Are Deadlocks Possible with Self-Driving Cars?

12. February 2012, 17:45

I can’t wait for the day when my car drives itself, but we probably have a long wait before that happens. When people talk about the difficulties of developing car-driving AIs they usually bring up children or pets running into the road or other conditions that require correct, split-second decisions. However, while driving to the train station the other day another kind of problem was presented to me in the form of a potential driving deadlock, pictured below.

Car A wants to make a left turn but must wait for car B to pass (since B has the right of way). Car B must wait for truck C to get out of the road. Truck C is stuck behind car A and is taking up both lanes. In this case the person driving car B will wave car A on and once A has moved the truck can fully pull into the left lane and B’s path will be clear. However, putting this chain of evens together might be difficult for an AI. If any one of the elements was a person they would eventually get tired of waiting and either back up or try some dubious driving to get where they are going. However, three AIs that follow the rule of the road to the letter might just sit there forever if their designers didn’t do something to avoid deadlocks.

In any case, I think that it will be problems like these that pose the largest barriers to car-driving AIs, not things like being able to brake in time to avoid accidents when something suddenly runs into the road.

Ben Firner

Programming Philosophy

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