This is no Turing Test

Steve Connor of The Guardian reports today that Volvo has announced that their first wave of self-driving cars will be unmarked so that drivers cannot distinguish them from human-driven cars. Wow. This is a remarkable design choice. In Robot Futures I spoke of the spectre that, in a dystopian future, if we don’t use design right, it will be hard to know when robots are “backed” by human sensibility and when they are truly autonomous. Now we find out Volvo is going to do this. On purpose. Built into that notion, if we unpack it carefully, are two presumptions: (1) our first wave of cars are so awesome that people don’t need to treat them differently, ever. (2) people are evil to robots, so let’s hid robots in peoples’ clothing.

This is chilling, actually. These cars will behave differently than people. They will have capabilities in extenuating circumstances that are altogether different than those of people. If I step in front of one of their cars making eye contact with the fellow behind the steering wheel, thinking he’s driving, I will assume that because he is driving, he will not hit my little dog, which happen to have tarmac-colored radar-absorbing fur. Pity the poor dog. I want intentional transparency and empowerment for us humans as robots pervade our space. What I don’t want is purposeful obscurity of robot technologies around us, just so I cannot adjust to the robot’s shortcomings, or their strange surveillance-oriented ways, or, or…


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