What if car driving is like playing chess


JS Writes in with an intriguing idea:

“What if car driving is like playing chess?  Self-driving cars may be possible and even valuable but the safest most efficient driving may be the combination of the computer and the person/people.  What if one Uber “driver” could drive 10 cars at once, or a team of 3 Uber drivers could drive 100 cars?”

And then sends in the following from the EconTalk podcast …
From Econtalk: Tyler Cowen on Inequality, the Future, and Average is Over 11:01


Russ: So let’s talk about what you’ve learned as a chess fan. And you write at some length. At first I was rather taken aback by this, but I grew to find it quite fascinating. You write at some length about the role of machines in chess tournaments, and particularly in freestyle. Talk about that and why it’s a nice potential template for future human interaction.

Guest: Freestyle is a form of chess where a human teams up with a computer. So, if you play human-and-computer against computer, for the most part human-and-computer, if it’s a practiced human, will beat the computer. Even though computers per se are much stronger than humans at chess, it’s the team that’s stronger than either one. And I think this is a good metaphor for a lot of what our job market future will look like. So there’s a big chunk of the book that looks rather closely at freestyle chess and tries to see what we can learn from it.

Russ: The thing I found most provocative about that is that the best freestyle teams do not necessarily have the best human players. In fact that could be something of a handicap.

Guest: That’s right. The really good human players are too tempted to override the computer and substitute in their own judgment. The best freestyle teams, they are quite epistemically modest, the human or humans involved. And what they are really good at is asking questions. So they’ll run two or three different computer programs and then just check on where do those programs disagree. And then they’ll probe more on those points. And that’s what the humans do well that the computers, at least not yet, aren’t able to copy. So it’s knowing what questions to ask that has become the important human skill in this freestyle endeavor.

I still think we will need to turn it all over to the computers, and the sooner the better. Human intervention will need to be so real-time that it is likely to be worse than the algorithm, and the lags in communication are sufficient to be debilitating. But the history of self-driving cars has yet to be written.

One thought on “What if car driving is like playing chess

  1. I do think there is a role for human oversight. I think it would help acceptance of new technology and create a path through liability issues.

    Commercial aircraft have a pilot and co-pilot. Since most commercial aircraft currently mostly fly themselves I’m not sure the co-pilot has to be in the aircraft. A team of co-pilots could be in a control room somewhere (probably lead by Buster Bluth) ready to assist at times when need for back-up is high. Cruising altitude with clear skies does not seem to need a computer, pilot and co-pilot. The co-pilot labor could be spread around several aircraft reducing costs and limiting group think.

    How about commercial trucking and bus services? There are clearly times when risk is heightened that an over-sight driver could be valuable. Several bus accidents in the last few years have occurred when the driver fell asleep late at night. We also see crashes in poor weather and visibility conditions. A pool of oversight drivers might be able to more objectively assess risks and reduce speed or take other actions to increase safety.

    We read so much about self driving cars but it seems to me commercial operations would get more bang for the buck by introducing driver assist functions, either computer or human.


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