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Driver Traffic Guardians And Human Behavior Quirks Impacting AI Autonomous Cars


Driver Traffic Guardians And Human Behavior Quirks Impacting AI Autonomous Cars 1

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Holiday traffic can be difficult to navigate. I had just gotten done doing some shopping at a popular mall and was pulling out of the mall parking lot, trying to enter into traffic onto a rather busy street that had lots of cars zipping along. Though you might think that people would be in a good mood because the holidays were just around the corner, it seemed that most drivers were crazed and driving as though it was their last day on Earth. Drivers were snarling at each other, cutting each other off, and otherwise driving as if it were a dog-eat-dog occasion.

 Suddenly, a car came to a stop just before the mall exit that I was waiting at and offered to let me into the stream of traffic. I assumed at first that the driver was probably trying to come into the mall at this juncture and so was letting me go first, getting my car out of the way, so that they could then come into the mall. But, the driver didn’t have a turn signal on, which would have indicated they were going to turn into the mall. Furthermore, I knew this was considered an exit from the mall and though you could drive into the exit area, it tended to make for confusion of drivers in the mall that were usually all jockeying at the exit to get out of the mall.

 I smiled at the driver and did a quick wave with my hand, suggesting that they should go ahead and continue forward on the street and not continue to hold-up traffic behind them.

 For more about head nods and drivers, see article:

 For why greed is a key motivator in driving, see my article:

 For the tit-for-tat of driving approaches, see my article:

 For my article about road rages, see:

 I also did a bit of a head shake and a hand movement warning that this was not a proper and safe means to enter into the mall. I hoped that my gestures would be taken in a positive manner. I was trying to help out this other driver. I figured too that perhaps the driver was trying to help me by holding back traffic, doing so was a quite kind and thought act, and I thought that my waving and head nodding might be a quid-pro-quo in return (aiding them by warning that coming into the exit area might be dangerous for them and I was thoughtfully considering their safety).

 The driver of the car made no particular head motion or arm waving in return. Meanwhile, the driver kept their car in this holding position. I could see that the eyes of the driver were turned in my direction and it seemed hard to believe that they had not seen my waving and head gestures to them. Just in case, I rolled down my window and put my arm outside, and did a large waving motion to make it abundantly clear that they should move ahead and not continue to keep the street blocked.

 I was somewhat leery though of prolonging the matter. First, it could erupt into road rage. The driver that was holding back the traffic might misinterpret my gestures and think that I am perhaps holding up the middle finger as though I am insulting them. The traffic behind me was getting exasperated because they wanted to get out of the mall parking lot and could see that I had an opportunity to move forward. They probably were having rather foul thoughts about me. Why wasn’t that dolt pulling out into the street?

 You might even be wondering why I would not go ahead and pull out into the street, taking advantage of the car that was holding back traffic. I suppose that I could have done so, and there have been times that I have made use of such a situation to proceed ahead. In this case, my main hesitation was twofold.

 My first point of hesitation was that the driver that was holding back traffic did not look particularly trustworthy to me. This is a judgement call, I realize. I was somehow slightly suspicious that I might go ahead forward into traffic and the driver might suddenly speed-up. I’ve seen this happen before. A driver that was intending to hold back traffic suddenly opts to not do so, and moves forward unexpectedly, catching the other driver off-guard and it can at times lead to confusion and worse still a car accident.

 My second point of hesitation was that the traffic on this particular street was moving along at a fast clip and there was a tremendous volume of traffic. As such, some cars were opting to go past the stopped driver and then cut into the lane that the driver was blocking. If I went into the spot that the driver was blocking for me to get into the street, there was also a chance that another car might go around that driver and then try to whip into “my” lane at that moment, and we’d end-up in a potential collision.

 All in all, I was willing to let the driver proceed and wait for a moment when the traffic had slowed down sufficient that I could snake my way into the lane. I didn’t really want someone holding up traffic for me. It was a presumably kind gesture to do so, but it actually was making the situation dicey. They probably had no clue as to why I was hesitating and just assumed that I was unaware of what a nice gesture was being offered to me. I doubt the driver had contemplated and calculated the risks involved in this maneuver.

