Autonomous vehicles are dependent upon AI technology in that, to be autonomous in their driving or piloting, they cannot be controlled by people. Therefore they must make complex decisions required of drivers and pilots at least as safely and reliably as human drivers or pilots.
- They must recognize objects to the degree that both the value and the typical behavior can be assigned to those objects (i.e. people, pets, property, barriers, curbs, grass, trees, bridges)
- They must map trajectories of a wide array of object types based on their object type, what is known about that type of object, detectable variations such as age or condition, and what the object appears to be involved in doing at the time.
- They must be able to acquire publicly available representations of drive-able roads (route segments, connection points, and other data), match the representation with the current state of the roads, and track their progress along an intended route to the destination.
- They must plan their course in lieu of these real time and difficult to predict actions, traffic law, traffic conventions, traffic signs and signals, given destination, known possible routes, discontinuities, and anomalies.
- They must be able to alter the plan to reach the destination if at all possible regardless of changes and challenges encountered.
Driving or piloting a vehicle is an intelligence intensive task. The only reason AVs will likely surpass human driven vehicles on the road in the near future in terms of the distributions of rates of fatalities and injuries per million meter of travel in the near future is because humans have two key handicaps that offset their intelligence potential as drivers.
- Carelessness, as defined as multitasking either mentally or physically at a time when hazards might appear
- Selfishness, as defined as risking the life, health, or property of others to gain a transportation related or psychologically related advantage
Although the above two appear to be subjective, they can be easily proven empirically by taking a sample of traffic patterns at any point in time in any highly trafficked road in the world. This is less true of pilots.
We should not presume that artificial intelligence in AVs is achieved when the behavior of the human mind is copied. That is the criteria for Alan Turing's Imitation Game, a test that was intended to define intelligence in the context of natural language dialog. But words don't normally kill people directly. Vehicles often do.
It would be a very limited vision the potential AV design space to consider human minds as the model of driving excellence. The tasks should not be performed in the same way by the AI system. The AI design objectives of AVs should be more consistent with these concerns and interests.
- Road or sky safety laws
- Ethics regarding right of way in normal and emergency situations
- Civil rights concerns in terms of equal access to public resources
- Balancing of spacial flow details to maximize transportation throughput
- Collision aversion when difficult to predict risks emerge
These requirements on the cognitive and adaptive capabilities of the driving or piloting AI are not solely rule-based and mechanical. The vehicle itself is mostly mechanical in its operation, but it too presents surprises like blowouts or other difficult to predict failures. Vehicle control is not at all like chess or a game with a fixed rules of play and fixed game-play environment.
Although the intelligence requirements do NOT include self-awareness of itself as an intelligent system, there are forms of self-awareness required.
- The relative position of the exterior surface of the vehicle and its projected path relative to that of other objects
- The condition of the operational parts of the vehicle
- The mass and location of passengers and any other transported objects in the vehicle
The question ended with an interesting and challenging requirement.
Choose a good way to act in a never before experienced situation
That is perhaps the most challenging aspect of AV driving or piloting system design.
Returning to the question of, "Why are autonomous cars categorized as AI?", the meaning of AI is indeed a critical aspect of answering well. Taken literally, the term artificial intelligence specifies two things.
- It is artificial, in that it does not naturally occur in nature
- It is intelligent, in that it adapts in ways that, if those ways are mechanical, they are mechanical at a level of detail that is beyond obviousness without considerable study
As year dependent and culturally dependent as that definition of intelligence is, no other definition is quite as sustainable over decades from both scientific and linguistic perspectives. By narrower definitions, AVs may not require AI, but there is no compelling scientific reason to narrow the definition of AI to a subset of this previous definition.