A New Regulatory Agency for Autonomous Technology Is Needed First

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
January 29, 2015

We are not ready for driverless cars because our public officials lack the expertise to evaluate the safety of this new class of automobiles.

When Congress asked the Department of Transportation to determine whether a software glitch caused Toyotas to suddenly accelerate, the agency had to ask NASA. Just imagine: the nation’s top scientists had to take a break from placing robots on Mars to look at a Toyota. Without better understanding of how automation can affect driverless vehicles, I worry state and local governments will have to either take Google’s word on faith as to the safety of their cars, or else block the technology entirely.

This problem extends beyond autonomous cars: The Federal Aviation Administration is unlikely to allow companies to deliver goods by unmanned drones — the only way drone delivery makes economic sense — because the agency lacks the capability to evaluate pilotless safety systems. Additional examples of situations where agencies don’t know enough about the technology to govern it include the Securities and Exchange Commission dealing with trading algorithms and the Federal Communications Commission assessing the utility of smart radios, which can "choose" which frequency to operate on.

Read the full op-ed at The New York Times