Autonomous Vehicles


James Mattis, a Warrior in Washington

The New Yorker

On January 22nd, two days after President Trump was inaugurated, he received a memo from his new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, recommending that the United States launch a military strike in Yemen. In a forty-year career, Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had cultivated a reputation for being both deeply thoughtful and extremely aggressive. By law and by custom, the position of Defense Secretary is reserved for civilians, but Mattis was still a marine at heart. He had been out of the military for only three years (the rule is seven), and his appointment required Congress to pass a waiver. For the first time in his professional life, he was going to the Pentagon in a suit and tie. Mattis urged Trump to launch the raid swiftly: the operation, which was aimed at one of the leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen, required a moonless night, and the window for action was approaching. Under previous Administrations, such attacks entailed ...


Upcoming Utopian Novels (Now that We Live in a Dystopia)

The New Yorker

A futuristic novel, "2084" centers on a self-driving car named Winston that lives in a world where humans have reversed global warming. His owner is a math teacher named Julia. Children from every state are invited to participate in a national art competition as a result of the incredibly well-endowed federal arts budget. The winners travel to Washington, D.C., and meet the President of the United States, who is a very kind woman and also a doctor. Written in Seussian rhyme, this children's book is filled with many cute animals that live wherever they like, not necessarily on a farm!


Trump's Confusing Strike on Syria

The New Yorker

On August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda suicide bombers struck two U.S. embassies in East Africa, killing two hundred and twenty-four people, most of them Africans. Two weeks later, President Bill Clinton launched Operation Infinite Reach, a fusillade of cruise missiles aimed at a reported Al Qaeda meeting in Afghanistan, and at a factory in Sudan, which was suspected of involvement with chemical weapons. "There will be no sanctuary for terrorists," Clinton declared. The retaliation produced few tangible benefits. And yet, since then, from Kosovo to Waziristan to Libya, the United States has repeatedly threatened or carried out missile and drone attacks and air strikes for limited and sometimes imprecise purposes.


Could Ms. Pac-Man Train the Next Generation of Military Drones?

The New Yorker

Thirty-five years ago, while Martin Amis was writing "Money," one of the novels that defined the nineteen-eighties, he admitted to a distracting dalliance with another contemporary icon. "I have spent weeks in a PacMan-fed stupor, unwilling and unable to think about anything else," he wrote in "Invasion of the Space Invaders," his "addict's guide" to the nascent arcade. Amis was not alone in his obsession. The Japanese-made game, in which players guide an auto-munching yellow head through a Daedalian maze, consuming a trail of pellets while fleeing four candy-tone ghosts, earned more than a billion dollars in quarters in its first year, surpassing the highest-grossing "Star Wars" film at the time. Pac-Man towered, Amis wrote, over "a vast garbage dump of rocky romances and wrecked careers."


At Volkswagen, a Scandal Where Executives Could Pay the Price

The New Yorker

At the Detroit Auto Show last week, Volkswagen hoped to escape the present with a nod to the past, introducing a revamped version of its iconic flat-faced, boxy Microbus, the vehicle that shepherded the counterculture across the interstates some five decades ago. The bus's reincarnation is a battery-propelled, self-driving vehicle called ID Buzz. But nostalgic wing-vent windows and chrome trim could not distract from the company's current predicament. Barely had the auto show kicked off when the Justice Department announced that VW had pleaded guilty to criminal and civil charges related to its efforts to cheat on U.S. emissions standards. The company agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties, the largest fine ever levied by the U.S. government on an auto company, dwarfing both Toyota's $1.2-billion settlement for vehicle-safety problems involving unintended acceleration and GM's nine-hundred-million-dollar settlement for ignition-switch defects.


Will Driverless-Car Makers Learn to Share?

The New Yorker

Last Monday, the Obama Administration released a hundred-and-twelve-page policy tome, "Federal Automated Vehicles Policy," which, despite its sleep-inducing title, found an eager readership. The document contained long-awaited regulatory guidance on self-driving cars--a concept that has gone from sci-fi fantasy to legitimate industry in just a few short years. The official reaction from manufacturers has been muted. Nonetheless, the internal reaction was likely relief. Without federal recognition and regulatory authority, the autonomous-vehicle industry exists in legal limbo.


A Ride in Uber's Self-Driving Car

The New Yorker

One day they just appeared--Ford Fusions, some black, some white, with UBER stamped on the side. With their twenty cameras, seven lasers, and rooftop-mounted G.P.S., the self-driving cars stood out. People stopped and stared as they took trial journeys around Pittsburgh. That was in the spring. Now, in the waning days of summer, passengers hailing an Uber X may be picked up by one of the city's many human drivers, or by one of a tiny fleet of autonomous vehicles.


Additional Ethical Questions for Driverless Cars

The New Yorker

The ethics of driverless car technology is . . . A report [in June] in the journal Science found that most people surveyed think that it would be more moral for a driverless car to be programmed to crash into a wall and sacrifice its passengers rather than hit a larger number of pedestrians, if it only had those two choices. If you don't brake, you will kill the squirrel. However, you happen to know that the squirrel is on his way to kill two other squirrels. What if the two other squirrels are known arsonists?


Learning to Trust a Self-Driving Car

The New Yorker

On a clear morning in early May, Brian Lathrop, a senior engineer for Volkswagen's Electronics Research Laboratory, was in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S as it travelled along a stretch of road near Blacksburg, Virginia, when the car began to drift from its lane. Lathrop had his hands on the wheel but was not in control of the vehicle. The Tesla was in Autopilot mode, a highly evolved version of cruise control that, via an array of sensors, allows the car to change lanes, steer through corners, and match the lurching of traffic unaided. As the vehicle--one of a fleet belonging to Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute, which Lathrop was visiting that day--lost track of the road markings, he shook the wheel to disengage Autopilot. "If I hadn't been aware of what was happening, it could have been a completely different outcome," Lathrop told me recently.


Will the Tesla Model 3 Be the First Truly Self-Driving Car?

The New Yorker

On the evening of March 31st, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla's sinuous Model 3, the company's first "affordable" electric-car model. After touting the sedan's punchy acceleration, two-hundred-and-fifteen-mile battery range, and sweeping, seamless glass roof, he mentioned its base price of thirty-five thousand dollars and told the audience that prospective buyers had already reserved more than a hundred and fifteen thousand of the vehicles, to rapturous applause and shouts of "You did it!" Not one to miss a marketing trick, Musk capped the night on Twitter, with a cryptic thank-you message that promised more: "Thanks for tuning in to the Model 3 unveil Part 1! Part 2 is super next level, but that's for later . . . Within hours, the tech community was awash in speculation about what more Tesla could have in store for the Model 3. Some wondered, specifically, whether it would be the world's first mass-market, fully autonomous self-driving car. Spurred forward by Google and other Silicon Valley companies, the auto industry has been tinkering with autonomous vehicles for years.