Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Lost Old Man Losing His Memory

I'll explain why there will never be self-driving taxis and those who think software and computers and robots are going to take over the world are very confused.

Back when I owned a taxi I used to do what are called desegration routes. I took little black kids who had a school across the street to a white school out in the county. I usually had to get them there about 7:47 am and it was about a 20-minute ride. So I usually didn't get up until about 7.

One time I went to a 7-11 to get some pastries and milk and probably some of those cheap cigars I used to smoke. It was drizzling a bit.

As I got into my car I noticed an old man, with a small plastic bag in his hand, walking in the rain. I knew what was going on: he had walked to the convenience store to get something to eat and was walking home in the rain. He had to live maybe one or two blocks away

I pulled up next to him and told him I would give him a ride, no charge. He got into the car. They always got into the car.

I guess he was about 75. He told me, in a calm voice, that he remembered his address but could not remember how to get to his house, even though he had lived there 30 years. So he gave me his address and I took him home. He lived two blocks away.

No self-driving taxi, robot, is going to look at old man walking in the rain and realize he was in trouble. But a human could.

That was not the only time I did such things. Once I got some gas and the attendent pointed to an old lady on the street and said he believed she was in trouble. I told her I would take her home, no charge.

She told me her address and I realized she was walking in the opposite direction.

She lived about seven blocks away, and I took her home. She insisted on paying me and even let me in her house (this was very common). She gave me, if I remember correctly, a quarter, which amused me. Apparently she still thought it was 1935.

These things are why there will never be self-driving taxis. They can't put a wheelchair in the trunk and help an old lady with a bruised hip up three flights of stairs and carry groceries inside or tell when someone needs helps just by looking at them.

By the way, such things as this happened to me a hundred times.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

These aren't reasons there won't be self-driving taxis. These are reasons there will be consequences to self-driving taxis.

You're dealing with a generation of people who text someone 3 feet away from them rather than talk to them. They aren't going to empathize with someone who exists almost entirely outside their own technological world and whose existence is largely unknown to them. I think in the end what will happen is we'll get an ever increasing technological world until the whole thing collapses when it becomes clear that the technology cost a great deal of money and contributed little of economic value.

August said...

Logically, it does not follow that the self-driving tech won't be pushed into the taxi arena just because of what you did with a few old people. They'll push the self-driving tech as far as they can, and we'll just get more stories about lost old people, wandering further afield than they did back in the days when you were around to help them.

The tech isn't there to make the world safe, but to make some company money.

Bob Wallace said...


"These aren't reasons there won't be self-driving taxis."

Actually they are. Some big company might try to go with self-driving taxis and a small company will use human drivers and clean up. No hospital is going to call a self-driving taxi when they need a human driver to put a person with a cast on their leg and in a wheelchair in the car and the wheelchair in the trunk.

I owned taxis for five years. See how it works?

I'm always amused when someone with no experience tries to tell me how things are going to be when I've had many years experience in the field.

kurt9 said...

Some big company might try to go with self-driving taxis and a small company will use human drivers and clean up. No hospital is going to call a self-driving taxi when they need a human driver to put a person with a cast on their leg and in a wheelchair in the car and the wheelchair in the trunk.

I can tell you the only time I've used a taxi is to go to the airport when I'm traveling for a long enough time that it is more expensive to park my car in the "economy" lot, which is about one week, and my wife is not able to drive me. If self-driving taxis prove to be cheaper, I (and most anyone else going to the airport) will most certainly prefer them over human operated ones. The same is likely to be true for those going to hotels from the airport at their destinations as well.

I don't know the size of the market for taxi service to hospitals and other clinics. It may be substantial, and yes, self-driving taxis will not about to replace human operated ones in this market. Indeed, the operator will be more of a nurse or a paramedic rather than a driver and the car itself could still be fully automated. It is likely that the taxi market will fragment, as do all markets with technological innovation. Travelers to and from airports will use fully-automated taxis. People going to medical institutions will use human operated ones. Both kinds of taxis are likely to be owned and operated by the same taxi company.

