Will driverless cars be the next frontier in crime?

Unmanned technology will change the structure of traffic, experts say.

Unmanned technology will change the structure of traffic, experts say.

Getty Images
Driverless cars could be used to commit serious crimes, including murders. Russian traffic police are concerned and neither lawyers nor artificial intelligence developers have a clear answer about responsibility.

Russian law-enforcement officers fear that cars without drivers could be used as instruments of crime some time soon.

"In 20 years, conventional cars will be replaced by autonomous vehicles just like cars once replaced horses," said Alexander Bykov, chief of the State Road Safety Inspectorate's Road Patrol Service department. "However, no one has studied the potential future dangers."

According to the Road Safety Inspectorate, Russia has already seen cases where cars have been remotely hijacked, electronically. The company Cognitive Technologies (CT) is developing an experimental unmanned truck for the Russian truck maker KamAZ, and plans to use an unmanned bus to transport World Cup fans in 2018. Developing security systems for this new form of transportation is a crucial challenge.

Minimal damage wins 

According to CT, unmanned technology will change the structure of traffic. However, not all situations on the road, especially those endangering the lives of drivers and pedestrians, will fit neatly into the framework of mathematical models.

"There is a set of moral aspects and criteria that must be considered in the development of robotic car driving scenarios," said Olga Uskova, President of CT. "For example, how should an unmanned car react in a difficult situation when a choice needs to be made and someone on the road has to be sacrificed."

In early 2016, CT conducted a study in Russia featuring more than 80,000 respondents. Participants favoured the scenario that ended with minimum damage, based on the number of lives saved. 

Uskova said most likely participants in the study were not fully aware that they themselves could be in the cab of a robotic car programmed to self-destruct along with the passenger, to save the lives of people who ran onto the road.

Robots as murder weapons

A driverless car can be used as a weapon, CT specialists confirmed in an interview with RIR. Criminals may affect the "active positioning system," which are devices and sensors. Or mechanically damage the vehicle, in which case, artificial intelligence will lose some functions. Finally, the control system can be hacked by cybercriminals.

"CT's approach is most resistant to external influences since the camera and 'intelligence' are located in the cab," Uskova said.

To counter attacks from hackers, Uskova said the company has protection similar to that of major financial institutions.

"When developing unmanned vehicle driving scenarios, we proceed from the first law of robotics formulated by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov; and try to minimize damage and casualties," Uskova said. "But we haven't yet succeeded in developing an adequate model capable of fully protecting the unmanned car from any possible impact."

Who's responsible?

CT plans to equip self-driving cars with recorders similar to the black box used in aircraft. Uskova believes it is crucial to develop new traffic rules in the near future, and to overhaul public roads by creating special lanes for unmanned cars and establish a system of signs and markings.

However, the question remains, who will be responsible for possible accidents involving a robotic car: the person in the driver's seat, or the developer?

"The law states that a vehicle should be driven by a person who is obliged to control it and be responsible for any consequences," Bykov said. "Essentially, it is the software system installed by the manufacturer that will be responsible for the autopilot's actions."

According to the first hearing in March organized by the State Duma's commission for the development of strategic information systems, all responsibility rests with the driver – even if he is sitting in a car controlled by AI.

"Now, artificial intelligence is only a system to prevent hazardous situations with minimal intervention in the control system," Uskova said. "With the development of unmanned vehicular intelligence, new legislation will be required, and the developing company will be responsible."

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

More exciting stories and videos on Russia Beyond's Facebook page
Read more

This website uses cookies. Click here to find out more.

Accept cookies