The Human Condition and Conditional Autonomy
Control is at the heart of any endeavour. Mechanical control is designed into components. Autonomous control is programmed into processes, including mechanical control. Human interaction within any control process introduces the possibility of habitual or repeated error.
Technology has advanced autonomous control in ways that were once considered impossible. Early Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) developed into Direct Numerical Control (DNC) and 3D modelling techniques. This has led to automated robotic manufacturing processes with minimal human interaction. Now that new technologies integrate and connect almost anything seems possible.
However, whilst still at the dawn of what seems to be an endless progression towards autonomous controlled systems and machines, there still lies the problem of the human condition where processes and controls are still impacted upon by human interaction.
At this stage in history, the human condition and conditional autonomy are very much a cooperative union. Man and machine but more. The machine is becoming intelligent whereas the human remains both intelligent and emotional. For example, some car manufacturers offer self-parking and proximity sensing functions. Both controlling the vehicle using sensors, programming, conditional logic and mechanics to do something which would normally be done by the driver. If done solely by the driver then experience and emotions become a huge part of the process resulting in either a confident approach, a nervous approach, a successful result or a poor result.
Another aspect of the human condition and still using the driver and vehicle example is that the driver may not even care about how well the car is parked or what the consequences are for the pedestrian or the vehicles close by. Although the driver can sense, is aware of proximity to other obstructions and space, the driver chooses to park in this way. Choice is part of human behaviour and in general, is governed by levels of self-discipline, self-respect, education, background and concepts of legality conformance.
A more serious characteristic of habitual bad driving behaviour is that of which leads to convictions and endorsements. In the UK it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 drivers still driving legally with more than 12 penalty points on their licence, 200 of that amount, with over 18 penalty points and some with over 50 points. A point to consider is that without any attempt to enforce a ban on these drivers the convictions become familiar to the offender and lose any deterrent. Unchecked the bad behaviour will continue.
For businesses and organisations with fleets of vehicles and employees that have driving duties or drive company cars, any bad driving behaviours or repeated offences can bring serious consequences. It is in their interest to be able to identify the risks associated with the interaction of the driver and the vehicle. Any vehicle risk can be dealt with in the garage or with the manufacturer, however, with the employee, a more complex approach is required. The risk has to be evaluated, monitoring via licence checking has to be ongoing, corrective training should be provided and then more monitoring until the risk has been reduced or removed.
Conditional autonomy will continue to develop, soon drones of all types will be common, robotics will advance and our lives will be more controlled by computer databases and processes than ever before. Not necessarily in some dystopian Orwellian way but in a consciousness of the need for added health and safety where sectors of industry and working practices are considered medium to high risk.
So until the technology of the future reveals fully autonomous vehicles, without the need for human interaction, habitual and repeated bad driving behaviour will require habitual and repeated licence checking and evaluation. With monitoring, training and correction, where the individual is responsive to such observation and assistance, then the joint control of the human and machine can continue for as long as it is considered essential.