Why driving is hard—even for AIs

Enlarge (credit: Dong Wenjie via Getty Images)

Welcome to Ars UNITE, our week-long virtual conference on the ways that innovation brings unusual pairings together. Each day this week from Wednesday through Friday, we’re bringing you a pair of stories about facing the future. Today’s focus is on AI in the city—get ready for a lot of smart buildings and self-driving stuff!

I have a couple of kids of learner’s permit age, and it’s my fatherly duty to give them some driving tips so they won’t be a menace to themselves and to everyone else. So I’ve been analyzing the way I drive: How did I know that the other driver was going to turn left ahead of me? Why am I paying attention to the unleashed dog on the sidewalk but not the branches of the trees overhead? What subconscious cues tell me that a light is about to change to red or that the door of a parked car is about to open?

This exercise has given me a renewed appreciation for the terrible complexity of driving—and that’s just the stuff I know to think about. The car itself already takes care of a million details that make the car go, stop, and steer, and that process was complex enough when I was young and cars were essentially mechanical and electric. Now, cars have become rolling computers, with humans controlling (at most) speed, direction, and comfort.

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