The end of public transportation. The future of public transportation.

post by MakoYass · 2018-02-09T21:51:16.080Z · LW · GW · 34 comments

[Epistemic Status: Opinion]

The following is just one vision, but it is an enticing one, and something like it will probably come to bear.

Owning an autonomous car will not make sense, because as long as they’re sitting in your garage they are being wasted. Anyone who did own one would be under economic pressure to lease it out to a fleet. They would ultimately be convinced to sell it to the fleet, because it is worth much more to the fleet than it is to them. If our markets did not completely suffice this expropriation of commons resources, the people would have to run in torch-and-pitchfork and liberate the cars themselves. It is both evil and stupid to keep these noble service robots pent in a garage.

Transportation will become a utility.

When the cars- algorithms so extensively honed and tested- effectively never crash, they wont need a strong, heavy frame. Since their users are not their purchasers and most trips- laid out in advance- are guaranteed to be short, they will not need large batteries either: Neither a purchasing department nor a routing algorithm has to contend with range anxiety. With the relatively simple electric motor parts and mass production on the dime of the new taxi companies (which will hopefully not be Uber. I see no reason why Uber would really have an advantage here.), they will be cheap as hell relative to the old human-driven cars. They will flood the streets.

A car running a sufficiently sophisticated coordinated driving algorithm will not necessarily ever have to stop moving. At intersections, they’ll be able to weave through each other like schools of fish. If the public don’t believe this they will be invited to download a simulator and watch it for a while, see how it works, and how tolerant it is to interference. The code will be public, of course, as the autonomous network is a public resource, and cars from competing manufacturers would like to be able to coordinate.

Gliding along on low-friction bearings, these lightweight electric cars that never have to stop moving will be gratuitously efficient, while anything carrying more than 10 people must start and stop constantly to let them on and off. To satisfy their conflicting needs, a bus would have to take a highly indirect route. This is the reason busses are slower than driving and there is no reason to perpetuate their waste once you have autonomous electrics littering every curb. Unless you have the same use case as long-distance rail, there is simply nothing to be batched here. You don’t benefit from batching people onto the same trip, you only waste their time.

From the perspective of an engineer, this future may seem very important.

Refutations are welcome.

34 comments

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comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-10T02:40:28.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Refutations are welcome.

https://www.readthesequences.com/Burdensome-Details

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T03:53:56.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you be more specific?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-10T04:11:04.289Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, but first let me ask—have you read the Sequences? (Asking to get a feel for what to assume you know and don’t know, etc.)

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T06:00:19.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have. Rereading this particular entry... I see it very differently than I must have the first time. I keep thinking the effects might be explained by status-signals/confidence-heuristics, EG, if someone says something implausible then says something plausible, the plausible thing makes them look like a Reasonable Person and so you trust the implausible thing more. Yes, that shouldn't have such a strong effect, it's still a bias, but I wouldn't call it a conjunctive reasoning bias.

Then there're the situations where people hear a conjunctive and act as if what were said were a conditional, and that's not so much a reasoning error as a listening error.

That aside, I think you might be misreading intent of this post? I am not saying "this will happen". If a detail is off, imagine the other ways it could have gone, many of them would lead to the same place, or a similar place. Many of the things that could prevent us from arriving at this future (failure to develop safe, open protocols, for instance) are bad, and instead of saying "it wont happen because X will happen, it's pointless thinking about" we should just start talking about X and how to prevent it. We probably have enough time to do something.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-10T09:08:47.679Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That aside, I think you might be misreading intent of this post? I am not saying “this will happen”. If a detail is off, imagine the other ways it could have gone, many of them would lead to the same place, or a similar place. Many of the things that could prevent us from arriving at this future (failure to develop safe, open protocols, for instance) are bad, and instead of saying “it wont happen because X will happen, it’s pointless thinking about” we should just start talking about X and how to prevent it. We probably have enough time to do something.

So, it seems to me that there’s three basic ways to interpret your post—three claims that it might be making (which certainly aren’t exclusive):

  1. “This [i.e. the described scenario] could happen.”
  2. “This [or something like it] will happen.”
  3. “This should happen.”

There’s little sense in discussing them all at once (or, God forbid, conflating them), so let’s tackle them individually.

“This could happen.”

Sure, maybe it could. Lots of things could happen. There’s actually not much to discuss, here.

“This will happen.”

The scenario described is conjunctive. Split it apart into individual predictions, and we might be able to discuss them. (If you think either X or Y could lead to Z, fine; let’s forget both X and Y, and just examine the claim “Z will happen”.)

“This should happen.”

Why?

