FBI brands autonomous cars potential 'lethal weapons'

FBI brands autonomous cars potential 'lethal weapons'

Summary: US law enforcement says that autonomous cars could pose a severe risk to public safety and become another weapon in criminal arsenals.

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TOPICS: Innovation
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The FBI believes that autonomous cars could prove to be a "game changer" in the criminal world, and the technology could potentially be used as a "lethal weapon."

As reported by The Guardian, a Freedom of Information Act request yielded a report which reveals the FBI's opinion on autonomous vehicle technology. The report — restricted, but not classified — suggests that autonomous cars "will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car."

In other words, autonomous cars could end up being used for far more than just moving from A to B. Instead, the FBI believes high-speed chases could be revolutionized, with criminals engaging in shootouts while cars drive themselves and "bad actors [being able] to conduct tasks that require the use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road which would be impossible today," according to the report.

The report, written by law enforcement agents in the Strategic Issues Group within the FBI's Directorate of Intelligence, says that while self-driving vehicles will improve the efficiency of mobile technology, it will "also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon than it is today."

It is not just high-speed chases that could be revolutionized, it seems. The agents may also fear that safety controls will be overridden, speed limits will be ignored, and explosives could be stowed away in autonomous cars directed to drive into targets. There is also another factor: lapses in connected car security could allow victims' cars to be tampered with.

This is a direct contradiction to what automakers and tech firms, including Google, are trying to impart. Google's self-driving project is one of the most high-profile examples that comes to mind. The tech giant is aiming to develop a vehicle that will be able to "operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention." No steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. The cars will be controlled through buttons, and software takes care of the rest. Such vehicles use laser technology to detect obstacles and software imparts the rules of the road, with the intention of keeping drivers safe and lessening accident rates.

For other companies, including Apple and Microsoft, advancing and making our transport smarter represents a new revenue stream. Interactive dashboards and "infotainment systems," such as Apple's CarPlay, use mobile systems and apps to provide smart technology, real-time traffic updates, maps and other features useful for drivers.

However, the FBI does believe that autonomous cars do have a positive side. Within the report, agents also state that "the risk of distraction or poor judgement leading to a collision that stems from manual operation would be substantially reduced." In addition, self-driving cars could be used by law enforcement to tail suspects — improving surveillance and keeping suspects from realizing they are being followed.

Congress is expected to approve autonomous cars within the next five to ten years.

Topic: Innovation

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  • self regulating is better

    cars should be made self-regulating not self driving.
    self-regulating would enforce speed limits, stop lights, stop signs, tailgating, and such.

    an additional advantage is that self-regulating can be phased in gradually
    Mike~Acker
    • I can see that

      So, someone is walking up to your car with a gun to rob you. Hit the gas...I'm sorry there is a red light. I do like the adaptive cruise control, lane tracking, and emergency braking. That's are practical applications and not the silly scifi self driving car thing which has immense technical and legal issues.
      Buster Friendly
      • silly scifi self driving car

        Not sure how up to date you are with technology, but self driving cars are hardly silly nor scifi.

        Google's cars have driven over 700,000 miles autonomously with only one incident which was being rear ended at a traffic light (hardly an avoidable incident). With over 30k deaths a year involving motor incidents, self driving cars could save many lives.

        You sound like you might have an issue giving up control, but no matter how good a driver you are you cannot control the cars around you. Self driving cars will only make the roads safer and faster and more efficient with less traffic jams. Any dismissal of the technology is purely shortsighted.
        Koopa Troopa
        • My only accidents have been rear ends as well . . .

          "Google's cars have driven over 700,000 miles autonomously with only one incident which was being rear ended at a traffic light (hardly an avoidable incident)."

          My only accidents have been rear ends as well, and it's literally been years since my last accident.


          It's actually totally possible for a human to drive safely - if you look at the statistics, "human error" is generally NOT the somewhat unavoidable "oops, I made a little mistake," but rather nearly always the totally avoidable "oops, I was driving seriously impaired."

          "Any dismissal of the technology is purely shortsighted."

          Any dismissal of concerns about the technology are equally shortsighted. For something that literally puts your life in its hands, we better make d*** sure about the direction we want to take it. I'd rather NOT wave off critics of the tech as shortsighted.
          CobraA1
          • Impaired

            The "oops, I was driving seriously impaired" category falls under "human error". If you're driving impaired, that is human error, and not sure how many people are going to admit "oops, I made a little mistake" after an accident due to liability reasons (if you had a lawyer, they'd slap you in the face for letting the officer know it was your fault). Just the reality of these statistics, they're inherently distorted due to the legal repercussions of those reporting them.