Bob Wallace said...

"Both kinds of taxis are likely to be owned and operated by the same taxi company."


Under a free market (and that is why is happening to taxis because of advanced technology) some taxi companies will have six taxis.

I owned a taxi company that had three taxis.

Anonymous said...

I suppose there can be a mix of taxi-types in the future perhaps - self-driven, robot taxis and taxis having live, organic human drivers.

Maybe even a combined self-driven/live organic human driver taxis, where the human driver is like an attendant like on a streetcar. I've read somewhere that modern commercial airliners can practically fly themselves, but for obvious reasons have a live human pilot on board. I think it would be awkward for passengers to be flying on a plane without a human pilot or attendant, like flying on a big drone.

"Most modern commercial jet aircraft are flown 90% of the time by auto-pilot systems, and even can land themselves in poor weather using Autoland capabilities linked to ILS."

Bob Wallace said...

A smaller company with human drivers will clean up. Hospitals aren't going to call ambulances with paramedics to take someone home. That's a thousand dollars a pop. A taxi is $20 and when you're dealing with welfare hospitals they can't afford to call ambulances just to take someone home. So they called us.

I took home drunks, mental cases, old senile people, crippled people, disabled fat people, epileptics, diabetics, very old people and god knows what else. I also delivered packages and letters and even organs in a cooler. Only a human can deal with such things, not robocars and not robots.

Glen Filthie said...

I will respectfully disagree.

Microprocessors and electronics are becoming more versatile, more user friendly, more robust, and more versatile by leaps and bounds, in orders of magnitude.

Three computers fly the Marines V22 Osprey, Bob. That bird WILL NOT fly under human control. Early versions tore themselves (and their crews) apart when the computers got in a poop loop and fought for control. Today those birds operate in weather, under fire...and do a better job of it than a human pilot.

I scratch built one of those multirotor drones for a toy. 8 years ago the PID flight controller would have cost around $800.00 or more. Today they are stamped out in China for 20 bucks a pop.

Your taxi didn't save the day with that old man, Bob - you did. The industry will change. Customers that need special care will get it - for extra $$$. In special situations they will eat the costs themselves - most airlines have 'bereavement rates' for relatives going to distant funerals that might not otherwise be able to pay full fare. I think 'auto-taxis' are plausible...and if they are, they will merely change the way we care for customers with special needs.

Carl said...

There is no money going into infrastructure that needs to be maintained. So when this POS technology gets stuck in a pothole or runs into a ditch, what then?

A.B. Prosper said...

All true, U.B as it only applies to taxis. A lot of scut work can be done by machines in other areas though. For example much, certainly not all of the trucking industry can be automated and with good use of specialized pallets, robots can even unload the truck.

So if robots cost say 30% of jobs at first than move to 50%, we've still made society untenable for the less skilled or those who don't possess some specialized marketable talents .

Or optionally you arbitrage wages closer to minimum and the minimum wage becomes what the majority of the population makes

with actual real world scarcity in play not to mention Keynesian money printing this means that prices never drop fast or far enough to avoid impoverishing the entire population.

what happens is a magnification of what you get in Europe, a decline in the birth rate to well below replacement in the middle tier and as the population becomes skewed , more and more immigrants are brought in.

And no, for the most part, you aren't going to have a functional society if people use religion to convince people to act against their own interests. A Neo-Victorian slum would be more 1st world than Mombasa.

This means a free market with too much automation is an express train to the 3rd world.

The entire edifice of capitalism , a functional 1st world society and the market depends on good growing wages and to a lesser degree, a growing population.

No jobs means no money, no babies and no future as a developed country

ray said...

"She lived about seven blocks away, and I took her home. She insisted on paying me and even let me in her house (this was very common). She gave me, if I remember correctly, a quarter, which amused me. Apparently she still thought it was 1935."



