSB

Commentary by The Secular Jurist:  This incident provides a textbook example of both the limitations and expectations of computer technology.  People, particularly Americans, seem to believe that the capabilities of the Digital Revolution are boundless, that they can solve virtually all our societal problems, and that technology alone can improve our daily lives.  I dislike being the bearer of bad news, but this belief is just an illusion of our own making.  Technology is simply a tool.  Like a hammer used properly, it is very effective for a specific task;  but, used improperly, it can cause damage and injury.

Before retiring, I was a computer professional for over two decades.  I wrote, modified, and supported many thousands of software programs and applications including some knowledge-based systems using inference engines (i.e. artificial intelligence).  Although I haven’t worked as a programmer since the early 2000s, and this technology has certainly progressed since then, I can tell you the following with a considerable amount of expertise:

  • That the greatest advances in computer technology, by far, have been in processing speed, data storage, and interconnectivity.
  • That what we refer to as “artificial intelligence” is more a product of this exponential increase in computer power and sophistication, and less a product of some digital mind creation as depicted in science fiction.  Computers are not self-aware, and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future.
  • The idea of self-driving cars is very compelling and very popular among younger people;  and, that is precisely why industrialists are busy trying to develop it.  However, even the profit motive won’t be sufficient to overcome the enormous technical challenges it presents to designers.  For a computerized system to absorb the tremendous amount of information easily perceived by a human driver, and then to make split-second decisions as intuitively as would a person, exceeds the current capabilities of such technology – in my opinion.
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4 thoughts on “Operational limits played key role in Tesla crash on autopilot — NTSB

  1. Modern society is about want over need, appearance over substance, convenience over quality, shortcuts over patience, materialism over morality…

    This is simply additional evidence of our slipping further into an abyss of self-absorbed consumerism and irrational desire. We’re always in a hurry, but rarely know where we’re going.

  2. I appreciate your comments on this topic, Robert. As you say, most of us have no clue about the limitations of new self-drive auto technology. We often confuse science fiction depictions with the current technology. As I’ve aged, I’ve become a far more careful driver – I guess I feel my mortality more than I did as a younger person.

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