 The Nature Of Human Driver Traffic Guardians

I’m guessing that you’ve likely had similar kinds of driving circumstances. 

Another driver opts to try and do something for you that allows you to get your car into traffic, and you need to decide whether to proceed or not. The other driver is actually ceding the right-of-way to you.

Of course, it is questionable whether a driver can cede the right-of-way in this manner. If you were to get into a car accident due to taking the right-of-way baton, I’d bet that by-and-large you’d be held responsible. The judge would certainly want to know who had the legal right-of-way, and though it was perhaps nice that another driver seemed to grant you the informal right-of-way, strictly speaking the rules-of-the-road would be against you since you had illegally “failed to yield the right-of-way” (in spite of your claim and clamoring that the right-of-way had been presumably handed to you).

I’ve seen novice teenage drivers fall for a kind of right-of-way ceding trap. These novice drivers are just learning how to best navigate the streets safely. They often assume that the more seasoned drivers on the road know what they are doing. I don’t make that assumption. I’d readily claim that there are many seasoned drivers that are rather clueless about driving and make all sorts of judgement mistakes as they drive (hence too the massive number of car accidents and fender benders).

 A driver that appears to grant you the right-of-way might opt to suddenly retract the offer and catch you midstream trying to take the right-of-way. Or, other drivers that don’t realize what is happening might make moves that end-up clobbering you and/or the right-of-way granting driver. There can also be pedestrians that can get dragged into the matter too. If there are nearby pedestrians, they might also be making predictions about what is going to happen next and become befuddled when the situation does not necessarily playout as it might seem to be.

 For pedestrian aspects, see my article:

 For my article about rational and irrational driving behavior:

 For the human foibles of drivers, see my article:

 For the importance of defensive driving, see my article:

 There are also traffic downstream issues that can arise. I’ve often noticed that cars that are further back from the stoppage point are at times caught unawares that traffic has stopped for seemingly no valid reason.

 In this case of the mall exit, there was a nearby intersection that had a green light. The cars coming down the street could see that the light was green. There would have been no expectation that traffic would come to a halt. Cars at the end of the pack that weren’t paying close attention could have rammed into a car that was also at the back of the pack, simply because they had expected traffic to be zipping along and had no presence-of-mind to look ahead and realize that traffic had come to a stop.

 A novice driver tends to consider these situations to be a godsend. They are happy to have someone block traffic for them and not have to on-their-own figure out how to make their way into a busy street. These naïve drivers are bound to suggest that they do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth. If some other driver is willing to grant them right-of-way, well, whether a generous gesture or maybe because the other driver is confused, it doesn’t matter “why” and instead just go ahead and take the opportunity. No need to think about it.

 I’m sure that some might have considered me to be a scared mouse that was too timid a driver to realize the moment existed for me to take advantage of it. As mentioned, I’ve indeed used these moments on some occasions, but I don’t think it is a wise driver that always and automatically will use the largesse of another driver. You need to assess each such circumstance and decide whether it is a safe gamble or not.

 If you’ve ever tried to turn down the offer from a traffic “guardian” such as my mall exit situation, you know that sometimes the guardian driver is insistent that you take their offer. The driver often assumes that for sure you need to take their offer. It even becomes a kind of game of insistence. Even though I was waving on the driver, he was still sitting there and seemingly ignoring my gestures to move along. The moment can be one of wills. The guardian driver won’t back down from their offer. The other driver won’t back down from not taking the offer. Both cars then are a standstill, like gun slingers facing off in the wild west.

 One time, this happened to such a severity that the cars behind the guardian driver began to honk their horns, and the cars behind the driver that was not taking the opening were honking their horns too. It was a horn orchestra. This seemed to actually make the two confronting drivers even more intractable. Invariably, one of the two drivers will give in and traffic will flow again, but it will have not been without a great deal of stress and consternation all around.

