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Self-driving cars stand to provide relief from stress-filled, rude unruly holiday driving by leaving the driving to the AI, the author suggests. (Credit: Getty Images)  

By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider  

This year seems to have been rather bleak and had an untold number of adverse tidings, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to end the year on something a bit more upbeat.   

I dare say that the Christmas season is upon us and there is a moment of joy in the air. Homes are festooned with ornaments and sparkling lights. Songs and the music of the season can be heard on our radios and online. One way or another, we strive to persevere and seek to ensure that there is something heartwarming to cling to this holiday.   

Okay, with that rather spirited opening, I don’t want to spoil the mood, yet there is an aspect that still seems to be annoying and exasperating, namely the abundance of unruly traffic on our highways and byways.   

It seems nearly unimaginable to discover that car drivers are just as rude as always. How can that be? Wouldn’t it seem logical and sensible for drivers this year to be especially civil and polite to each other? Apparently, not so. 

Frustrations abound. Driving to do simple errands can be a chore. I’ve witnessed horn-honking traffic jams. There have been drivers that cut off other drivers. Much of the time, you find yourself shaking your head in sadness and disgust that the holiday spirit seems to not enter people’s minds when they are driving their cars, and instead they appear to be overcome by a selfish get-out-of-my-way take-no-prisoners attitude.   

Last year, according to national statistics, approximately 100 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more from home during the Christmas holiday period, and nearly 90% of that travel was done on the roadways (versus flying or say taking a train). Presumably, the amount of seasonal travel will drop significantly this year, though we’ll need to see the final tally once the year is over.   

All told, there is way too much frustration and angst involved in the roadway traveling during the holidays, and it’s a darned shame that there’s seemingly nothing that can be done to avert the anguish.   

Wait a minute, maybe Santa has something for us that can help.   

Here’s a question to ponder: Will the advent of AI-based autonomous self-driving cars provide some relief from the holiday angst and aid in making the season as wonderful as it ought to be?   

I say yes. I exclaim to the rooftops, yes! Let’s unpack the matter (and make sure to put a bow on it too).   

For my framework about AI autonomous cars, see the link here: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/framework-ai-self-driving-driverless-cars-big-picture/ 

Why this is a moonshot effort, see my explanation here: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/self-driving-car-mother-ai-projects-moonshot/   

For more about the levels as a type of Richter scale, see my discussion here: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/richter-scale-levels-self-driving-cars/   

For the argument about bifurcating the levels, see my explanation here: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/reframing-ai-levels-for-self-driving-cars-bifurcation-of-autonomy/   

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars 

It is important to clarify what I mean when referring to true self-driving cars. True self-driving cars are ones where the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.   

These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5, while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems). 

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.   

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our roads, some point out).   

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different from driving conventional vehicles, so I’m not going to include them in this discussion about the holidays. 

For semi-autonomous cars, it is equally important that I mention a disturbing aspect that’s been arising, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.   

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.   

For why remote piloting or operating of self-driving cars is generally eschewed, see my explanation here: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/remote-piloting-is-a-self-driving-car-crutch/   

To be wary of fake news about self-driving cars, see my tips here: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/ai-fake-news-about-self-driving-cars/ 

The ethical implications of AI driving systems are significant, see my indication here: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/ethically-ambiguous-self-driving-cars/ 

Be aware of the pitfalls of normalization of deviance when it comes to self-driving cars, here’s my call to arms: https://aitrends.com/ai-insider/normalization-of-deviance-endangers-ai-self-driving-cars/   

Self-Driving Cars And The Holidays   

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task. All occupants will be passengers. When you go to a mall, you won’t be driving, and instead, the AI will do the driving for you. 

Guess what? This means that you no longer need to be the one that bears the frustration and angst of being at the wheel. 

There you are, riding along in a true self-driving car, and letting your mind wander to dreams of sugarplums dancing and not needing to be aware that some idiot driver ahead of you is cutting off your car or going as slow as a snail.   

Let the AI worry about it.  

Furthermore, you can be watching videos or live-streaming video while going over to the store, doing so by the likely addition of LED displays mounted inside the driverless car. The odds are that self-driving cars will have high-def displays and be connected to the Internet at top speeds such as 5G. 

You can do a live connection with a loved one and via a Facetime-like interaction be able to discuss what gifts to get for friends and family.   

Maybe have some eggnog during the drive, perhaps spiked (which you would never do as a driver), though please don’t let things get out of hand (it would be unseemly to pour out of a driverless car and be as drunk as a skunk).   

In terms of gift getting, we’ve already begun to see a large shift from going to brick-and-mortar stores to instead ordering online and having your packages delivered to your home. With true self-driving cars, most pundits predict that we will dramatically increase the amount of home-delivered items since driverless cars will be able to drive those purchased packages to your house.   

Family vacations will be easier to undertake too. You and the family can enjoy the time together during a cross-country road trip. Rather than the adults having to constantly trade-off doing the driving task, the AI will be doing the driving. This allows the adults to have fun with the kids while inside the driverless car, playing games and otherwise devoting attention that would have been going toward the driving chore.   

