Ultrasonic Harm and AI Self-Driving Cars

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By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

The law of unintended consequences is going to impact AI self-driving cars. You can bet on it. Actually, as a society, we’re likely mainly interested in the “adverse” unintended consequences side of that natural law, since there are bound to be lots of otherwise “favorable” unintended consequences – the favorable benefits we can all readily live with. It’s the adverse ones that pose potential concern and could lead to harm.

You might recall that in the 1990’s there was the advent of the passenger side airbags on cars, which everyone at first thought would be a great safety add-on to cars. Few cars had it initially and only the more expensive new cars were outfitted with it. Gradually, the cost dropped and most of the auto makers included those passenger side airbags in their basic models. So far, so good.

But, what began to emerge were reports of small children getting harmed when the passenger side airbags deployed. This was due to the aspect that small children and in particular babies in their special car seats were not the designated occupants that the airbag was intended to save. Those airbags were intended to save someone larger and older, such as teenagers and adults. Unfortunately, it was actually at times harmful to the youngest occupants. It became recommended to put your baby in its car seat into the backseat of the car, thus avoiding getting harmed by a passenger side airbag that might deploy in an accident. This though led to parents forgetting that their baby was in the backseat of the car and produced hot-car deaths, another adverse unintended consequence.

The sad but telling point to the story is that something that was supposed to be good turned out to have unintended consequences. In this case, I’ve focused on the adverse unintended consequences. As a society, we need to determine whether the adverse unintended consequences are so bad that it perhaps causes us to rethink whether the innovation should be continued. Before an innovation is unleashed onto the world, presumably someone is calculating the risks versus rewards to ascertain that the ROI or rewards exceed the risks, but this is usually done only with respect to the intended consequences. Often, the unintended consequences are unforeseen. Once those unintended consequences are encountered, we need to rebalance the equation to include both the adverse unintended consequences and the favorable unintended consequences.

Thus, this:

  •         Initial ROI calculation: Risk versus rewards of Favorable intended consequences + Adverse intended consequences
  •         Emergent ROI calculation: Risk versus rewards of Favorable unintended consequences + Adverse unintended consequences
  •         Full ROI calculation: Risk versus rewards of Favorable intended consequences + Adverse intended consequences + Risk versus rewards of Favorable unintended consequences + Adverse unintended consequences

Let’s take another example and see how it played out. In Australia, when they first mandated that bicycle riders must wear bike helmets, it was done to save lives. Research had shown that bike riders without helmets would often land on the ground at high speeds and their skulls would get damaged or cracked. Wearing a helmet seemed like a good idea. Rather than making it a voluntary act, the viewpoint was to make it mandatory. Of course, throughout the United States there are many jurisdictions that have done the same.

Pass a Helmet Law, Get Fewer Bike Riders

In this case of Australia, a follow-up study that was undertaken after the helmet law was first enacted discovered that many young people such as teenagers were no longer riding bikes at all, due to the helmet law. These young people perceived that wearing a helmet made them look bad, and culturally it was considered out-of-touch to wear the helmets. But they also faced strict enforcement of the helmet law and so they knew that if they rode their bikes and didn’t wear the helmet they would likely get caught and punished. So, they opted to do less bike riding. The study suggested that this led to those young people doing much less exercise and tending toward becoming physically unfit or even overweight. This is another example of an adverse unintended consequence.

The rise of electronic devices in our lives has offered many great benefits, but they have also raised some adverse consequences. Remember the argument that holding a cell phone to your ear could possibly cause cancer? This is still being debated today. Another adverse aspect involves possibly playing games on your smartphone and doing so to the extent that you become anti-social and no longer communicate human-to-human with those around you. These adverse aspects are considered unintended consequences. In theory, nobody that designed and is selling these phones is doing so to purposely make people become anti-social and nor so that they will get cancer.

Another example of the potential dangers of electronic devices might be the underlying explanation for the sicknesses that have befallen the United States diplomats that were stationed in Cuba and that were stationed in China. You might have seen in the news that there were U.S. diplomats in both of those countries that began to say that they were experiencing an unusually large number of headaches and dizziness. At times, it was a mild aspect. For some of those diplomats it became debilitating. The symptoms seem to come and go, for some of the diplomats, while others of those complaining about the health concerns appear to have more enduring complications, and deeper complications such as ongoing nausea and other incapacitating problems.