            I'm not saying it isn't possible for humans to drive safely, but this is one area where a machine is going to surpass the human ability to drive safely. I'm not saying we're there yet, but I am saying it is an inevitability simply due to human restrictions. We only have two eyes and can only react so fast.

            Actually the dismissal of the concerns are longsighted, viewing this technology in the time-span of 20 - 30 years the concerns will not be an issue. The concerns themselves are shortsighted.
            Koopa Troopa
          • thoughts

            "The 'oops, I was driving seriously impaired' category falls under 'human error'."

            Yeah, but it's an argument to make self-driving capabilities available, it's not really an argument for taking out manual controls altogether. Taking everybody's controls out for the sake of a few drunkards? Doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

            "I'm not saying it isn't possible for humans to drive safely, but this is one area where a machine is going to surpass the human ability to drive safely."

            Maybe someday. AI seems to be a field with more confidence than results, however.

            Taking away manual controls is also essentially taking away a freedom; some people may intentionally, safely, and legally take their vehicles off the road. My car has once or twice been on our lawn, some people go off-roading for entertainment or for things like mission work in third world countries. I've known people to drive just for the fun of it, with no set destination. I've known people who bring a high powered car to the Salt Flats in Utah just to see what it will do.

            Manual driving can be fun :). Not sure if you'll understand that . . .

            We're fully in the era of fully electronically controlled automatic transmissions, yet some people still opt for manual transmissions, and even my car has a "select shift" feature where I can override what the electronics think is the best gear. There is a real demand for manual controls, and just waving them off without understanding why they want the manual controls is not a rational way to proceed.

            "Actually the dismissal of the concerns are longsighted,"

            Nope. Dismissing concerns is rarely longsighted. Addressing concerns is how we ensure we reach the future in a safe and reasonable manner.

            "viewing this technology in the time-span of 20 - 30 years the concerns will not be an issue."

            Your say-so is insufficient. It's also unlikely that we have comprehensively covered all of the possible concerns with this technology.
            CobraA1
          • response

            "Maybe someday. AI seems to be a field with more confidence than results, however." True, however this is far from AI. Complex programming, but not AI.

            "Manual driving can be fun" I agree, but there always needs to be a balance between safety and freedom. Just imagine this, if at some point in the future most cars on the road are autonomous, and someone wishes to drive one manually and ends up killing someone. Legally it would be much worse than it is today, due to the choice they had, and took resulting in the death. Freedom doesn't always trump safety, just take a look at the seat-belt and helmet laws. These restrict your freedom of choice to address a safety concern, even though they don't harm anyone but those making the choice.

            "Dismissing concerns is rarely longsighted." Agree to disagree on this one. I understand where your coming from but I would consider the concerns stated in this chain as all short-sited.
            Koopa Troopa
          • thoughts

            "True, however this is far from AI. Complex programming, but not AI."

            I wouldn't be surprised if there were neural networks involved in the image processing part of it. And considering that driving is a task that involves our intelligence, I don't think it would be incorrect to call some types of automated driving AI.

            "Agree to disagree on this one."

            You don't think there are ever any legitimate concerns? You think that everything is filled with happiness and rainbows? You don't think we ever make any mistakes in our judgements? You don't think we should ever question these things?

            Yeah, agree to disagree, whatever.
            CobraA1
          • You don't think there are ever any legitimate concerns?

            I didn't say that, I said "I would consider the concerns stated in this chain as all short-sited".

            I'll repeat that for you, the concerns stated in this chain.

            One more time...
            The concerns stated in this chain.

            Go ahead and bring up a specific concern and I'll respond to it. Just saying "there are concerns" doesn't quite an argument make.
            Koopa Troopa
          • Criticize the technology based on safety.

            I welcome criticism of the technology but not by the FBI and Law Enforcement (City Police Departments). Let's invite safety organizations and the like. Remember, most small town Police Departments if not larger cities get most of their income from ticket payers. It's completely unfair to have someone biased judging and making decisions on the technology just because it doesn't favor the city's income.

            Also, this part:

            "The agents may also fear that safety controls will be overridden, speed limits will be ignored" Speed limits are already ignored by human drivers.

            "and explosives could be stowed away in autonomous cars directed to drive into targets." That is scary... I give them that.

            "There is also another factor: lapses in connected car security could allow victims' cars to be tampered with." That's why the technology needs to have the utmost QA and Development.
            movingmyeye
          • Unfortunately . . .

            "'There is also another factor: lapses in connected car security could allow victims' cars to be tampered with.' That's why the technology needs to have the utmost QA and Development."

