Keep Enemies Close, Car Keys Closer

By Douglas Black, February 12, 2014 Ford Motor Co. Executive President of the Americas Joe Hinrichs delivered the keynote speech during the Economic Club of Chicago’s luncheon at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show Media Preview.

Hinrichs addressed an audience of hundreds of Economic Club members, guests and journalists. Displayed were Ford’s iconic models including the 50th edition of the Mustang, the 2015 Lincoln Navigator, and the 2015 Ford F-150.

While Hinrichs presented Ford’s plan on moving forward in the global automotive industry, he also commented on the rapidly evolving technology leading to driverless vehicles.

The Ford executive cautioned that while it may be possible to turn the keys – and complete control – over to a moving vehicle, it would be very unwise to keep the driver completely out of the equation.

The human factor as a failsafe should remain regardless of the advancements made in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, suggested Hinrichs.

Over the past 10 years, AI has literally exploded as the new-new thing in connecting everything in our lives, as this blog has been reporting.  Our cars connect through our phones to our homes, telling the furnace to hitch the heat up a notch, the refrigerator to add milk and butter to the grocery list, and personal drones can project a view of the farmer’s milk cows and crops to the monitor in her office.

It is a brave new world indeed, and getting braver.

A year ago the technology still seemed quite a way out (in perhaps decades) as we described in the Hot Flying Rats! Blog titled “Self Driving – Your Car Can Handle It, But Can You?” dated January 19, 2013 where we said

Google Self Driving Prius

Google Self Driving Prius

While there are many technical and legal hurdles that must be overcome before hands-free/eyes-free driving is commonplace the biggest hurdle may be that of public opinion. Many people are uneasy about sharing the highway with driverless cars.  “(At work) when my computer crashes, it’s annoying.

If the car’s computer crashes, we all crash”, warned Roger Abdella, a dispatcher from Flint who was attending the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit last week. “It will take a lot of convincing” added Abdella, in line with many visitors we spoke to at the NAIAS who also expressed similar apprehension.

Google, the search engine giant and new technologies force, was first to take on the bleeding edge, investing millions and putting nearly a half million miles on their specially outfitted stable of Toyota Prius’. Google contends that there will be many benefits to leaving control of traffic in the metaphorical hands of computer logarithms.  These will include improved overall fuel efficiency, added safety, and another, less tangible, benefit – robots are never distracted.

They don’t text or drink or get tired, and they see things no human being can. DARPA, an acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been partnering with quasi-government contractors, public institutions and private sector companies like Google since 1968, funding many robotics research efforts among a host of other avenues.”

Robonaut reporting for duty aboard Int'l Space Station, Jan 5, 2013

Robonaut reporting for duty aboard Int’l Space Station, Jan 5, 2013

One recent post on the enerficiency (since 1999) blog titled “The Day Of The Robot Is Here Part 1 – Winging, Wheeling and Walking” from December 2012

“In fact, the development of human assist and independent robotic systems have exploded since 1988.  According to investment in research, development and production of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the robotics has quadrupled worldwide in the past 25 years, with the majority of that growth in the past 10 years.”

AUDI tt self-driving

AUDI tt self-driving

Another, “Drive Auto In Auto Drive” from January 20, 2013 revealed

“Google contends that there will be many benefits to leaving control of traffic in the metaphorical hands of computer logarithms.  These will include improved overall fuel efficiency, added safety, and another, less tangible, benefit – robots are never distracted. They don’t text or drink or get tired, and they see things no human being can.”

HERB Learns On Its Own

HERB Learns On Its Own

And from “Robot Learns After School – Another Step Toward Skynet” May 8, 2013

After the floor was swept, doors shut, and all the technicians went home, HERB was alone.  Within sight and arms reach, a couple of items from the lunch menu were left on a table.  HERB was curious.

By morning the robot knew a great deal about a bag of bagels and a pineapple. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing the Home Exploring Robot Butler (HERB) project in the Personal Robotics Lab, directed by Siddhartha Srinivasa.

Teaching a robot to recognize encountered objects usually requires tedious data entry done manually by technicians. “Humans do it naturally: We look at a scene and can immediately understand it, identifying objects and things in it,” Srinivasa explained in an email to NBC News.

“A robot with this ability will be able to interact semantically with the world. It will then also be able to interact better with us because it is able to have a common semantic model of the world with us.”

The robot uses color video, a Kinect depth camera and non-visual information to build digital images of objects, which for its purposes are defined as something it can lift. The depth camera is particularly useful, as it provides three-dimensional shape data.

Other information HERB collects include the object’s location – on the floor, on a table, or in a cupboard. It can determine if it moves, and whether it is in a particular place at a particular time – say, mail in a mail slot.

“Artificial Intelligence as a whole is a rapidly growing science, led in part by Google’s research into the way our brain works.  Scientists say we  can expect computers of the near future to be vastly more powerful, and faster than the best of today.

Ray Kurzweil, newly named chief scientist at Google, even think we will see the “singularity”, or point at which AI surpasses the human mind in capacity and will then act in tandem with mankind’s advancement, by the year 2029.”



And from March 3, 2013 – Robo-Valet Gaining Ground – Smarter, Stronger, Faster.

“As pointed out by futurist Ray Kurzweil in what he attributes to Moore’s law and the dictum of exponential growth of technology, computing power has been doubling every two years for the past century.

And, says Kurzweil, “we are only a decade or two away from a singularity”, the point at which the intelligence of computers will be equal to humans in analysis capacity, speed, and memory capacity.”

Really, a RoboMosquito

Really, a RoboMosquito

And from “The Day Of The Robot Is Here Part 3 – Winging, Wheeling and Walking” from January 2013

“The past dozen years have brought all sorts of bug-like creatures – three legged striders, four legged hoppers, millipedes, rolli-polli’s, and snake-like eels that propel themselves forward in a most unusual way.  The Six-legged spiders seem to be most efficient for the smaller surveillance and communication requirements.”

Clearly the military has applications for AI, and are heavily funding advanced research as such, but history tells us (jet flight, laser pointers, the internet) that in very short order those new technologies will be ubiquitous in our daily lives.

And while I do like the idea of my own Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons episodes, assisting me in daily mundane tasks, I am a little leery of fleets of insect like spy-drones doing the NSA’s bidding as they peek in our windows and listen to our conversations.

Or worse yet, decide we humans are an inferior race and become the AI overlords of our grandchildren.

Keep the car keys close.

Mans Best Friend

Mans Best Friend


Douglas Black

Douglas Black

Douglas Black is a photographer, fast car geek, and futurist.  Author of several books including i.STRUCTURE; A Trilogy of Vision and View – available now.


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