The Dangers of Semi-Automated Driving

Last week, a Tesla driver was killed in a fatal car crash while using Autopilot. Neither the driver, nor the Autopilot noticed a tractor trailer crossing lanes and Tesla explained that the vehicle’s sensors had failed to recognize “the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky”. This will undoubtedly raise many questions about autonomous vehicles and driving, which are necessary and important, but aside from that it should also raise questions about semi-automated driving.

As Tesla points out, the Autopilot isn’t quite a fully autonomous driving assistant, but rather “an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. Because of this, Tesla (and many media outlets covering the accident) were quick to shift the blame from Autopilot to the driver, who didn’t comply with instructions and placed too much trust in the Autopilot feature. Reportedly the driver was even watching a Harry Potter movie while being chauffeured by his car.

While it is true that the driver apparently didn’t follow the instructions for Autopilot properly, it would be too simple to absolve the technology from any fault, because semi-autonomous driving features blatantly disregard how humans function: We don’t have unlimited attention spans, we can get tired and we can easily lose focus and concentration when we’re bored. Advanced-but-imperfect partial automation lulls humans into a false sense of safety, yet requires human intervention at the most critical moments – when imminent danger or catastrophe looms. Don Norman has been arguing for many years that the transition from partial to full automation poses the greatest danger when it is almost complete and he just published a paper on the challenges of partially automated driving in May 2016, which I would highly recommend for anyone interested in the topic.

Recommended Reading: The WRT54GL

I just read and enjoyed this:

In a time when consumers routinely replace gadgets with new models after just two or three years, some products stand out for being built to last. Witness the Linksys WRT54GL, the famous wireless router that came out in 2005 and is still for sale.

Read “The WRT54GL: A 54Mbps router from 2005 still makes millions for Linksys”

I still have one of these stashed away somewhere, sadly unused. It was a great little router back in its day, but I wouldn’t buy one today. Nevertheless, probably the only piece of networking equipment to achieve true cult status.

Recommended Reading: Open Whisper Systems >> Reflections

I just read and enjoyed this:

Indeed, cannibalizing a federated application-layer protocol into a centralized service is almost a sure recipe for a successful consumer product today. It’s what Slack did with IRC, what Facebook did with email, and what WhatsApp has done with XMPP. In each case, the federated service is stuck in time, while the centralized service is able to iterate into the modern world and beyond.

So while it’s nice that I’m able to host my own email, that’s also the reason why my email isn’t end to end encrypted, and probably never will be. By contrast, WhatsApp was able to introduce end to end encryption to over a billion users with a single software update.

Read “Open Whisper Systems >> Reflections”

Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind

Blake Ross, co-founder of Firefox and former director of product at Facebook, recently shared a personal revelation of his: That he can’t visualize things in his mind:

I just learned something about you and it is blowing my goddamned mind.

This is not a joke. It is not “blowing my mind” a la BuzzFeed’s “8 Things You Won’t Believe About Tarantulas.” It is, I think, as close to an honest-to-goodness revelation as I will ever live in the flesh.

Here it is: You can visualize things in your mind.

Read “Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind”

Upon reading the article, I immediately panicked and started wondering whether I could lack that ability myself without ever having noticed, but upon trial and reflection I’ve concluded that I am capable of visualizing things in my mind, I’m just not very good at it:)

It’s remarkable to imagine how different the experience of the world and memories must be when you can’t visualize anything in your mind, and I find it even more remarkable to go through life for more than 30 years without noticing that your mind works differently than the minds of most people around you.

What Happened to Google Maps?

Justin O’Beirne explores some design changes to Google Maps over the past few years:

Browsing Google Maps over the past year or so, I’ve often thought that there are fewer labels than there used to be. Google’s cartography was revamped three years ago – but surely this didn’t include a reduction in labels? Rather, the sparser maps appear to be a recent development.

Coming across this article I was immediately reminded of an article from 2010 that provided in-depth analysis and discussion of Google Maps in comparison to Bing Maps and Yahoo Maps – turns out that article was by Justin O’Beirne as well!

The trouble with 3D Touch

Jason Snell isn’t entirely happy with 3D Touch:

Although Apple’s proud of the peek/pop interface that it unveiled with the iPhone 6s, I’m skeptical of its utility. Most of the time, when I accidentally initiate a “peek” of the content behind whatever I’m pressing on, it’s content I was already trying to see by tapping. Loading a “peek” doesn’t really take any more time than actually tapping on an item and loading the result, and returning back to the previous screen seems a lot less work than holding your finger on the glass while you peruse a “peek” to see if it’s worth opening the rest of the way.

In other words, most of the time I don’t see any benefit to using 3D Touch to reveal content in apps over just tapping to reveal that content the usual way. It’s a solution to a problem we didn’t have.

That’s exactly what I was thinking when Apple announced the feature last fall: “Why the hell would anyone use “peek” when I might as well just click through?” Back then I hadn’t had a chance to try the feature for real and was certain to have missed something, but it would seem that initial skepticism was right.

Jason goes on to propose a simple fix for 3D Touch – make it backwards-compatible with the majority of the iPhone install base:

That’s why the right thing for Apple to do is to change the behavior of 3D Touch in a future version of iOS so that it has a non–3D-Touch equivalent. In other words, 3D Touch should just be a faster, more efficient version of a gesture that every iOS user can perform. That way, users of devices with 3D Touch will get a benefit, but app developers don’t have to think about implementing a feature that won’t work with most devices.

Sounds about right to me.