Puppy dog AIML and autonomous vehicle AIML…

Recently seen is another application of AI – the nimble robodoggie. Improving on Little Dog’s already impressive performances, another robot dog in development has learnt to walk from videos of other dogs walking and moving.

The videos were analysed by an AI program and made into a basic instruction set for the dog-in-development. Said robopuppy was able to master the pitfalls and intricacies of walking before it took its first steps. It then applied its own AIML to make itself perform those steps rather than just being tasked to “get up and walk.”

This has resulted in a significantly faster robodog than the standard programmed one, and also one that can jump and spin and “tailchase” in a much more natural fashion. And okay – it has very little to do with CoV19 but it may have implications in the future – a future that is shaped by CoV19, and in which such applications of AI would be important in.

I’m talking about self-driving electric vehicles. It’s already been worked out in detailed studies that scrapping your old fossil vehicle (yep – fossil-fuelled vehicle is what I meant but see what I did there?) buying a new EV and driving it for ten years is better for the environment than driving the fossil for another ten years.

It gets even better once you factor in more sustainable energy and less fossil fuelled energy. And it gets quite rosy if you also let those cars ALL be self-driving networked cars.

The only thing preventing full market penetration of the EVs into the market are that people are stubbornly clinging to the individualistic muscle car image. Even though an EV off roader can handily thrash the pants off an equivalent ICE offroader, even though an EV roadster in standard trim can beat most ICE drag cars off the line and a specifically tuned EV can top anything almost any drag car can offer.

This delusion is of course supported by any corporation whose life depends on selling fossil fuels. And those corporations have had decades to amass huge fighting fund coffers and are now using them to the hilt. But these last few weeks of eerily empty CBD areas, with maps of clearing and cleared pollution and Nature returning, of people being able to see their hundred-mile distant mountains for the first time in 50, 80, 100, or more years – our attitude will most likely undergo a change.

ICEV fossils still have their place but for me, it’d be lovely to just call up a driverless vehicle for my occasional trip to Melbourne to visit family there, then not have to worry about where to park or how I’m going to get to the shops on the way back. I can just book one vehicle continuously for the day, or rely on circulating pools of cars. I suppose I could even just buy an EV (actually – scratch that – on a pension you can barely afford a clapped-out old banger and we’re actually lucky in having a pretty good vehicle) and leave it sitting in my driveway for 95% of the time.

But the biggest bugaboo of driverless cars is that eternal question of “how can I be sure it won’t kill me because of an unexpected situation arising?”

And that’s a fair enough question, on the one hand, but an unfair one, on the other. Let’s take the unfair one first.

I – me, myself, totally unaided by any self-driving AI – can just as easily kill myself and any passengers in the car with me. How many of you get into your car and consciously say to yourself “now remember, you have your closest family in here with you, your spouse, your children, and you need to be careful and vigilant” before you turn the key in the ignition?

scoff (as they say in all the best subtitles) – maybe your first few times driving, and then you become just like everyone else, taking that tiny risk just to get through that amber light, overtaking on a lonely stretch of road with poor visibility, letting your mind wander and then having to swerve to avoid an object in the road.

The idea of an AI competing with a bunch loose cannons like us on the road is terrifying.

But (and here comes the pro argument) a road full of AI driven vehicles, all mesh networked together and sharing the news of that one currently unpredictable spot where children are playing or going to school – that fills me with confidence.

Since a lone AI on a multi lane freeway with literally hundreds of human drivers was able to predict an impending accident and take action to prevent becoming involved in the incident, that convinces me that a whole road full of AI vehicles could more than satisfactorily account for the human drivers and remain safe.

And these cars could all be trained using the same algorithms and procedures as that robodog. They could have absorbed all that road lore and knowledge from videos in which good and bad sequences were marked out, where good techniques are reinforced and the bad is negatively reinforced.

The network can keep learning as it goes – where are the greatest congestion spots and how to route around them is already part of Google Maps and can easily be disseminated among self – driving vehicles.

A new and successful manoeuvre to brake faster and with more control can be applied to all the vehicles within an hour or two of one of the AI vehicles discovering it.

People who damage such public vehicles can be blocked from using a public vehicle unless in the company of a responsible hirer.

Perhaps you could book a vehicle for an entire weekend or week for a holiday so you don’t have to keep repacking the holiday suitcases into a different vehicle all the time.

Some last – minute thoughts about this – no more “white van abductions.” Networked driverless cars are far too easy to keep track of. No more backroad drug drop pickups. Same reason. No idiots using vehicles as deadly weapons up and down Bourke st trying to mow down pedestrians. No AI would allow this behaviour.

And of course this ‘accelerated pre-learning’ can in future be applied to other robots than just robopuppies and cars. A C3P0 with lifelike movements and ability to perform tasks would make a great general service machine. Leave it to AI to fly delivery drones and drive delivery carts for your groceries or take away meals.

Most supermarket chains by now have or are definitely planning to have “delivery fulfilment warehouse centres” from where they can fill online orders (which have spiked enormously in the lockdowns and isolating) and that can also mean re-stocking their bricks and mortar outlets. In fact, many such physical outlet could be replaced by neighbourhood vans or even trucks that serve as the storefront for in-person customers and smaller robodelivery vehicles.

I’m not alone in predicting these things BTW – countless public figures and people who test scenarios and make predictions (wargaming of scenarios) have all said in various ways that for these new technologies to just be dropped post-COVID19 is not only ‘unlikely’ but is in fact ‘unthinkable.’ There is just no way we’ll put these genies back into the bottle…