Spare No Expense…

Dr John Hammond described the safety measures employed in the original Jurassic Park as “sparing no expense” but admitted when things went wrong that no one reviewed the reviewers. The public deserves this and is going to demand it.

My dissertation topic has remained focused around the idea that the coming generation of robots needed to be tested more robustly than the tests we were currently performing. It was, and is, my conjecture that by applying James Bach’s Exploratory approach, we could define new tests which were needed , to complement the more traditional decision-tree kinds of approaches that are typically used in Acceptance Testing. When I started this project, that was a hard sell. Even my Dean said it was a silly topic with too much science fiction content. That was the better part of 5 years ago.

Nowadays, several companies including Google, Boston Dynamics, and GM, are showcasing possible robots that may soon be interacting with us, though most hasten to add that the robots are to be “service oriented.” Today, more voices are joining mine. More voices are beginning to appear in the main-stream media asking just how safe these robots are going to be. So far, the response has amounted to “don’t worry, we’ve got this.”

So far, vehicle tests have been mostly conducted to show that a group of vehicles can operate “together,” while safely maneuvering a test track. There’s a smart-road project being developed in Europe this year that steps beyond the test track and a new vehicle being released on the roads of Beijing this year as well.

The Cooperative ITS Corridor in Europe will ”harmonize smart-road standards” (Ross, P. 12/30/2014) and allow researchers to explore how vehicles of the future will interact. This road relies on wifi signals to communicate to all the cars on the road. Since so few vehicles are actually set up to receive these signals, the road project will allow the researchers to test theories about how differently equipped vehicles will interact.

The Chinese solution, on the other hand, assumes that a human will remain “in the loop.” “Our idea is not that a car should totally replace the driver, but that it will give the driver freedom.” (Wan, A. and Nam, W. 4/20/2015) Yu Kai, Chinese manufacturer Baidu’s top AI researcher suggests “…the car is intelligent enough to operate by itself, like a horse, and make decisions depending on different road situations.” (ibid)

Earlier this week, Dubai announced it was looking at rolling out “robo-cops” some time in the next few years, hopefully in time for Expo 2020. The Chief Information Officer and General Director of Dubai Police HQ Services Department says the move will help them deal with an ever-increasing populace. The robots will be part of the Smart City Initiative and will allow organizers to provide “better services” without hiring more people. Genra Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi says the robots will initially be used in malls and other public areas to increase police presence. At first, “the robots will interact directly with people and tourists. They will include an interactive screen and microphone connected to the Dubai Police call center. People will be ble to ask questions and make complaints, but they will also have fun interacting with the robots.” (Khaleej Times, 4/28/2015)

Alrazooqi says he hopes the robots will evolve quickly and that four or five years from now, the Dubai Police will be able to field autonomous robots that require no input from humans. “These will be fully intelligent robots that can interact with people, with no human intervention at all.” (ibid).

To me, this is scary stuff! I get the desire to move these things to the public sphere because there’s money to be made there, especially if you’re “first to market.” But there’s also a huge chance of killing this nacent industry if something goes wrong. So far, Acceptance Testing has been “good enough” for the kinds of experiences the vehicles have had. As we move these machines into the public arena and allow them to interact with “fragile and litigious” human beings, the testing must get more robust and the public made aware of the kinds of testing that have been done.

Khalej Times. (4/28/2015). Smart policing to come Dubai robo-cops. Retrieved from

Ross, P. (12/30/2014). Europe’s Smart Highway will Shepherd Cars from rotterdam to vienna. IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved from

Wan, A. and Nan, W. (4/20/2015). Baidu’s Yu Kai talks autonomous cars, artificial intelligence and the future of search. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from