No one really knows what is causing the health issues. Could it be mass hysteria that has overtaken them? This seems highly unlikely. Could it be something they ingested like water or food? This also has been generally ruled out. Could it be some kind of deliberate attack against them? This certainly seems like a strong possibility because of who they are and what they represent, thus, it is a carved out slice of the population that have in common their work mission. But, Cuba and China have indicated that this is nothing they have caused and do not know what is producing these results.

One of the latest theories is that it might be something electronically based. Maybe these diplomats are being targeted with some kind of special ray gun. The ray gun beams electro-magnetic waves at them. The intensity and prolonged nature of exposure to the rays then causes the symptoms that have been reported. It could be some new sneaky approach to “invisible” attacks against our diplomats. The U.S. State Department is investigating these matters and not yet stated whether these are deliberate attacks and nor whether there is any kind of electronic connection to the matter.

Another similar theory is that the symptoms are indeed electronically based but perhaps accidental in their consequences. Perhaps the diplomats have been working or living in a building that so happens to have an abundance of electronic sensory devices and that the ultrasonic signals that emanate from those devices are the culprit to all of this. The motion detectors surrounding them, the air-quality sensors, the automatic light switches, and so on, perhaps those in-combination are producing a bombardment of signals that fall outside our hearing range, and yet can also impact our brains.

The prolonged exposure to these ultrasonic signals might be scrambling the neurons of the human brain and thus leading to the dizziness and headaches. Consequent symptoms like the nausea and the rest might all be attributed to the distortions to the brain. If the distortions are long lasting, it could lead to a long lasting physical manifestation of the symptoms in the rest of the human body. High frequency noise has been shown to have adverse consequences that can produce these kinds of health issues.

If you are the suspicious type of person, you might even suspect that the governments in those locations have maybe opted to purposely cause this. Perhaps they are using special ray guns that produce ultrasonic signals and they are beaming them at our diplomats. Why? Maybe to see whether it works to harm and disrupt them, and maybe as an experiment to ascertain whether it might be handy for other situations and against other potential “enemies” when needed.

If you are a less suspicious person, you might go with the explanation that maybe there was some kind of experiment, and maybe it wasn’t quite so lethal, but that it combined with other ultrasonic “exhaust” already in that location. Thus, let’s suppose there is a normal amount of ultrasonic exhaust, and you add to it with a bit more for the “experiment” and then the combined total goes over a threshold. In that sense, the experiment wasn’t purposely trying to harm, and maybe it was a listening device that was supposed to be able to listen-in on our diplomats. This is seemingly less evil in that they were indeed doing something untoward, but not in a means that was quite so dastardly.

Nobody knows right now for sure. Well, at least nobody is openly telling what it is. Could be a secretive cold war kind of fight taking place and maybe the public will never know what happened. The main “solution” right now has been to remove the diplomats from where they are working and living, and hopefully wait and see that the symptoms subside. Let’s hope that however it has occurred that there isn’t any permanent damage to them.

With the advent of ultrasonic tones throughout our daily lives, maybe all of us are gradually getting similar exposure. There are devices such as automatic door openers and smart street lights that tend to give off some amount of ultrasonic exhaust. We might all be daily exposed to these same kinds of signals. You might not be getting sufficient exposure to yet react to it. Or, you might react to it and shrug it off as some other aspect, like maybe you aren’t getting enough sleep or maybe that you bumped your head on a low doorway frame the other day.

What does this have to do with AI self-driving cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are examining whether the use of numerous sensory devices on a self-driving car might have unintended adverse consequences due to ultrasonic exhaust.

Let’s consider this aspect for a moment. The good news about AI self-driving cars is that they potentially can save lives and make our world into a better place. Those are some of the stated intended consequences. True self-driving cars, considered at the Level 5, will drive entirely without human intervention, and indeed the thinking is that a human driver won’t be allowed – no driving controls for a human, and instead it is entirely and exclusively driven by the AI. Some say that this means that ultimately humans won’t be allowed to drive at all, and for those that like driving a car, this seems like an adverse intended consequence.

For more about the levels of self-driving cars, see my article:  https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/richter-scale-levels-self-driving-cars/

What about potential unintended consequences?