That is: why do you want this to happen? (I don’t. Should I? Why should I?) Also, what specifically is the particular desired outcome? (And what exactly is desirable about it?)

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T21:08:27.947Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
There’s little sense in discussing them all at once

On reflection, this is not as reasonable as it sounds. A working intelligence must entangle the search for desirable outcomes with the search for attainable outcomes on pretty much every level.

A prediction search process that only covers questions of fact, with no regard for questions of desirability (or undesirability) (in sum, questions of importance), will effectively be undirected. It will waste hours trying to figure out minutia about things that don't matter. For instance, an undirected human intelligence might spend hours trying to model all of the mean things things that unimaginative people might think about it and how to rebuff them, without noticing that these peoples' opinions do not matter.

I think... explicitly distinguishing the conditionals from the conjunctives in this little look forward of mine is more work than I'm willing to do today.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-10T21:19:48.540Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A working intelligence must entangle the search for desirable outcomes with the search for attainable outcomes on pretty much every level.

“Entangle” how? Surely not by confusing or conflating the concepts…?

A prediction search process that only covers questions of fact, with no regard for questions of desirability (or undesirability) (in sum, questions of importance), will effectively be undirected. It will waste hours trying to figure out minutia about things that don’t matter.

What is a “prediction search process”…?

I think… explicitly distinguishing the conditionals from the conjunctives in this little look forward of mine is more work than I’m willing to do today.

Fair enough, but… well, look, you seem to be reading some very complicated things into my comment. All I want to know is:

What, actually, are you claiming? (Are you claiming anything at all? I assume so, since you asked for “refutations”.)

I listed three kinds of claims you might be making. Are you, indeed, making any of these three sorts of claims? If yes, which one(s)? And what are the claims exactly?

There’s no need to go off on any tangents about “prediction search process” or “undirected human intelligence” or anything like that. Really, I’m asking very straightforward questions here!

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T23:35:14.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
What is a “prediction search process”…?

This is a paraphrasing of what intelligence is. If you can implement a search for useful predictions that generalizes over some relatively broad domain of things that can be predicted over, that's AI-complete. That will be an AI. Is this not a common idea?

I am not conflating desirability with expectation. I will always speak of them in the same breath because they are entangled, not just for the technical reasons I expounded, but for deep decision-theoretic reasons that the field has only started to really get a grasp recently. There are many important situations where people/agents/crowds have to make a decision about what they will believe and what they want to be true simultaniously, because the beliefs/protocols/actions are a direct logical consequence of the desires. For instance, we attribute value to money because we want money to have value. If The Market comes to see some financial system as primarily parasitic or defective, and if they are good LDT agents, that system's currency will not be accepted by The Market after that point. The truth- whether it will be valued- will change because there are situations in which it the truth is a direct consequence of desires.

Which is not especially relevant.

I'm sorry, I've already explained the intent of the post to you. You didn't find the explanation satisfactorally reductive?.. I don't really know how to go any further there. I'm not sure how to go about justifying like, a conversation style. I understand where you're coming from. Personally I don't find the way of engaging that you're looking for to be fun or productive. You want me to drag you every step of the way.. That's what it feels like, anyway. I can't be the one to do that. I only have time to give a summary.

If that's not interesting to people, if I haven't motivated a deeper exploration or if it's not evident to enough people that this would be a useful framework for discussion, well, okay. Maybe I have alienated people who know this area well enoug to confirm or refute, or maybe this isn't the right medium for that.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-02-11T00:52:10.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I think you are not wrong about the entanglement of intellectual exploration and truth-value, I do think you did not really explain the intent of the post. You only really said half a sentence about it, and that one did seem pretty weird to me:

...and instead of saying "it wont happen because X will happen, it's pointless thinking about" we should just start talking about X and how to prevent it. We probably have enough time to do something.

This seems to indicate that your goal is to get the people on this site to start working towards the future you described, which seems like a valid and fine goal. However, at this point I am not particularly convinced that working on the future you described is tractable, something I can influence particularly much, or something I should care about. It sure sounds pretty cool, but there are a lot of visions for the future that sound pretty cool.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-11T00:32:15.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You want me to drag you every step of the way.. That’s what it feels like, anyway. I can’t be the one to do that. I only have time to give a summary.

Don’t have time?! You typed a way longer comment than you would have needed to type if you had just answered my questions!

I’m sorry, I’ve already explained the intent of the post to you. You didn’t find the explanation satisfactorally reductive?

You really didn’t explain it, though. You said “you might be misreading the intent of the post”… and then didn’t follow that up with a statement of what the intent of the post was.

