jump to navigation

Will Self-Driving Cars Ever Be Truly So? January 7, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Architectures, Machine Learning, Software platforms, Technology and Culture.
Tags: , , ,
comments closed

The quick answer is we will not be in self-driving cars during my lifetime.  Nor your lifetime.  Nor any combination.  Despite pronouncements by so-called pundits, entrepreneurs, reporters, and GM, there is no chance of a self-driving car being so under all conditions, let alone everyone in a self-driving car, with all that that implies.

The fact of the matter is that the Waymo CEO has come out and said that he doesn’t imagine a scenario where self-driving cars will operate under all conditions without occasional human intervention.  Ever.  “Driverless vehicles will always have constraints,” he says.  Most of his competitors now agree.

So what do we have today?  We have some high-profile demonstrations under ideal conditions, some high-profile announcements that say we are all going to be in self-driving cars within a few years.  And one completely preventable death.  That’s about it.  I will guess that we are about 70 percent of the way there, but that last 30 percent is going to be a real slog.

What are the problems?

  1. Mapping.  Today, self-driving cars operate only on routes that have been mapped in detail.  I’ll give you an example.  I was out running in my neighborhood one morning, and was stopped by someone looking for a specific street.  I realized that there was a barricaded fire road from my neighborhood leading to that street.  His GPS showed it as a through street, which was wrong (he preferred to believe his GPS rather than me).  If GPS and mapping cannot get every single street right, self-driving cars won’t work.  Period.
  2. Weather.  Rain or snow interrupts GPS signals.  As does certain terrain.  It’s unlikely that we will ever have reliable GPS, Internet, and sensor data under extreme weather condition.  Which in most of the country happens several months a year.
  3. Internet.  A highway of self-driving cars must necessarily communicate with each other.  This map (paywall) pretty much explains it all.  There are large swaths of America, especially in rural areas, that lack reliable Internet connection.
  4. AI.  Self-driving cars look toward AI to identify objects in the road.  This technology has the most potential to improve over time.  Except in bad weather.  And poorly mapped streets.

So right now we have impressive demonstrations that have no basis in reality.  I won’t discount the progress that has been made.  But we should be under no illusions that self-driving cars are right around the corner.

The good news is that we will likely see specific application in practice in a shorter period of time.  Long-haul trucking is one area that has great potential for the shorter term.  It will involve re-architecting our trucking system to create terminals around the Interstate highway system, but that seems doable, and would be a nice application of this technology.

Advertisements

Revisiting Net Neutrality December 14, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software platforms, Technology and Culture.
Tags: ,
add a comment

I wrote on this about three years ago.  As it seems that so-called net neutrality may be reaching the end of the road, at least for the near term, it is worthwhile cutting through the crap to examine what is really going on.

You know, I think that net neutrality has merits.  It certainly has marketing on its side; according to CNN, it means “to keep the internet open and fair.”

Ah, it doesn’t, and that is the problem.  It means that the streaming services such as the likes of Netflix and Amazon can hog bandwidth with impunity, and without paying a premium.  I am certain that CNN has a business reason to maintain net neutrality, and it is unfortunate that they are letting that business reason leak into their reporting.

The Internet is a finite resource.  There are some companies that use a great deal of it.  Should they pay more for doing so?  Perhaps, but the “net neutrality” supporters don’t want to have that conversation.  I say let’s talk about it, but the news establishment doesn’t want to do so.  They give it a high-sounding label, and proclaim it good.  The ones who oppose it are bad.  Case closed.

Net neutrality does (maybe) mean that the Internet is basically a utility, like electricity or water.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I am not sure it reflects reality.  Those companies, mostly the telecom folks, have invested billions of dollars, and are not at all guaranteed a profit.  It is a risk, and when individuals or companies take risks, they succeed or fail according to the market.  Yet the likes of CNN are treating them as your electric utility, guaranteed to make a set amount of money from the state Public Utilities Commission.  That doesn’t reflect their reality at all.

I think that net neutrality is ultimately the way to go.  But it supports some businesses over the expense of others.  Just like the alternative.

But I have to ask, CNN, why are you afraid to even have the conversation?  You have declared net neutrality to be The Way, and you will brook no further discussion.

Update:  And now the title of the CNN headline is this:  End of the Internet as we know it.  Can we get any more biased, CNN?

The Internet is After Me August 4, 2017

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
Tags: ,
add a comment

The Internet is after me.  It’s trying to grab my attention, for a few seconds, so I can dote on cute little kittens scurrying across my dinner, in exchange for my unconscious watching an ad for Tidy Bowl for half a minute.

Hey, I’m old.  Did I tell you that?  I must have forgotten.  Kittens are the only thing I recognize on the Internet, but boy, are they cute.  I have cats, and they sure are cute, but the ones on the Internet are so highly trained in the art and science of cuteness that I simply can’t stop looking at them.  But there is a problem.

I walk down the street, looking at my kittens on a screen that my eyes can barely discern, and I see random ads popping up on the screen.  In fact, the ads are covering up the kittens!  I stop abruptly, causing a little boy to crash right into my backside, and look around me.

Yes!  There is the Hamburger Haven, right across the street.  I look back down and my screen, and yes, the kittens were chasing hamburgers!  And when a kitten caught one, it polished it off with a lick of its lips and a smirk on its face.  What a cute kitten!

It made me hungry just watching.  I looked up again at the Hamburger Haven, then started crossing the street.  I didn’t get far before I got clipped by a car.  I spun around and fell, but was still focused on getting to that hamburger.  Double meat, double cheese, bacon, oh yes bacon, lettuce, and ketchup.  A tomato would not be overkill, would it?

I wasn’t hurt, more startled, but the car screeched to a stop, and a young guy got out.  He was looking at his phone as he rushed to my side, but I don’t think he was calling 9-1-1.  No, he showed me the screen, and said, “Let’s go get a hamburger.”  Damn.

So we had a hamburger.  And super fries.  And a drink.  But as I licked my lips, I realized an essential truth.

They not only know who I am, they know where I am.  And they want to sell me hamburgers.  Maybe panty hose, though I hope not.  But kittens?  Oh yes, show me more kittens.