Potential Unintended Consequence of ULtrasonic Exhaust

One such potential unintended consequence of self-driving cars might be that we would become exposed to ultrasonic exhaust.

I am sure we would all agree that we can classify this as an adverse unintended consequence, rather than being considered a favorable one (unless you have an evil plot to destroy mankind and figure this is a means maybe to do so; or maybe try to beam some kind of mind control at humans as they go around in their AI self-driving cars!). There really is not much dispute that there will be some amount of ultrasonic exhaust, which comes with the territory of the sensory devices on an AI self-driving car. The question arises as to how much is too much?

There’s an added twist too. One key idea is that a confluence of ultrasonic rays is the manner in which this happens, namely that if you have a lot of devices doing the ultrasonic exhaust, they in accumulation lead to excessive amounts that are then harmful. Not just one everyday electronic device is likely to be enough exposure. Well, we know that an AI self-driving car is a smorgasbord of electronic devices. You’ve got your radar devices, back and front of the self-driving car. You’ve got your sonar devices all around the self-driving car. You’ve got a LIDAR device on the self-driving car, depending upon the type of self-driving car. And so on.

For more about LIDAR, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/lidar-secret-sauce-self-driving-cars/

Therefore, by design, a self-driving car is chock full of electronic devices. This means that the opportunity for them to create a confluence is pretty high. When the self-driving car is in motion, you can bet that nearly all of those electronic sensory devices will be active. Indeed, at higher speeds they are even more active in order to detect what’s going on around the self-driving car. As it were, as a human occupant in a self-driving car, you will be in a virtual shower of ultrasonic exhaust. It will be all around you, and you won’t see it.

Sometimes we can hear the ultrasonic exhaust. It depends on the nature of your hearing and the nature of the frequencies of the ultrasonic sounds. It has been reported that some of the diplomats claim they believe they did hear tones in their ears, or sometimes a tingling sensation in their ears. Was this real? Or, is it something in hindsight that they believe because they are told that it might be an ultrasonic bombardment? Even if they did hear something, perhaps it has nothing to do with the situation at hand at all.  Again, still a mystery.

In addition to the sensory devices on the self-driving car, you are likely to have something like Siri or Alexa on-board too. The odds are that you’ll talk to and with your AI self-driving car. Take me to the ballgame, you tell your AI self-driving car. Stop at the market so I can get some beer on the way, you command. A few years ago this idea of talking to your car might have seemed space age and science fiction like. Given the popularity nowadays of speech interaction systems via our smartphones and specialized devices, I think we can all agree that it is highly likely that these speech interacting systems will be used in AI self-driving cars, and there’s nothing odd or peculiar or unusual about it.

See my article about natural language processing and in-car commands for self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/car-voice-commands-nlp-self-driving-cars/

This though means more ultrasonic sounds will be involved. Yet again adding to the confluence. Furthermore, there is a potential added “adverse unintended consequence” to the use of the in-car commands capabilities, namely that someone nefarious can try to send sound signals to your in-car command system and take over the control of your self-driving car. There have been experiments shown that via high-frequency ultrasonic sounds that aren’t heard by humans, you can send commands to Siri and Alexa, and those systems will act on those commands as though they were spoken directly to those devices. This is a loophole that hopefully will ultimately be closed off.

For ways in which cyber hacking will occur to AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/catastrophic-cyber-hacking-self-driving-cars/

What else have we got inside the electronic bazaar of an AI self-driving car? Well, you’ve got your full-on entertainment system. Since we will be in our AI self-driving cars a lot, maybe around the clock, you might have big screen TV’s inside your self-driving car. You might have some kind of LED external displays on the outside of your self-driving car, doing advertising and generating you some cash by the advertisers eager to use your self-driving car to push their wares. More and more ultrasonic signals that can be added to the confluence.

See my article about the predicted non-stop use of AI self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/non-stop-ai-self-driving-cars-truths-and-consequences/

See my article about the framework for AI self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/framework-ai-self-driving-driverless-cars-big-picture/

Suppose you opt to essentially live in your AI self-driving car. You go to work in it. You sleep at night in it, perhaps while it is driving you to your next destination or wherever. You use it for trips to the store. You use it for going to a vacation spot. All the time, maybe getting exposed to ultrasonic exhaust. Today, most people are only in their cars for short bursts of time. In the future, it is likely you’ll be spending extended periods of time in your AI self-driving cars.

