Uber has literally gotten away with murder, part 2.

"The human 'supervising driver' in a self-driving Uber is just a meat-based liability magnet."

An Arizona prosecutor has brought charges of negligent homicide against the first human driver to fail to prevent an imperfect "self-driving" vehicle from killing a pedestrian. [...]

It was later revealed that Uber's technology didn't have "the capability to classify an object as a pedestrian unless that object was near a crosswalk," either -- functionally condemning "jaywalkers," who endanger no one but themselves, to a swift and violent death for their crime. [...]

Perhaps even more disturbing than Uber's tech failures, though, is the fact that the company had actually disabled the automatic emergency braking functions of the vehicle [...] and relied instead on Vasquez to take notice of the walker and stop the car. However, the system was not set up to actually alert the driver of a possible human being in the road, because Uber had deactivated the forward collision warning technology, too. [...]

"The fact that this driver has been charged with a crime does not vindicate Uber in any way," said Bryant Walker Smith, a lawyer, engineer, and internationally recognized expert in autonomous vehicles. "For me, this crash comes down to a vicious cycle: The driver falsely assumed that Uber's software would be vigilant, and the designers of that software falsely assumed that the driver would be vigilant. ... I would argue that the companies that develop and deploy these vehicles are driving them -- conceptually and morally, even if not legally." [...]

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the death of Elaine Herzberg is that the driver who killed her has been charged with a crime. That's so rare that there's virtually no national data on how many drivers who strike pedestrians face legal consequences; one investigation found, for example, that less than 1 percent of Minneapolis drivers who struck walkers between 2010 and 2014 were tried.

As I said before:

So of course they're going to throw their lowest-level Uber employee "non-employee independent contractor" under the bus. But it's Travis Kalanick who should be in jail.

And as I said before that:

  1. The Uber executives who put this software on the public roadways need to be in jail. They disabled safety features because they made testing harder. They disabled safety features because they made the ride rougher.

  2. This notion that having a "safety driver" in the passenger seat will allow a distracted human to take over at the last minute is completely insane. You think driving-while-texting is dangerous? This is so much worse. When people aren't engaged in the task of driving, their minds wander. They cannot re-engage fast enough. This is obvious on its face, we don't need studies to prove it. Oh, but we have them anyway.

  3. I would still like to know the answer to the question of who gets charged with vehicular homicide when one of these machines kills someone. Even if they are ultimately ruled to be not at fault, what name goes on the court docket? Is it:

    • The Uber employee "non-employee independent contractor" in the passenger seat?
    • Their shift lead?
    • Travis Kalanick?
    • The author(s) of the (proprietary, un-auditable) software?
    • The "corporate person" known as Uber?

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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9 Responses:

  1. Eeyore says:

    Travis Kalanick had already been forced out of his job as CEO way before the accident. The name you are looking for is Peter Castelli, head of test operations at the time, and still there I believe.

    • jwz says:

      This was Kalanick's project, and even after being forced out as CEO, he still personally owns 8.6% of Uber.

      • Eeyore says:

        I am so totally not interested in absolving TK (as he was called internally) of guilt. His relentless, bonus fueled push for rapid deployment doubtless led to the corner-cutting risks being taken by the organization. I would just like to see Peter Castelli accept any responsibility at all; something he has completely avoided so far.

  2. Putting the blame on the non-employee independent contractor is such a transparent trick that it’s beyond ridiculous.

    Of course Uber would find someone somewhere that would accept the gig in exchange for a salary. That they are allowed to put the blame on her and get away with it is baffling.

    • Lloyd says:

      Is Rafaela as independent contractor, or did she accept the gig in exchange for a salary?

      Are these mutually exclusive?

    • Eeyore says:

      Test Operators for the ATG were hourly employees, not gig workers. All the Test Operators were fired after the accident, and invited to apply for whatever the new job title was.

  3. Corporate expansion demands blood sacrifice!

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