Millard-Ball on Programming Autonomous Vehicles for Safety

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Adam Millard-Ball joined an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History” to discuss the future of autonomous vehicles. The safety of autonomous vehicles was originally framed as a technological challenge that required a programming solution, but the main issue is actually the people outside the vehicle, Millard-Ball explained, beginning at minute 26:50. “If you are a pedestrian and you have that confidence that the autonomous vehicle is going to stop and yield to you as it legally should, then there is nothing to stop you from taking the right of way,” he said. Autonomous vehicles are programmed to maximize caution, which allows the pedestrian to make the first move instead of waiting to see what the car will do. “The more unpredictable a pedestrian appears, the autonomous vehicle will recognize that unpredictability and be more cautious,” he explained. Autonomous vehicles allow for a role reversal where the vehicle caters to the pedestrian’s erratic behavior.

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