 Seasoned drivers will frequently make judgements about these situations and do so without much conscious thought that they are indeed mulling it over. If you’ve encountered these moments before, you by now have formulated an unspoken mental method to gauge the efficacy of the circumstance. Without any noticeable hesitation, you’ll likely instantly opt to either take the right-of-way that was provided by the guardian or you will turn it down. You instinctively come to know what smells right and what stinks. If the situation seems to have a potential stench to it, such as bordering on your own safety driving threshold, you’ll likely try to find a means to get out of it.

 I don’t want you to get this situation confounded with other situations that are not quite the same, even though they might seem to be the same. For example, suppose I had already started to move my car ahead into the street, prior to the guardian driver coming up to the spot where the mall exit was. If I was already protruding into the street, it could be that I was then blocking their lane and it was safest for the other driver to come to a stop. Or, even if I wasn’t actually partially into the lane, if it appeared that I was intending to do so, such as my car was moving forward actively, it could also spur the other driver to come to a halt.

 I’ve done this same thing many times in terms of noticing a car that was coming out into the street and seemingly not realizing that traffic is already coming down the street. I’ve had to come to a stop to let the intruder into traffic, otherwise the odds were that the driver was going to get clobbered by me or some other car. These are drivers that don’t judge well the traffic situation at-hand. They have made a blunder by moving into the street prematurely.

 When I say it is a blunder, that’s actually a bit of an understatement. There are some drivers that are living in their own driving world and don’t care about other cars. These drivers will take the right-of-way whether it is legal or not. For them, they are all important. If they want into the street, of course all other traffic should come to a halt. They don’t calculate whether other cars might need to dangerously come to a sudden halt. All that they know is that they want to get to wherever they are going, and by heck or high water they will do so.

 If you are wondering what happened in my case of the mall exit, I waited to see what the guardian driver was going to do and he finally gave-up and proceeded forward. The whole matter took only a few seconds of time and my having walked you through it step-by-step might seem like it took an eternity. It is like trying to analyze a football game play that involved the quarterback tossing a pass and via a rewind you inspect the player movements step-by-step. The play itself might have taken just a few seconds but the analysis might take several minutes of careful inspection.

 My mall exit example is merely one exemplar of these kinds of traffic guardian moments. There are lots of driving situations involving a driver that decides to become a traffic guardian. They take on the role of directing traffic. In some cases, their efforts are laudable. In other instances, their efforts are misguided. I’d like to think that most of the time the driver is acting in a selfless manner and genuinely wanting to help other drivers. Either way, whether the driver traffic guardian has heavenly motives or perhaps less than lofty motives, it is a driving circumstance that other drivers need to be watching for and be able to contend with.

 Driver Traffic Guardians Are Both Good And Bad

Another example that illustrates how dangerous these driver guardian moments can become involves the other day when I was driving down a busy street that had a median dividing the traffic. It turns out that a pedestrian was standing on the median and hopeful of crossing the traffic lanes. They were doing so in a jaywalking manner. In other words, the pedestrian was not crossing at a valid crosswalk. Clearly the pedestrian was in the wrong and was potentially creating a dangerous situation for the cars streaming down the street and for them self.

Most of the cars were moving along and ignoring the pedestrian. This seemed like the prudent action for the cars. All of a sudden, one car that was closest to the median decided to come to a stop. This was completely contrary to the existing flow of traffic. There was no reason to come to a halt. Apparently, the driver noticed the “stranded” pedestrian and decided to go ahead and make their lane available for the pedestrian to cross.

 Unfortunately, the lane to the right was still open and traffic was moving at a fast speed. The traffic in this still moving lane could not readily see the pedestrian. Turns out the car that had stopped in the other lane to let the pedestrian pass was a large car and it pretty much hid the pedestrian from view. So, you now had traffic zipping along in the lane that the pedestrian would next need to use to get across the street, and the traffic in that lane had no idea why the other lane had come to a halt.