When I'm in need of a little bit of consultation
used to call on my Uncle John
took a trip down to West Virginia
found him dead and gone.

And as some sort of silly little consolation
they gave me my ticket back.
What you gonna do with folks like that? (JT)

Anonymous said...

"I'm always amused when someone with no experience tries to tell me how things are going to be when I've had many years experience in the field."

But you misunderstand, sir. You define the taxi business as "working" when it provides a service to people. You assume the value added by the service will produce the revenue to produce the profit. Self Driving Taxi, Inc. defines the taxi business as "working" when it provides a profit to Self Driving Taxi, Inc. for taking little to no risk.

The beauty of the self driving taxi scheme isn't efficiency or customer service. The beauty is that Self Driving Taxi, Inc. can get its' technological development paid for by some publically funded university. Then it can get the public to fund the infrastructure it needs to function under the guise of creating jobs. Then it can fund it's startup costs from cheap money issued by the fed, essentially stealing the capital of people who are productive in the economy, among them cab drivers. Then they'll use some of that money to pay their senator to force insurance companies to cover the cost of private hospital vans for "special needs" people like your hospital example; simultaneously passing off their inefficiencies on the public and bribing the hospital with a revenue source of its' own.

Self driving taxis will happen not because they're a good idea but because they are a means for the connected to steal the money of the unconnected.

Bob Wallace said...

"Self driving taxis will happen not because they're a good idea but because they are a means for the connected to steal the money of the unconnected."

That's what already happens with human-driven taxis.

I have a lot of experience in this field and nothing but a huge, very rich company is going to get robocars.

No taxi company is that rich.

Human drivers are going to be around for decades and robocars are always going to be a novelty. Most people who use taxis aren't going to get into them, because many people who use taxis are lower-class and they're not going to trust a car with no driver.

By the way, I only know one person killed in a taxi and the driver was a foreigner.

Bob Wallace said...

"So when this POS technology gets stuck in a pothole or runs into a ditch, what then?"

When I worked on a production line one machine caught on fire. People had to put it out. Machines break down all the time (I remember the Blue Screen of Death on Microsoft software that used to happen all the time).

You wait until a software or machine fail in a highway truck or a taxi and several people die. Sooner or later it WILL happen, because nothing is perfect. While people will forgive a human they're not going to forgive a machine.

marlon said...

They don't forgive the human; they lock him up.
There will be both human-taxis and robo-taxis.
The robo-taxis will be cheaper and thus there will be a market for robo-taxis.
Uber or Lyft or some other company will own them, service them, and send them out.

Similarly robo-trucks are coming for the same reason: cost.

Anonymous said...

It's arrogant to say that just because you drove a taxi for a mere 5 years that you are the absolute authority on them and the industry. Although robo taxis may not dominate the industry in the near future, how can you say that they never will? It's foolish. Times change. Economic incentives for companies change; which I could easily see being a combination of traditional taxis and robotic ones. I fully expect the taxi industry to follow whatever model makes their bottom line grow. Companies care about their bottom line, not necessarily customer service. If the economic incentive is there, the industry, and all laws and regulations pertaining to the industry will change along with it. So what if some drunk asshole or senile old woman gets dropped off at the wrong place by a robot taxi? You don't think laws will be in place to absolve the taxi company of liability?

If I've learned anything about the modern economy, it is that service and quality will often take a back seat to profits derived through corrupt channels. This is not 1955. Nobody has the time or soul anymore to give a shit about the distressed old lady who accidentally gets dropped of in Harlem and not Hampton by a robo taxi.

Carnivore said...

I'm an old fart. I park the car and walk into the bank to deal with a teller. Have only used an ATM once in my life and tend to avoid the drive thru. I never liked the check-yourself-out lanes in the grocery store and the vast majority of the time went through the human cashier lane. Apparently, many people agreed with me because those lanes were replaced with express lanes with human cashiers. I wouldn't consider a robot taxi.