Again, I’m asking very simple questions. You seem to be avoiding answering them. I’m not sure why. It seems like it would take you very little effort to do so, much less effort than making the comments you are making.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-02-10T12:42:47.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you think that scenario planning exercises aren't worthy to be discussed?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-10T17:41:51.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What?

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-02-11T00:22:54.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scenario planning is a common way to think about the future. It's not about arguing that a specific future has a high probability and will or should happen.

comment by quanticle · 2018-02-10T22:10:47.095Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post, to me, is a textbook example of the conjunctive fallacy (the so-called "Linda problem" from Thinking Fast and Slow). It plays on people's desire to believe narratives, so by constructing a detailed narrative of how a single particular future would operate, you've made that particular future seem more likely than all the rest.

In reality, any future transportation scenario, whether it contains self-driving cars or not, whether it contains public transit or not, will be equally plausible and inevitable-seeming after it has come about. Your narrative does not show why it is any more likely or plausible than all of the other detailed narratives that could lead to other scenarios.

More specifically, I read things like

If our markets did not completely suffice this expropriation of commons resources, the people would have to run in torch-and-pitchfork and liberate the cars themselves. It is both evil and stupid to keep these noble service robots pent in a garage.

Or

The code will be public, of course, as the autonomous network is a public resource, and cars from competing manufacturers would like to be able to coordinate.

and "bullshit alarms" immediately trip in my mind. People hoard scarce resources today; why doesn't the public run in and liberate them? Critical infrastructure is already computerized (and, even more horrifying, sometimes already hooked up to the public Internet) without its code being open source.

Until you can explain how we get from our present transportation equilibrium to your future utopian vision (beyond handwaving it away by saying, "Economic forces will take care of it.") your vision remains nothing more than a castle in the sky.

comment by tristanm · 2018-02-11T21:01:19.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not actually seeing why this post is purely an instance of conjunctive fallacy. A lot of the details he describes are consequences of cars being autonomous or indirect effects of this. And that's not to say there are no errors here, just that I don't think it's merely a list of statements A,B,C,etc with no causal relationship.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-02-10T12:41:30.311Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People own expensive cars today even if they could buy a cheaper car that also gets them from A to B. When car ownership is a s status symbol the economic pressures don't get people to stop owning them.

Owning your own car means that you can customize it's interior to your liking. There are people who live in an RV today, and if you don't anymore have to be in front of the wheel an RV can be smaller and still provide the same amount of livable space.

When people don't spend their time in front of the wheel, the functionality of the rest of the car becomes more important as well.

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T20:53:13.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most status symbols I have known are not customized. I don't see why status symbols and luxury cars wouldn't be subject to the same economic pressures to lease.

A case could be made for ownership when the car owner has extremely specific needs. Hmm, which user cases does that apply to? I can kind of imagine use cases where a specialist car would be rare enough that it would be inconvenient to share it, I find it hard to think of a scenario where a car cannot be shared. Generally that's the role of static buildings.

I hope that in these cases, it will be easy for an end-user to connect a car they own to a fleet- and that the cars wont be prohibitively expensive to own. This is one of the reasons we need public coordination protocols, and a competitive manufacturing industry.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-02-11T01:16:23.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Most status symbols I have known are not customized.

Suits are commonly customized by a tailor.

I find it hard to think of a scenario where a car cannot be shared. Generally that's the role of static buildings.

Why? A lot of things that are done with static buildings don't depend on the specific location of the building. If my flat would move around within the city in which I live that wouldn't reduce it's value but add to it.

An RV has the potential to store a lot of personal items that the owner might not want to share. If you have a fridge, it loses value when you share it and it becomes important that everytime you drive you have actually access to your own fridge.

comment by jbash · 2018-02-10T15:50:41.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see. These vehicles can "weave through each other". Great. Can they weave through pedestrians? If they can, are pedestrians biologically capable of avoiding massive stress from being "woven through" by large fast-moving objects?

If it did work,or for any other fleet system, here are some futher predictions:

The code won't be public. People are routinely thrown in prison right now based on output from non-public code.

It will be basically impossible to go anywhere without creating a record. These records will be kept basically forever and will be accessible to more or less any powerful institution... but not to YOU, Citizen. This will most likely be used to profile you for various purposes, many of which you probably wouldn't see as in your interests. If this is somehow avoided, then the interiors of the shared vehicles will literally be smeared with shit.

Those interiors will be utilitarian (perhaps able to survive being hosed off...) and not especially comfortable.

While you're whizzing along on low friction bearings, advertising will be blaring at you. If it's possible to shut it up at all, it will cost you.