 I’d guess that most of the time we might assume that the stopped car had car troubles. Perhaps the stopped car had a stalled engine. Maybe there was debris on the ground in that lane so the car came to a halt. Who knows? All the drivers in the other lane that were streaming along didn’t seem to care and just kept going. Meanwhile, the pedestrian had stepped into the street in front of the stopped car, and thus the stopped car no longer had any other viable option other than to remain stopped.

 If the pedestrian tried to cross that remaining lane, it was going to be a really dicey effort. Cars were not expecting to see a pedestrian miraculously appear in the lane. The pedestrian might also misjudge a momentary gap in traffic and try to run across the lane to the sidewalk, but then get plowed over by a fast moving car that had no idea that the pedestrian was wanting to move across the lane. Imagine if the pedestrian leapt into the lane, and an upcoming car tried to brake, but the car slides into the pedestrian, injuring or killing them, and maybe at the same time the swerving car hits other nearby cars.

 The whole cascading nightmare could have been triggered by the driver guardian that opted to come to a halt in the middle of traffic. You might say that the pedestrian is at fault for being on the median and looking like they wanted to cross the street. I’d wager that in spite of the pedestrian being in the wrong place at the wrong time, most traffic courts and traffic judges would come down hard on the driver that decided to be the traffic guardian. No matter whether the traffic guardian was trying to right the situation and be helpful, if they create a hazardous traffic situation it is their doing.

 AI Autonomous Cars And Driver Traffic Guardians

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. One aspect for the AI is that it needs to be able to contend with driver traffic guardians.

 Allow me to elaborate.

 I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars. The topmost level is considered Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For the design of Level 5 self-driving cars, the auto makers are even removing the gas pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel, since those are contraptions used by human drivers. The Level 5 self-driving car is not being driven by a human and nor is there an expectation that a human driver will be present in the self-driving car. It’s all on the shoulders of the AI to drive the car.

 For self-driving cars less than a Level 5, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task. In spite of this co-sharing, the human is supposed to remain fully immersed into the driving task and be ready at all times to perform the driving task. I’ve repeatedly warned about the dangers of this co-sharing arrangement and predicted it will produce many untoward results.

 For my overall framework about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

 For the levels of self-driving cars, see my article:

 For why AI Level 5 self-driving cars are like a moonshot, see my article:

 For the dangers of co-sharing the driving task, see my article:

 Let’s focus herein on the true Level 5 self-driving car. Much of the comments apply to the less than Level 5 self-driving cars too, but the fully autonomous AI self-driving car will receive the most attention in this discussion.

 Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  •         Sensor data collection and interpretation
  •         Sensor fusion
  •         Virtual world model updating
  •         AI action planning
  •         Car controls command issuance

 Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on the public roads. Currently there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

 Indeed, the use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads. This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars. It is easy to envision a simplistic and rather unrealistic world in which all AI self-driving cars are politely interacting with each other and being civil about roadway interactions. That’s not what is going to be happening for the foreseeable future. AI self-driving cars and human driven cars will need to be able to cope with each other.

 For my article about the grand convergence that has led us to this moment in time, see:

 See my article about the ethical dilemmas facing AI self-driving cars:

 For potential regulations about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

 For my predictions about AI self-driving cars for the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s, see my article:

 Returning to the matter of the driver traffic guardians, let’s consider how these kinds of drivers and driving situations can impact the AI of a self-driving car.

 Some AI developers might say that they don’t need to figure out whether someone is a driver traffic guardian. All the AI needs to do is react to whatever driving situation happens to arise. I consider this rather narrow thinking on the part of the AI developers and I assert it puts the AI itself into a (at best) novice teenage driver mindset, meaning that the chances of a car accident and the danger of injury or killing humans is going to go up if the AI cannot realize what is happening.

 Complexities Of Coping With Driver Traffic Guardians

Let’s take the mall exit example. 

What would the AI do? 

