Are self-driving cars the next crime frontier?

While autonomous vehicle enthusiasts gush about the technology’s positive potential, Russian experts are raising fears that self-driving cars will be used to commit crime.

Russia Beyond the Headlines recently examined worries from Russia that self-driving cars have great potential for mayhem and murder when controlled by nefarious actors.

Private sector firms such as Russia’s Cognitive Technologies (CT) are already grappling with the moral consequences of autonomous vehicles and crime. CT is currently developing an unmanned truck for Russian truck manufacturer KamAZ.

“There is a set of moral aspects and criteria that must be considered in the development of robotic car driving scenarios,” said CT President Olga Uskova. “When developing unmanned vehicle driving scenarios, we proceed from the first law of robotics formulated by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, and try to minimize damage and casualties.”

CT experts confirmed that a hijacked driverless car could be used as a weapon, even to commit murder. Hackers could potentially weaponize a robot car by feeding false information to sensors or devices, disabling some artificial intelligence functions or overthrowing the main control system.

Uskova says that her firm is tackling these vulnerabilities by equipping the vehicles with recorders similar to black boxes on airplanes and hardening systems to outside attacks.

“CT’s approach is most resistant to external influences since the camera and ‘intelligence’ are in the cab,” she said.

Meanwhile, Russian law-enforcement officials are raising concerns that autonomous vehicle technology is moving so fast, governments haven’t begun to understand the future hazards.

“In 20 years, conventional cars will be replaced by autonomous vehicles,” said chief of the State Road Safety Inspectorate’s Road Patrol Service department Alexander Bykov. “However, no one has studied the potential future dangers.”

Russians already noting remote car hijackings

With Russia proving to be a global hacker hotbed, Bykov’s department has already logged incidents where vehicles were remotely hijacked using electronic means. And as autonomous vehicles eventually start to appear on roads of Russia and elsewhere, there are expectations that hackers will increasingly target remote control of such vehicles to injure the occupant or others outside the car.

This has raised the thorny issue among officials as to who is responsible for self-driving car crashes and injuries, be they deliberate or accidental.

The State Duma’s strategic information systems commission’s first hearing on the subject concluded that all responsibility rests with the driver – even if he is sitting in a car controlled by AI. Yet Bykov suggests future rulings will likely consider the autonomous vehicle’s software maker also culpable to some extent.

“Essentially, it is the software system installed by the manufacturer that will be responsible for the autopilot’s actions,” said Bykov.

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