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Revision as of 11:21, 8 April 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained 5 xkcd comics, and only 1953 (100%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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Go to this comic explanation

Self-Driving Issues
If most people turn into muderers all of a sudden, we'll need to push out a firmware update or something.
Title text: If most people turn into muderers all of a sudden, we'll need to push out a firmware update or something.

Explanation

Cueball explains being worried about autonomous cars, noting that it may be possible to fool the sensory systems of the vehicles. This is a common concern with AIs; since they think analytically and have little to no capability for abstract thought, they can be fooled by things a human would immediately realize is deceptive.

However, Cueball quickly assumes that his argument actually doesn't hold up when comparing AI drivers to human drivers, as both rely on the same guidance framework. Human drivers follow signs and road markings, and must obey the laws of the road just as an AI must. Therefore, an attack on the road infrastructure could impact both AIs and humans. However, humans and AIs are not equally vulnerable. For example, a fake sign or a fake child could appear to a human as an obvious fake but fool an AI. A creative attacker could put up a sign with CAPTCHA-like text that would be readable by humans but not by an AI.

Cueball further wonders why, in this case, nobody tries to fool human drivers as they might try to fool an AI, but White Hat and Megan point out the obvious sociological answer; that most road safety systems benefit from humans not actively trying to maliciously sabotage them simply to cause accidents.

The title text continues the line of reasoning, noting that if most people did suddenly become murderers, the AI would need to be upgraded in order to deal with the presumable increase in people trying to cause car crashes by fooling the AI - a somewhat narrowly-focused solution given that a world full of murderers would probably have many more problems than that. It might also be suggesting a firmware update for the people who have become murderers, one that would fix their murderous ways. We are not currently at a point where we can create and apply firmware updates for people, however... unless you count psychiatry, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, mind-altering drugs, prison, CRISPR, etc.

This cartoon and 1955: Robots share the common theme of human fear and overreaction to the advent of more or less autonomous robots.

Transcript

[Cueball is speaking while standing alone in a slim panel.]
Cueball: I worry about self-driving car safety features.
[In a frame-less panel it turns out that Cueball is standing between White Hat and Megan, holding his arms out towards each of them, while he continues to speak.]
Cueball: What's to stop someone from painting fake lines on the road, or dropping a cutout of a pedestrian onto a highway, to make cars swerve and crash?
[Zoom in on Cueball's head as he continues to contemplate the situation holding a hand to his chin, while looking in White Hat's direction. Megan replies from off-panel behind him.]
Cueball: Except... those things would also work on human drivers. What's stopping people now?
Megan (off-panel): Yeah, causing car crashes isn't hard.
[Zoom back out to show all three of them again.]
White Hat: I guess it's just that most people aren't murderers?
Cueball: Oh, right. I always forget.
Megan: An underappreciated component of our road safety system.

Trivia

The title text was published with a typo: "murderers" was misspelled as "muderers."



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