The governor of Washington has green-lit the testing of self-driving cars on the US state's public roads, with or without human operators, calling the technology "foolproof."
Gov. Jay Inslee this week signed an executive order (PDF) that called for new rules on autonomous car testing and, for the first time, provisions to test cars fully autonomously on Washington's streets, without the need for a human to sit behind the wheel.
In order to operate completely sans-meatware, the car would need to be fully certified and shown to have safety protections in place to assure it can get itself out of harm's way should something go wrong.
"Vehicles shall be equipped with an automated driving system that performs all aspects of the driving task on a part- or full-time basis within the vehicle’s operational design limits, and it must be capable of bringing the vehicle to a safe condition in the event of a system failure," the order reads.
Inslee announced the move while flanked by executives from General Motors and Google, who will no doubt be pleased with the looser testing standards and are no doubt looking forward to exploiting the new rules. Inslee, meanwhile, will be able to court those companies to bring their jobs and tax dollars to Washington when they set up testing facilities.
The governor also seems to have an extraordinary, if not impractical, confidence in the safety of fledgling autonomous cars and complex computer systems in general.
"One thing I know about radar, it doesn’t drive drunk, it doesn’t drive distracted,” he is quoted as saying.
"We humans are really good at a lot of things, driving cars isn’t necessarily one of them compared to the automated processes that are digital and foolproof. I just have huge confidence in the safety aspects of this."
We dare say a few people, particularly security researchers and embedded engineers and AI developers and anyone else who has touched a keyboard and mouse, will take exception to the "foolproof" comment. On multiple occasions, experts have shown that connected cars are vulnerable to hijacking, and even without hackers, self-driving cars have been found to contain rather dangerous bugs. ®