You might suggest that since the AI was intending to leave the mall, and if the stopped traffic allows for the AI self-driving car to get out of the mall, it should go ahead and proceed. No fuss, no particular complexity involved.

Suppose though that the other traffic in the street opts to suddenly swerve over into the stopped lane and collides with the AI self-driving car as it enters into the stopped lane? I’m sure that some AI developers would claim that’s the fault of those other drivers and the AI was “in the right” and thus nothing else matters. But, if the AI allows the self-driving car to get into a situation for which the odds of a collision happening is relatively high, wouldn’t we all agree that this is something the AI ought to be trying to anticipate? I would say so.

 There are AI developers that cling to the notion that as long as the “fault” is on the heads of the other drivers, it somehow means that it is Okay for the AI to make rather short shrift decisions that get the AI self-driving car into bad or even dire circumstances. These AI developers also want to have the rest of the world accommodate the arrival of AI self-driving cars. They want other drivers to provide a wide berth for an AI self-driving car. They want other drivers and even pedestrians to tiptoe around a self-driving car when it comes down the street.

 That’s not the real-world. If AI self-driving cars are going to be on our real-world streets, you cannot somehow expect that the rest of the world is going to gingerly and respectively give AI self-driving cars their own special safety cushion.

 Rather than trying to change the rest of the world to accommodate AI self-driving cars, I emphasize that the AI self-driving cars need to be able to be designed and built to fit to the nature of the real-world. Let’s not put things upside down wherein the world has to make new roads, new rules, etc., just on behalf of AI self-driving cars.

 I’ve previously discussed the so-called pedestrian on a pogo stick problem. This is a situation involving a human that happens to be on a pogo stick and opts to pogo into lanes of traffic. There are some AI developers that indicate that this is a ridiculous idea and would never happen. That’s the first wrong answer. It could certainly happen. Secondly, the AI developers say that if it did happen, the pogoing person is clearly at fault and thus if the AI self-driving car hits the person, no big deal in the sense that it was the stupid human that led to the incident. That’s another wrong answer. The AI should be able to respond to situations as they emerge.

 Believe it or not, some AI developers would even say that if we are going to have pogoing humans onto roadways, the world should put up barriers to prevent any humans from getting into the roadway wherever an AI self-driving car is going to be. Can you imagine the astronomical costs of putting up barriers all across the country for this purpose? Ridiculous.

 For more about the pogoing human issue, see my article:

 For why AI developers aren’t necessarily focusing on these matters, see my article:

 For the aspect of edge problems, see my article:

 For resiliency in driving, see my article:

 For idealism about AI, see my article:

 How AI Autonomous Cars Need To Cope

Overall, I would argue that the AI needs to be able to contend with the driving traffic guardian. 

The first element of the AI involves it being able to detect that a driving traffic guardian aspect is arising. Detection is key. Once the matter is detected, the rest involves prediction of what might happen and being able to prepare an AI action plan to deal with the matter.

In the case of the mall exit, the AI via its sensors would have likely been able to detect that the car in the traffic lane had come to a stop. The question arises or should arise as to why has the car stopped there? If the traffic was flowing unabated, and if there is nothing apparent in the front of the stopped car, what else might account for the car having come to a stop?

 If the AI can rule out most other relatively common reasons as to why a car would suddenly stop in traffic, this allows the AI to then consider that the car might be stopped due to a driver traffic guardian. This is not a certainty that the situation entails a driver traffic guardian. Just as humans can only guess when they experience such a moment, likewise the AI is also going to be “guessing” that the situation involves a traffic guardian.

 I mention this aspect about “guessing” since there are some conventional systems developers that are not particularly used to dealing with uncertainties and probabilities in terms of their coding practices. They write programs that they expect will repeatedly and always do whatever they do without any notion of the “chances” of things occurring or not occurring. In AI development, and especially a human endeavor such as driving a car, you have to alter your programming mindset to include the use of uncertainties and probabilities.

