Symbiotic Machines - Technology V - Balancing the roles of the living being(s) and the machine(s)

What will be the relation between a self driving car and its ... driver? Credit: Volvo

Creating a symbiotic situation carries along the issue of who is doing what, who is in charge of what. 

In normal system interactions the issue is in a way moot, since each component has a well defined interface, a well defined behavior and it is just a matter of fact the repartition of activities among the various components of the system.

With software systems the boundaries, sometimes, get a bit fuzzier, particularly if complexity is high. Internet is an example where the role of each entity is theoretically well defined and yet, because of the variety and number of components the overall behavior is not predetermined in any situation.  This also applies to complex autonomous systems, like swarms of bees, a flock of starlings and a swarm of autonomous robots. You can tell in general that a swarm of bees will move in a certain direction, depending on external condition like the wind and the distribution of flowers, and on internal “knowledge” accrued through single explorer bees. Yet it is impossible to tell what a single bee is going to do in a swarm. We can, to a certain extent, predict the emerging behavior of the swarm, not the individual behavior of its components.

A similar issue occurs with the symbiotic machines that we are going to develop in the next decade. Each of the component is loosely well defined and their relation to the whole is also defined, yet the overall balance of how activities is dynamically balanced among the various components is a matter of study and research. 

This is an issue that has technology implications as well as social implications. We can imagine in the next decade a symbiotic relationship between a driver and her car. The thoughts of the driver will influence the autonomous driving of the car, within its range of possibilities, of course. But to what extent is it accountable for an accident? Today the car is just a tool, with very little autonomy, so the blame is (almost) always on the driver (exception can be dramatic failure, like brake failure or the computer controlling the gas injection that screws up). As cars are becoming more autonomous and as we are developing a symbiotic relation between the car and its passengers the boundary of responsibility becomes fuzzier.

The IEEE Society on Social Implication of Technology is addressing these kind of issues and the many more that will emerge.

These topics are also being addressed, one way or another, by each single IEEE Future Direction Initiatives.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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