What about your children that will be extensively using your family AI self-driving car? They’ll get exposed too to the ultrasonic exhaust. What about other human occupants, such as if you opt to turn your AI self-driving car into a ridesharing vehicle. You rent it out for use, hoping to make some money and cover the cost and expenses of the AI self-driving car. Perhaps each of those occupants also now becomes exposed to the ultrasonic exhaust.

Who will be responsible if we later on discover that the amount of ultrasonic exhaust was harmful? You, the owner of the AI self-driving car? Or, the auto maker that made the car? Or, the tech firm that did the electronics and the AI of the self-driving car? It could be a messy legal matter to sort out. Worse, still, the health harm could have arisen, occurring before we even knew that it could happen, and ended-up harming a lot of people.

That’s a potential adverse unintended consequence, for sure.

Should we just wait and see how this plays out?

Hopefully, instead, we’ll all be working toward figuring it out beforehand. It really should be in the category of potential “intended” adverse consequences, rather than the unintended bucket. We are already aware of the possibility, so let’s get to it now. How much ultrasonic exhaust are we as a society willing to allow, given that the AI self-driving car has so many other societal benefits. There’s that risk versus reward equation to be dealt with.

See my article about the product liability aspects of AI self-driving cars: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/product-liability-self-driving-cars-looming-cloud-ahead/

I’d even wager that there is an additional exposure that goes beyond just your own individual AI self-driving car. Once we have lots of AI self-driving cars on our roadways, will this then allow for even greater levels of confluence. There you are, heading along on the freeway, in your AI self-driving car, and not a care in the world. Meanwhile, next to your car there is another AI self-driving car – in fact, you have other AI self-driving cars to your left, to your right, in front of you, and behind you. Suppose the ultrasonic exhaust spills over into your AI self-driving car?

It could be that maybe a solo AI self-driving car only produces some amount N of ultrasonic exhaust, not enough to directly harm you, but when the surrounding AI self-driving cars are producing some amount Y, the combined N plus Y is sufficient to harm those nearby. Thus, even if you study the impact of one AI self-driving car, you might be missing the bigger picture that someday they will be all around us. The confluence might only be triggered once there are enough of them on the roadways and driving relatively near to each other.

One possibility of resolving this consists of lowering the amount of ultrasonic exhaust being emitted. This requires likely redesigning the electronic devices that are being used on AI self-driving cars. No one is going to worry about a costly redesign until or if someone says that there are dangers from the ultrasonic exhaust.

Another possibility consists of some form of shielding within the AI self-driving car or something that surrounds the sensory devices to dampen the ultrasonic exhaust. This though again requires a belief that there is a potential harm and so worth the cost to devise. It also could increase the weight and size of the devices, all of which will impact the weight and size of the AI self-driving car. It might rise the costs of the AI self-driving car, making it less affordable. It might turn it into a heavy tank, impacting gas mileage or EV consumption, and so on.

We need to keep at top-of-mind that for each such solution there is a likely intended and unintended consequence.

Allow me to offer the added thought that we don’t yet know that this ultrasonic exhaust is even an issue at all. Some might contend that we don’t have any proof as yet that the ultrasonic exhaust was the culprit in the case of the Cuba and China incidents. Nor do we have any proof that an AI self-driving car might have this kind of unintended adverse consequence. I agree that it’s speculation and conjecture at this time.

It’s timely for the AI self-driving car industry to consider doing experiments and research to try and ascertain whether there is any validity to these potential concerns. A colleague the other day said to me that he was going to put a bunch of white mice into a self-driving car and have it drive them around for a week to see what happens. I realize the idea of the ultrasonic exhaust might elicit these kinds of comments (he wasn’t serious; it was his way of making a joke about it). I’m not so sure that we should just laugh off the matter. I don’t want to be accused of falsely saying that the sky is falling, and so don’t please mistake my remarks in that manner. Just figured that I’d bring up something worthy of consideration. And, try to get us to consider it beforehand, rather than after-the-fact when the damage has already been done.

Copyright 2018 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.