Speaking of kids, another facet of driverless cars will be that children can get around to places without requiring an adult driver to be present and being there to drive the car. Suppose you want the kids to get over to grandma’s house and you aren’t yet home to drive them. By using a self-driving car, the kids can pile into the vehicle and be driven by the AI, allowing you to get over to grandma’s once your Scrooge boss lets you out of the office. 

As an aside, there is some controversy about letting kids ride in driverless cars without having any adult supervision, and it is hard to imagine such a future, but there is a bona fide case to be made that we culturally might eventually change our views on this matter and find this to be a valid form of transport for non-adults.   

Think about the other possibilities of how driverless cars can alleviate the stress and strain of the holidays. A self-driving car can drop you at your destination and thus there’s no need for you to deal with parking the car. Toss out those crazy parking lot fisticuff moments since you won’t ever need to be in a parking lot to begin with, and toss out the annoying act of driving round and round to find a parking spot. 

Some pundits are saying that we’ll no longer have traffic congestion once we have self-driving cars, but that’s a rather Utopian viewpoint. For many years to come, likely for decades, we are going to have a mixture of both conventional cars and self-driving cars on our roadways (there are about 250 million conventional cars today in the United States).   

All in all, we are going to continue to have traffic congestion for a long time to come.   

Yet, despite the traffic congestion, when you are inside a driverless car you might not especially notice that the traffic is backed-up. If you are watching a classic movie while inside a driverless car, such as It’s A Wonderful Life, you probably won’t care that a morass of cars is all backed-up and crawling along.   

Another nifty aspect will be that people today that are mobility marginalized or disadvantaged will likely have greater mobility access due to the emergence of self-driving cars. Maybe your elderly father is not able to drive a car and lives far away from the rest of the family. It might be logistically difficult for you to go pick him up and drive him to a family holiday get together.

On the other hand, he could use a driverless car and show-up ready to enjoy some cherished time with you all. That’s truly a wonderful life moment.  

For more details about ODDs, see my indication at this link here: https://www.aitrends.com/ai-insider/amalgamating-of-operational-design-domains-odds-for-ai-self-driving-cars/ 

On the topic of off-road self-driving cars, here’s my details elicitation: https://www.aitrends.com/ai-insider/off-roading-as-a-challenging-use-case-for-ai-autonomous-cars/ 

I’ve urged that there must be a Chief Safety Officer at self-driving car makers, here’s the scoop: https://www.aitrends.com/ai-insider/chief-safety-officers-needed-in-ai-the-case-of-ai-self-driving-cars/ 

Expect that lawsuits are going to gradually become a significant part of the self-driving car industry, see my explanatory details here: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/self-driving-car-lawsuits-bonanza-ahead/ 

More Reasons For Holiday Cheer   

I’m not saying that AI-based autonomous cars will erase or eradicate all the stress of the holidays.   

No doubt, there will still be lots of holiday stress to be had. At least you can have some contemplative meditation time while inside a driverless car. Or, better still, use the time inside the self-driving car to catch some sleep. It is expected that most driverless cars will have reclining seats so that you can take a nap or go to sleep while on a driving journey. After a day’s hard work, you can grab a nap on the way home, and feel refreshed when you walk in the door, greeting the rest of the family rather than snarling at them. 

Something else is worth considering too about self-driving cars.   

Many are hoping and expecting that driverless cars will save lives, meaning that the number of lives lost by car crashes and car injuries will be substantially reduced. Currently, there are about 40,000 annual car-related deaths and approximately 2.7 million car-related injuries in the United States. Take a somber moment to reflect on the fact that 40,000 people each year in the U.S. won’t be celebrating the holidays with their loved ones due to being killed in a car crash.   

And if that number doesn’t seem disheartening enough, consider that over a decade or so of such losses amounts to 400,000 or more people killed in car crashes in America, or nearly a half million people consisting of beloved fathers, mothers, and children that won’t be able to see the holidays. Via self-driving cars, presumably those deaths and injuries will be a lot less, since the AI won’t be prone to drinking and driving, and won’t be distracted using a smartphone, etc. 

As you can see, self-driving cars bode well for making the holidays a time for family and friends to come together and ease the burden of driving, along with making it feasible for people to avert many of the unfortunate adverse consequences of car driving.   


In case you are reading this to your children as a bedtime story akin to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and they are perhaps worried that maybe Santa is going to ditch his reindeer and use a self-driving sleigh, I assure you that Santa has fully committed to keeping those reindeer.   

Yes, St. Nick is going to keep on exclaiming to Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen that they need to dash away, dash away all. 

For the particularly smarmy kids, they might crack a wee smile and whisper that the reindeer are all robots and AI-based, but don’t let them get away with this, and tell them that the reindeer are real and the prancing and pawing of each little hoof is genuine. 

And that’s the merry and rosy truth on the matter! 

Copyright 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot This content is originally posted on AI Trends. 

[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/] 


Source: AI Trends