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T20:47:40.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
If this is somehow avoided, then the interiors of the shared vehicles will literally be smeared with shit.

The system would work like this: If a car arrives and a user finds it's smeared with shit, they report it, it goes into the depot for a check. Since the record tells us how long they were with the car, we know it wasn't them who applied the shit[1]. We infer that it was the person before them. We get a license to decrypt their name and address. We fine them. I don't know why you would think this was unsolvable.

[1]: it's possible a person could, in the two seconds after opening the door of a clean car, throw in a bucket of shit, close the door, then report the damage. People don't generally do that.

Hmm. It occurs to me that this behaviour looks a lot like someone using the cars as a garbage can, which some assholes might legitimately want to do. Someone would have to be a sociopath to realize that they could do this and get away with it. It would be rare. If they're using it for regular trash disposal, that could probably be proven in court. Look at them, look at the person they're accusing. You can probably figure out which one is the motherfucker pretty easily in most cases. The incentive to do this isn't there.

comment by jbash · 2018-02-11T00:45:59.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Since the record tells us how long they were with the car, we know it wasn't them who applied the shit

Right. That's why I only said the shit-smearing would happen if the record-making werer somehow avoided. Assuming you can actually keep track of who's using it, you can deter vandalism most of the time.

You might have trouble with out-of-towners or people with nothing to lose, though. And let's not make it too simple; it's a BIG DEAL to ban somebody from the only available form of transportation... that's something you wouldn't want to see done without due process.

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-11T20:07:27.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
And let's not make it too simple; it's a BIG DEAL to ban somebody from the only available form of transportation

I said you just fine them for damages. Why would you call for a ban?

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-10T20:35:57.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
If they can, are pedestrians biologically capable of avoiding massive stress from being "woven through" by large fast-moving objects?

Are people biologically capable of sitting in a theatre in front of an image of an oncoming train? I think for anyone with mental fluidity, it will be hard to avoid coming to relate to cars... sort of in a similar way to how we relate to cattle. A single cow could kill you. They're enormous, heavy, they run faster than you. But they're afraid of you. They refuse to touch you.

There's still a point there, though. In many cities, a lot of people will want ot be on the road. That will be annoying. See any intersection crossing in a major city, it gets crowded. I think retaining the same laws for pedestrians might be the best solution... traditional pedestrian crossings do slow down urban traffic, yeah? But are they the bottleneck?

I can't work with this resignation to the code not being public. That would be an awful awful outcome. The cars wouldn't be able to coordinate, they'd just end up having to drive mostly like humans. It would be hard to guarantee public safety. There would be huge political pressure for the code to be public. It might not amount to anything in america (though even that claim seems diliriously cynical to me), but elsewhere, it would amount to plenty, and once, EG, Germany did it, the pressure to copy it would be overwhelming. It wouldn't be hard to do, because it's an open system.

ad hellscape

I don't believe these are really possible. Advertising garners the advertiser very little value per-user. It economically cannot be netting the advertiser service so much that you couldn't just pay them a nominal fee to have them stop advertising you if it was bothering you. All that's needed is a good, low-friction payment platform. We don't have one, right now, so we still see ad-funding everywhere. If BAT takes off, it'll end. Small donations will more profitable than advertising and any user with any taste will prefer paying 4 dollars a month (not per service, distributed between all services) over seeing ads.

The poor, at least under complete information, would not need to pay as much to offset the value of advertising to them, because advertising to them is not as profitable.

And if some way were found to increase the profitability of advertising, to make it more likely to change your behavior... the only way to do that to you is to make the information seem useful to you, and unless you've abdicated from faith in talking and critical reason, that seeming can only be sufficed by making it actually useful to you. This outcome could not be described as a hellscape. That would be an efficient information routing system and it would be extremely helpful.

The only remaining case for awful advertising that I can see just collapses to a case for arbitrary extortion... which is just... okay you don't believe there will be open code. Well. Fight. You've seen what will result from a closed marketplace. Fight it.

comment by jbash · 2018-02-11T00:53:18.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Are people biologically capable of sitting in a theatre in front of an image of an oncoming train?

The whole reason you'd put an image of an oncoming train in a movie would be that it does stress the audience. A little stress can be fun.

I'm not so sure that people would be very comfortable with cows if cows were in the habit of running nearly silently out of nowhere and passing them 2 meters away at 40 km/h. I think after one cow did that in front of me and another one did it behind me a second or two later, while a stream of cows whooshed by on the cross street, I'd start to get pretty nervous about cows. I guess maybe I'd get used to it if I'd had years of experience to show me that cows unerringly avoided me. But I wouldn't bet too much on it.

