Human Versus Machine

Like something out of a Transformers film, angry citizens are fighting back against what they perhaps perceive as the modern equivalent of the Decepticons: autonomous cars.

According to crash reports filed with California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), people are attacking driverless cars. So far in 2018, autonomous vehicles played a role in six accidents on state roads. Of those, two of the accidents involved angry humans shouting at and slapping the self-driving cars.

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According to the first report, a male pedestrian supposedly attacked a self-driving Chevy Bolt as it waited at a traffic light in San Francisco for pedestrians to cross the road. The vehicle was in self-driving mode, but a human was in the driver's seat, as required by state law. The raging pedestrian ran across the street "shouting." He then struck "the left side of the Cruise AV's rear bumper and hatch with his entire body," damaging the Chevy's left tail light.

The second incident also involved a self-driving Chevy Bolt in San Francisco, this time with a human driver in control. When the vehicle stopped behind a taxi, the taxi driver stepped out of his vehicle and assaulted the autonomous car. According to the Los Angeles Times, which claims to have seen the DMV report, he "slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch."

Humans weren't harmed in either case, and General Motors, the Chevy Bolt Cruise AV's manufacturer, has yet to comment on these incidents.

Humankind Striking Back?

Driverless cars aren't an unusual sight in California. The state already allows car manufacturers to test self-driving vehicle technologies with human drivers inside, and soon, it will allow them to test completely driverless cars.

But we're not there yet. There were drivers sitting in the proper seat in these cars. How do we know, then, that the aggravated humans were attacking the cars because they were autonomous, not because the car was driving poorly, or was stopped in the crosswalk?

The truth is, we don't. At least for now. But it just so happens that other autonomous bots are also in the crosshairs.

A San Francisco animal shelter faced significant backlash when it began using a patrolling security robot. Angry residents vandalized the bot, knocking it over and pouring barbecue sauce onto its sensors, the shelter's president, Jennifer Scarlett, told the San Francisco Business Times.

This could be a sign of the public's attitude toward automation in general. The idea of automated technologies taking over human jobs en masse is worrisome, which makes the cab driver's "assault" on the self-driving Chevy somewhat understandable. After all, taxi drivers are among those in danger of replacement by these intelligent machines.

As one local news source pointed out, a self-driving Chevy Bolt played a role in an accident that injured a human being back in December 2017, so perhaps by attacking driverless cars, these people think they are simply sticking up for their species.

If that is, in fact, the reason they're attacking autonomous things in the first place. And not, say, out of mischievousness or boredom.

Additionally, the idea behind these technologies is that they'll ultimately protect humans. The purpose of the security bot was to discourage crime and make the workplace safer for shelter staff. Meanwhile, autonomous cars could make roads far safer by removing the number one cause of road accidents: human error.

The latter seems even more likely under the current circumstances - the fact that at least two people thought attacking an autonomous car was a good idea does little to encourage confidence in human decision making.

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