Big tech’s 100bn € delusion with self-driving cars

Alistair Alexander and Auris-E. Lipinski

Playlists: 'rc3' videos starting here / audio

Estimates suggest that well over 100 bn € is spent on autonomous vehicle research, or what we might call the “Technology Mobility Complex”. Over recent years dozens of high-profile autonomous vehicle projects claim they are tantalisingly close to launch, only for those projected dates to be quietly pushed back. This talk will critically examine the inflated claims of the self-driving car industry and argue that the hyped economic and social benefits are based on unproven and dubious assumptions; furthermore, that the intractable paradoxes self driving cars present between ethical goals and technological goals; centralised and decentralised systems; as well as data availability and privacy make the challenges of realising fully autonomous mobility all but unsurmountable for decades to come.

Drawing on leading research in the field, the speakers will argue that: The ethical and technical challenges of autonomous mobility are deeply inter-meshed. The very concept of an “autonomous vehicle” deciding ethical situations, as defined by the tech and car industries, is flawed and in itself a barrier to progress. The challenges include intractable ethical dilemmas (I.e. the trolley problem), which are currently unsolved, bearing a significant risk that the tech/car industries will use their economic and political influence to override them. Also challenging is, that autonomous vehicles will necessarily be prodigious data collection and surveillance devices and could violate privacy on an unprecedented scale. Even now with only “level 3 autonomy”, every Tesla on the road has 8 HD cameras and 12 ultrasonic 360 sensors constantly collecting data – estimated at around 25 GB an hour – that is shared with Tesla data centres. Another challenge is the distraction from more urgent mobility challenges, that threatens to lock us into a mode of transport that accelerates further towards the tipping point of global ecological collapse. Self-driving car technologies will necessarily depend on connected systems; the more assets are feeding the data collection, the better the algorithm and system´s abilities will become, so the “technology mobility complex” might simply represent a new arena in which the tech companies can invest super normal profits to extend their monopoly platform power. Alistair Alexander is a researcher, trainer and campaigner on the links between technology, society, ecology and art. At Tactical Tech he led the award-winning Glass Room project, exploring data and privacy with immersive art in pop-up spaces, reaching over 120,000 people worldwide. While studying Philosophy & English at Humboldt University, Auris-E. Lipinski became a scientific assistant at a Berlin based IT Company for optimisation, monitoring, planning and data analysis, where she had the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of telematic systems, sensor & map data, thusly connected computer systems, and the fields these technologies can be deployed in. She founded the PhenCoCo project for scientific discussions in the aftermath of seminars like "Konstruktion und Phänomenologie der Wahrnehmung", Phänomenologie und Kognition" (M. Thiering) and "Computation und Geist" (J. Bach). She has been involved in different research and development projects, guiding her academic interests towards way finding and cognitive preconditions for navigation, both computational and phenomenological. This includes working on spatial concepts found in philosophy, psychology and robotics, subsuming Gestalt theory, embodiment theories, language/ concept importance, association and intuition. It also includes a continuing interest in programming methods and environments, as well as machine learning algorithms.