AAB said...

Carnivore said:
Apparently, many people agreed with me because those lanes were replaced with express lanes with human cashiers.


Yeah here in the UK Morissons are replacing their self-service checkouts with staffed ones as well. Personally I don't understand it self-service seems more convenient, but some people seem to like to talk to other humans while they're getting their shopping packed.

Morrisons to bring back staff at 1,000 'express' checkouts after admitting customers find self service tills 'scary'

Rusty Shackleford said...

I'm an introverted, borderline misanthrope, so of course I prefer the self checkout lanes. I go out of my way to use the human run lanes, though, just as my little contribution to our side in the war against the machines. I want grandma to keep her job. The one thing that makes me skeptical in the narrative about the machines taking over, are the massive quantities of people that the third world is turning out. Aftica's population for instance is set to double in the coming decades. They'll be coming here looking for work, eventually, and there's no indication that our elites won't let them in. The question will then be why do we need machines when human life and labor are cheap? The Greeks developed the steam engine, but it was never anything more than a toy to them because slave labor was so abundant. If nothing else, that will be acting as a brake on automation in some sectors.

Bob Wallace said...

"It's arrogant to say that just because you drove a taxi for a mere 5 years that you are the absolute authority on them"

I saw things in those five years you can only imagine. I did not just own a taxi for five years; I used to sell them and owned a taxi company with three taxis.

You drive one for five years and then you're qualified to advise me.

Rusty Shackleford said...

Bob, what do you think about Uber? Is it competing directly against traditional taxi companies and is it good for drivers? For me it would be nothing to pick up a Crown Vic that met their specifications and start driving when the paperwork cleared. I'm really enjoying the taxi posts, by the way.

Anonymous said...

"I saw things in those five years you can only imagine"

Unlikely. I served in Vietnam, then I worked as a police officer in Oakland for 6 years. Your cab experiences wouldn't phase me. Not one bit.

You are wrong about robo cabs. You just won't admit it. I suppose you don't have to though. This is your blog.

With regard to who is driving the cab, there is a huge segment of the population that would rather deal with a computer than a swarthy, stinky middle-easterner. Virtually every woman on planet earth comes to mind. Cabbies are wretched people overall. Why do you think Uber is so popular?

Some of us old guys understand the younger generation and the world they live in. Some other old guys don't. You and I are in distinctly different camps it would seem.

Rusty Shackleford said...

I wondered yesterday whether Uber was a threat to regular cabs, and today French Muslim cabbies (going by the photos)are blocking the streets, beating up Uber drivers and rioting in Paris because of Uber. Courtney Love was caught up in it and bitched on instagram:

"how on earth are these people allowed to do this? the first car was destroyed, all tires slashed and beat with bats, these guys trying to open the doors and the cops are doing nothing?? French Taliban? civil reform needed in France?? I want to go home"

So apparently Uber is at least a perceived threat to traditional cabs.

Rusty Shackleford said...

Computer controlled big rigs, delivery trucks, taxis and other service vehicles are a completely different proposition than other forms of automation. If someone puts a robot in their factory, that doesn't directly affect me. If someone puts a robot vehicle on the same roads that I drive on, I just became a part of their engineering experiment. What % of the population is comfortable sharing the road with robo cars? Beyond that it's naive to think that you can release these things into the real world and that they will be able to handle all of the changing variables such as crime, weather, traffic, construction, etc. as dynamically as a human brain. If a robo car were released that could do that, it would be a moot point because that level of technology would put 99% of the human population out of work in every other trade and profession as well. Who will be left to pay for a cab?

As long as humans are still a part of the economy, you will need another human to handle human relations. Even with computer check out lanes, you still need an attendant to prevent theft, check IDs for alcohol and cigarettes, do price checks, get stamp books and answer for a thousand other things. I do think it's possible, though, that we will eventually see self driving vehicles paired with human drivers handling logistics, emergencies, etc. Whether even that makes sense outside of long haul trucking seems questionable to me.

