Autonomous Vehicle Engineers Struggle Against Resurgent Rubbernecking Behavior In Self-Driving Car AIs

May 8, 2017


SAN FRANCISCO - Cruise Automation, the autonomous vehicle startup acquired by GM in early 2016, confirmed today the accuracy of speculation that the company was allocating the bulk of their efforts to preventing their self-driving AIs from slowing the vehicle to a crawl when passing the scene of an accident or a traffic stop. This bizarre behavior, according to Cruise Automation, has proved to be a remarkably pervasive and tenacious roadblock on the path to Level 5 autonomy.

A spokesperson for Cruise Automation's technical efforts revealed that this is not the first time the company has experienced such an issue. Their initial vehicle AI was built upon models trained on driving data generated by test drivers who, due to improper vetting, could not help themselves but contribute to a traffic jam just to gawk at unlucky people trading insurance information. The tainted dataset they generated was then used to model "normal" human driving habits, thereby injecting considerable bias into the AI and consequently a formidable proclivity for slowing down to well below the posted speed limit whenever sensors detected flashing lights. Cruise Automation's venerable data science team was able to scrub this bias from their dataset, and vehicle behavior returned to normal.

Alarm bells began to ring once again in early 2017 when the rubbernecking behavior unexpectedly resurrected over a period of a few days. An intense week-long investigation found that the data collection team had recently introduced a pipeline to the car's data recording suite that convolved the behavior of the car with the behavior of the driver. In this case, it was the data science team members themselves riding inside the vehicle who were applying the brake to get a better look at people sulking while they were issued speeding tickets as the autonomous car drove by. The company's driving model picked up on this, associated the slowdown with flashing lights and law enforcement vehicles, and dutifully reintroduced the behavior.

Cruise Automation would offer no specifics, but insisted that it had already taken corrective action to ensure the behavior would not return. In a statement, the company reaffirmed their commitment to "removing Sunday drivers from the road, not adding more".


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