 Also, in terms of identifying traffic situations that might include the act of a traffic guardian, it is possible via analyzing large-scale datasets of traffic data to be able to more readily spot such moments. Using Machine Learning (ML) and deep learning, usually consisting of Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), you can deeply analyze thousands upon thousands of traffic situations and train the neural network to be able to identify the driver traffic guardian aspects. When a driving situation begins to arise, the ML can potentially participate in making the detection of it.

 For my article about the dangers of irreproducibility, see:

 For the nature of uncertainty and probabilities in AI self-driving cars, see my article:

 For Federated Machine Learning, see my article:

 For Ensemble Machine Learning, see my article:

 The context of the detected driving situation will then shape what action the AI self-driving car should next take. It could be that the AI will opt to proceed and make use of the traffic guardian’s actions. Or, it could be that the AI will opt to wait it out and not exploit the traffic guardian’s actions. The AI might even opt to take some other action such as had I been able to maneuver in my mall exit predicament, I might have decided to not even exit onto the street at all, and perhaps proceed to drive in the mall parking lot to another exit that allowed for a less chancy way of getting out of the mall. The AI needs to consider this possibility too of escaping the situation altogether.

 Here’s another twist for you. So far, I’ve focused on having the AI self-driving car detect and react to a driver traffic guardian. Perhaps what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

 In essence, would we want to have the AI be able to act as a driver traffic guardian?

 Your first knee-jerk reaction to the question is likely that you would not want the AI to be a traffic guardian. Let it do the simple things of just safely navigating traffic. But, I would argue that if we are desirous of having AI that can drive as a human drivers, clearly there are some situations that being a traffic guardian can be advantageous.

 I’ve not intended herein to suggest that a traffic guardian is always by definition wrong in what they are doing. There are situations in our driving days that involve the useful deployment of being a traffic guardian. It is admittedly not an easy ploy to pull off. There is also the complication that the AI self-driving car doesn’t have a ready means to wave and do head gestures, which a human driver can do and thus convey potentially their intention when doing a traffic guardian play.

 Nonetheless, we argue that the AI should have a module or capability to be able to instigate a driver traffic guardian action. This needs to be done with great care. It would need to be undertaken sparingly. It would need to be executed well. And, if something begins to go awry, the AI needs to avoid being dogmatic and must be able to adjust, including abandoning the traffic guardian act for the moment at-hand.

 There are some AI developers that bemoan the idea of having to craft a capability to be able to contend with driver traffic guardians. They point out that they perceive this matter to be an edge problem. An edge problem is a portion of a larger problem and it is considered at the edge or corner of the mainstay of the problem being solved. We’re not so convinced it is an edge problem.

 The aspect of the AI self-driving car being able to on its own instigate a driver traffic guardian action does fit more so into the edge problem category.

 Generally, we assert that the detection and contending with a traffic guardian should be a core part of the AI’s capabilities for driving a self-driving car. The next advancement of having an AI self-driving car that can leverage as a driving tactic the initiation of being a traffic guardian is not quite as essential and therefore could be lumped into the edge problems bucket.

 Either way, the traffic guardian elements are vital to driving safely.

 For my article about the safety aspects of AI self-driving cars, see:

 For the reframing of AI levels for self-driving cars, see my article:

 For the Turing test and AI, see my article:

 For my article about AI as a potential Frankenstein, see:

 For the potential coming singularity of AI, see my article:


Driver traffic guardians, love them or hate them. 

You likely have faced driving situations wherein a traffic guardian has helped you out and you were heart warmed that someone would care enough to give you an opportunity to make a driving maneuver that you otherwise felt jammed on. There are probably many other occasions wherein a misguided traffic guardian created a bottled-up nightmare and you figured the person was an utter dolt.

Let’s make sure that the AI of a self-driving car can contend with traffic guardians, both the appropriate ones and the dolts, and ensure that the self-driving car is able to act in a responsible manner that helps ensure safety for all. That’s the kind of automated driving guardians we need on our roads.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot 

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.

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