The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Thursday, December 22nd 2016 · ·

I just read an interesting article about “smart” cars. I've got a lot of thoughts. Self-driving cars are already appearing. There's a battle in California between Uber and the DMV because Uber is putting self-driving cars on the road despite the DMV's wishes. Within the next decade, I predict that the loss of jobs due to self-driving cars will become a huge issue in the U.S. This NPR article shows that driving jobs are the most common job in more than half of U.S. states. And all those jobs are on the chopping block.

But when I read the above-linked GeekDad article about Vehicle-to-vehicle communications, the first thing on my mind was network security. The intent is that vehicles communicate with each other such that if one brakes, the vehicles behind it can respond instantly. If a vehicle has to swerve to avoid an animal running across the road, other vehicles can compensate to avoid collisions as if they were all part of the same system, which in some respects they would be. Maybe it's partially due to the excellent free fiction about self-driving cars I've recently read, but I'm slightly concerned.

Here's the problem. Any time you create any computer system, it's potentially vulnerable to intrusion. (I'm really trying to avoid the term "hacking") If it's something like an internet-aware security camera, it can be used in attacks like the huge IoT DNS DDS attack a few months back. (My daughter couldn't log her homework that morning because the DNS for the website she needed to use was down) But if it's something like a self-driving car, all you need is a single modified vehicle on the road to potentially cause havoc. People can function because we understand that sometimes people lie, and so humans develop skepticism. But what about cars that never expect each other to lie? Gullible cars could allow for serious terrorism. If you get a modded self-driving car onto the highway going 80mph in heavy traffic, and have it suddenly tell all the cars around it that there's a crowd of 15 children standing in the highway, you could easily have the computers inside everyone else's car decide that steering into a ditch at 80mph to save the 15 kids' lives is worth it even if it means the occupants of those cars die. We're entering an era where software can save or cost lives, and I'm just hopeful that those who design V2V communications do so with wariness of cyber-attacks.

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