Bob Wallace said...

"Your cab experiences wouldn't phase me. Not one bit."

It's a lot more dangerous driving a taxi than being a police officer. Look at the stats. Spend five years with a stranger in the back seat. I've known drivers shot in the back of the head twice, stabbed in the face with knives, kidnapped and robbed, murdered. How often does that happen to police officers? It's very rare. Being a police officer is a much safer job than they let on.

"Who will be left to pay for a cab?"

Speaking of paying for taxis, 99.999 percent of my passengers paid cash. Many of them were on welfare. They didn't have bank accounts and credit or debit cards. I picked them up and went to three or four different places so they could do their business at the beginning of the month when they got their money. How are they supposed to pay a robocab? Have one of those little ATM machines in the taxi that recognized cash? How is the taxi supposed to know it picked up the right person? And what if six people piled in the cab?

How would one of those taxis take a five or six-year-old kid to and from school? I took "mentally slow" kids home more than once. And Down Syndrome kids. And scared kid who started crying because they were convinced I didn't know where they lived.

If there is a market for robocabs, I'd estimate it at two or two percent.

By the way, I also delivered packages and letters and again, organs for transplant. This is for humans to do, not machines.



Mindstorm said...

I guess multirotor security drones would never make any difference either? :)

From the perspective of a pedestrian/occasional driver, I prefer to cross paths with moving large objects that have the shortest reaction time possible, don't drink and drive, and have practically constant real-time awareness of the whole 360 degree area around them.

Anonymous said...

"It's a lot more dangerous driving a taxi than being a police officer."

I'm not going to argue with that, as it is a true statement. But that was never my point. My point was that I have seen the worst of the worst, just as you have. On that thread, lots of jobs are much, much more dangerous than being a police officer; CALTRANS worker, line worker, tree trimmer, and of course cab driver comes to mind. I personally responded to 4 incidences involving cab drivers in my short career, one was a homicide. Cab drivers being assaulted was almost a daily occurrence in many parts of Oakland. Further reason for a change in the industry in my opinion. I could never understand why anyone would drive a cab in the inner city. Maybe that's why it's largely foreigners who do the job; they're the only ones willing to do it. That was largely the case back in the late 70's, and is still the case today. Russians used to be the only ones willing to do it back then. They have since wised up. I haven't been to Oakland in years, but I doubt I would ever see a Russian cab driver there anymore.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bob - quick temporary post because I'm too lazy to log in to your comment system.

You can't just tease us with hints like "I did not just own a taxi for five years; I used to sell them and owned a taxi company with three taxis."

You can't just give us little scraps and expect us to be satisfied.

Tell us about your employees. Tell us about your management style.

Bob Wallace said...

"Tell us about your employees. Tell us about your management style."

Cab drivers are independent contractors because most of them cannot work for other people. I had no management style, except I asked them to not blow up my taxi and pay the pro (which means "prorate") which came to perhaps $25 a day. Everything beyond that was theirs - I sometimes made over $200 a day.

Bob Wallace said...

"I prefer to cross paths with moving large objects that have the shortest reaction time possible, don't drink and drive, and have practically constant real-time awareness of the whole 360 degree area around them."

I have seen two people hit by city business, one knocked on her fat butt because she was talking on a cell phone while in the crosswalk (and not hurt, just stunned) and another killed (she was, of all things, there for a bike rider convention). Both were paying no attention at all as they crossed the street. Apparently they thought the crosswalk protected them from the laws of physics.

Mindstorm said...

Come on, Bob. Was Nash also killed by laws of physics?

Mindstorm said...

And drunk driving is not that uncommon where I am living, I assure you.

Bob Wallace said...

"Was Nash also killed by laws of physics?"

Nash was killed by an incompetent foreign driver who shouldn't have been in the U.S. in the first place.