A division of a major auto manufacturer, which provides the tech for self-driving taxis on the West Coast, has lost its license. Why? Because one of its vehicles ‘misinterprets’ a command from a would-be passenger and runs her over, then reverses back over her, then drags her along the road for a while.
Oh sure, no biggie. Misinterpretation happens all the time. I remember meeting my boss for the first time, on day one of a particular job I’d landed. I put on my winningest smile, walked confidently up to him and held my hand out to shake his hand.
Next moment, I’m lying on the floor with blood coming out of my nose. He’d just punched me extremely hard. “What did you do that for?” “Oh, I’m sorry, I misinterpreted your out-held hand. I thought you were going to attack me.”
I mean, you can see how a car gets “Try and run me over, you soulless bucket of nuts and bolts” from “Please take me to the corner of 71st Avenue and 5th Street.”
Yeah, everyone misinterprets things all the time, right? A friend of mine walked into a diner once, sat down and when he enquired about an entrée, he was told that the Super Salad was available. He’d never heard of it, but already his head was filled with images of gigantic, luscious tomatoes, brilliantly verdant lettuce drizzling with golden, honeyed oil and croutons as big as basketballs and as crunchy as, well, croutons as big as basketballs.
The waiter impatiently repeated his question, disturbing his reverie. “Super Salad?” My friend naturally said yes with a fair amount of gusto. To which the waiter, now clearly irritated, asked: “Which one?”
Only then did my friend actually get it. Soup or salad.
Misinterpretation, a common human trait. And now AI has trained a taxi to become a killing machine, apparently. Wow, this is like a Stephen King novel come true.
So I was wondering where I could get an expert opinion on this matter. It felt too important not to have an informed point of view. I had a chat with our Managing Editor and she asked me first about the word ‘misinterprets’ and then wanted to see the source material for this story. I even checked to see if my phone had enough credit to call an expert somewhere in the world. She read through the source material and then, quite shyly, pointed to the word ‘misinterprets’ on the screen.
It wasn’t ‘misinterprets’ at all. It was ‘misrepresents’.
She had the grace to look away as I blushed, with me wondering how I could have got it so wrong. And to top it off, how I could have got it so wrong in front of a colleague.
I’m Still Blushing
The real story was that a woman had fallen in front of one of these robotaxis, which then proceeded to run over her and drag her along for about ten metres (the woman in question is okay, by the way). The company supplying the AI tech to the taxi apparently ‘misrepresented’ certain safety information, which was instrumental in granting the company a license to operate driverless taxis.
And here’s me thinking that AI had finally revealed itself to be the vindicative demon we’re all afraid it would be. Also, I was thinking that Stephen King would feel somewhat vindicated about his possessed car story ‘Christine’.
So, no story, then. At least, not a comedy-horror-tech-gone-wrong thriller.
And then it hit me. Not with quite the force of an accelerating, malevolent cab, I’ll admit. But with just enough power for me to see a cautionary tale in all of this confusion.
This was a reminder about what it means to be a journalist. Double check everything. And make sure you have your glasses on when you do. Otherwise, the slightest misinterpretation will end up with a misrepresentation of the truth.
See what I did there?
I’ll leave now.
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