As the day when our robot overlords take control of Earth away from humans approaches, it remains unwise to taunt, provoke, or anger the robots of today. It is with this in mind that I salute the brave residents of Phoenix, AZ, for egging the self-driving Google-backed Waymo minivans testing on their roads.
Self-driving cars seem like an evolutionary step up from regular cars. Cruise control becomes adaptive cruise control becomes Super Cruise becomes driverless cars. Once you make the transition to full autonomy, though, self-driving cars become something more like giant robots that can pick your kids up from school, or help you get from your distant exurb to your downtown cube farm, or whatever other distopia awaits us.
Do we choose to bow prematurely to these robots, our future overlords? The people of Phoenix do not, as the Phoenix New Times reports. The Google-backed startup Waymo has been using the sunny streets of Phoenix to test its self-driving tech, in part because the government of Arizona is significantly less strict than neighbouring California and because driving in Phoenix has got to be easy for a robot. There’s no rain to get on your sensors. There are no confusing off-the-grid old town streets. There’s just endless urban/suburban thoroughfares designed with cars in mind.
The people of Phoenix have been egging these Google cars:
The incidents are detailed in newly released police reports obtained by Phoenix New Times that shed fresh light on the function and operations of the driverless vehicles, which are often cloaked in secrecy. The reports from Chandler and Tempe, released last week under state public records law, detail all Waymo-related cases since January 2020.
The Chandler reports also detail vandalism or implied threats to the vehicles and their backup drivers, a phenomenon first reported in late 2018 by the Arizona Republic:
* Someone threw an ice-cream cone into the open window of a Waymo vehicle.
* A man in a black car threw eggs at multiple Waymo vehicles. The Waymo backup drivers didn’t want to be contacted by police.
* A Waymo backup driver switched to manual mode after seeing traffic slowing and manoeuvring around what turned out to be a dead dog in a lane. As the backup driver passed the dog, “she heard someone yelling and swearing at her to slow down which she had already done.” A man standing in the bicycle lane, who she believed might have been the dog’s owner, lashed out at the vehicle, punching and breaking the mirror. The backup driver told an officer she’d have to ask Waymo if she should press charges. No further investigation took place.
The Waymo vehicles are not innocent actors here. They’re not simply minding their own business. They’re making trouble, as the New Times goes on to describe an incident in which a robot-car cut off a pair of motorcyclists with a sharp left turn. One of the riders was on a Harley, the other on a sportbike and wearing an “orange-coloured Tigger costume or pajama set.” The Harley rider approached the Waymo minivan, yelling, and the backup human driver had to escape, as the New Times details.
Only a robot driver would be foolish enough to cut off a Harley and Tigger.
In none of these stories do any of the Waymo backup operators express any desire to work with the police, or follow-through with any investigation of the incident. They know what side of history they stand on.