But that's neither here nor there; I don't think the vehicles could reliably miss the pedestrians to begin with, and you seem to agree.

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-11T20:10:15.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
and you seem to agree.

Where? No, I think that'd be fairly easy, though not something you'd want them to have to do too often, I'd guess it'd require them all to slow down a lot.

comment by jbash · 2018-02-11T00:58:31.349Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I can't work with this resignation to the code not being public. That would be an awful awful outcome. The cars wouldn't be able to coordinate, they'd just end up having to drive mostly like humans.

Sure they could coordinate. They'd use the ISO 27B-6 Car Coordination Protocol, which would be negotiated in a mind bogglingly boring and bureaucratic process by the representatives of the various car companies. Those companies would have big bakeoffs where they tested against each other's implementations. They would probably even hire auditors to check one another's implementations.

You could buy a copy of 27B-6 for 250 dollars or so.

The IP network we're talking over uses public protocols. Some specs are free, but you have to pay for others; you couldn't build a smart phone (legally, and including building the chips that go into it) without spending thousands of dollars for copies of standards. And a ton of the products involved have private code.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-02-11T20:07:48.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not that hard to get an ISO protocol into public availability if people care about it. There's sci-hub. For the more traditional way, you likely will have lawsuits about accidents that still happen and those might put a lot of the relevant documents into the court proceedings and thus into public domain.

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-11T20:54:03.536Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Geez, interesting, that's pretty dire.

Here's the thing though. There's less of an immediate need for an cars that can cross the boundaries between cities, for long trips it becomes reasonable to ask the user to change cars. The systems can be localized. If this is treated as a municipal issue- which it is- similar to public transport, it will be exposed to a lot more effective political light. A lot of municipal governments are corrupt, but most of them are more representational than national government. If the public can be convinced to say "actually we would like it to stay cheap, free and safe", a lot of people will listen.

comment by jbash · 2018-02-11T01:08:54.483Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The only remaining case for awful advertising that I can see just collapses to a case for arbitrary extortion... which is just... okay you don't believe there will be open code.

So, if the advertising is there by default, that means that the advertiser is already "extorting" my attention, and has already shown a willingness to extort money from me to make the advertising go away.

More correctly, the advertiser already seems to see my attention is their property, rather than mine. If that's how they view it, the price of selling it back to me isn't going to be determined by what they make off the ads. It's going to be determined by how much they think I will pay to be left alone, at least unless I have some other leverage. If you want to call that extortion, then, fine, I believe there'll be extortion. I don't believe they'll think of themselves as engaging in extortion, though.

How would you expect to "fight it"?

comment by jbash · 2018-02-11T01:02:51.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
All that's needed is a good, low-friction payment platform. We don't have one, right now, so we still see ad-funding everywhere. If BAT takes off, it'll end.

I don't know what BAT is, but I do know that we all wanted micropayments instead of an advertising-supported Internet in 1990.

Even if you have a good micropayment protocol it can be hard to get everybody enrolled. Remember, you have to enroll everybody you'd see on a city bus. That means the 12 year old kid, the homeless guy, the 85-year-old who already has trouble every time they change the coin till, and even the crazy drunk. They all have to be able to figure it out, they all have to be able to get an account, they all have to be able to fund stuff, etc.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-02-11T21:54:47.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know what BAT is, but I do know that we all wanted micropayments instead of an advertising-supported Internet in 1990.

What makes you think so? When I heard Marc Andreessen opinion on the topic, than he said that one of the main reasons why payment in the internet didn't get implemented is because the guys didn't bother.

Phone calls and SMS do have payment options and there's no foundamental reason why they didn't bake payment into the web on a basic level expect that they didn't bother at the time and focused their attention on developing different features.

comment by MakoYass · 2018-02-11T20:55:32.537Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

BAT is Basic Attention Token, part of the Brave project IIRC. Though it's not necessary for micropayments replacing advertising, it's a direct path.

It's weird to think that digital micropayments simply weren't possible until cryptocurrency started to attack the legal barriers, but that is what I'm thinking.

comment by Dagon · 2018-02-12T17:15:46.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The same can be said of beds, kitchens, musical instruments, laptops, etc. If you're predicting the end of private property, you're consistent but deluded. Heck, the majority of airplanes (by count, but perhaps not by passenger-miles flown) are privately owned.

Looking at "ownership" simply in terms of "use of commodity service" is massively oversimplifying. Even if most people didn't care about signaling (which isn't true), the vast majority DO care about guarantees of availability, and the option-value of being able to go somewhere without waiting to begin.