            Unfortunately, even our best QA and Development has not really proven to make truly tamper-proof technology, and hackers have been proven to be quite able to hack anything.
            CobraA1
          • Rear end

            I can remember at least 3 times in my 39+ years of driving that I avoided being rear-ended by stomping on the gas pedal and getting out of the way of an inattentive driver. So yes, I have an aversion to being driven around in a vehicle that I can't control with a steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes. Driverless cars may be safe, but they also have other issues that haven't been addressed yet, like avoiding being rear-ended or T-boned. I have even avoided being backed into more times than I can count or remember, and that's something else a driverless car can't address.....
            Tinman57
          • I was going to ask your definition of "seriously impaired"

            But I see further down the thread that you limit it to drinking. Are you aware that most estimates place alcohol-related* crashes at only about 10% of the total?

            Distraction is an impairment, and too many drivers are driving distracted. Cell phones. Drive-through/take-out food. Kids. The in-car entertainment. They all combine to provide us with what I experience almost daily: nearly being hit by the businessman with the cell phone in hand, trying to dial a contact while doing 80+mph down the freeway. Or by the Mom turned around screaming at the kids in the back seat. Or by the driver trying to find a song she likes on XM. Or by somebody looking down at their cell phone, trying to read or send a text.

            I can see a drunk driver coming for miles, but I can't see if little Johnny just got a "Dear John" text from his girlfriend. And, assuming that the vast majority of crashes that don't involve alcohol are caused by distracted drivers (human error), for every drunk driver on the road, there are nine Johnnies.

            *The NHTSA considers a crash"alcohol-related" if anybody involved in the crash--driver, passenger, or pedestrian--had alcohol in their system at the time of the crash.
            NickNielsen
        • The silly scifi

          The silly scifi part is you won't have to be there watching it every second and that it would be able to handle anything but controlled situations. There's also the liability issue. It's the same kind of unrealistic visions people had about living on the Moon and Mars in the 70s. Once you understand the problems, you no longer think that.
          Buster Friendly
          • Controlled situations

            The cars are driving on public roads with other cars. That clearly doesn't come close to qualifying as a "controlled situation". This is a real-world case which is happening every day.

            As far as liability, some states it is obviously more of an issue than others. I live in a no-fault state, so the liability is simply not even there, you're liable for yourself. If the car itself malfunctions and causes serious bodily harm or death then the manufacturer is liable, this wouldn't change anything.

            Comparing self driving cars to people living on the moon and mars? Really?
            Sure let's do that. Right now there are autonomous cars driving the road. In the 70's did we have people living on the moon and mars? No? Oh... well good analogy.
            Koopa Troopa
          • Those vision of the Moon and Mars weren't unrealistic

            We could have been there in colonies by now had we taken a different methodology to get to space.

            The Space Race destroyed that slow, inexpensive and steady process; and militarized it, turned it into an expensive, episodic, no cost limit, do-or-die set of one shot missions with no thought of a continual future. Sure, we got to the moon first. But too soon. We had no idea what to do with it, no inexpensive sustainable technology, and a social condition that required constant cheerleading.
            Dr_Zinj
          • Not true

            That's not true. The only reason there was a space race or the massive expense of a Moon shoot were Cold War fears of the other side getting the higher ground. There's no practical way to do it unless someone invents gravitational lensing or some other totally scifi concept. Manned space flight now is more about Cold War momentum than practical application. We get far more science from unmanned probes and the manned stuff is really just a useless drain on resources to give politicians photo ops.
            Buster Friendly
        • I see only one problem...

          Self driving vehicles won't be an overnight success, and there are literally millions of control freaks in the world that won't want to give up driving for themselves.

          The only real problem I see for self-driving vehicles is when they move the technology to big rigs and motorhomes. These large vehicles cannot break and maneuver the way smaller cars can and some jacka$$ will cut one off and die leading to huge lawsuits from the victims families.

          I drive literally 50-60K mile a year in my car up and down the west coast, I can't tell you how many times I've seen people cut off trucks and motorhomes, Seattle and LA areas are the worst I see generally. Of course the other side of that is that I also see a lot of big rig drivers tailgating (I wonder if that is to avoid getting cut off) and can't help but wonder what happens when a whole lane of traffic suddenly stops.
          l_creech
          • ... and some jacka$$ will cut one off and die leading to huge lawsuits

            So, not any different than what happens now...
            jessepollard
          • insurance rates

            when it becomes too expensive to insure a manual auto then the numbers will change.

            self-driving cars are environment aware, so they can operate in the same environment as manual cars.

            A possible solution to malicious behaviour could be to enable self-driving cars with a "hive" mentality. They could self report irratic behaving vehicle or isolate it in some way.
            dec716