When software takes a human life
A Tesla driver was killed in a car crash while the Autopilot system was engaged. According to the news report:
Joshua D. Brown, of Canton, Ohio, died in the accident May 7 in Williston, Florida, when his car’s cameras failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn’t automatically activate its brakes, according to government records obtained Thursday.
These types of automative systems are completely outside my area of expertise. That being said, I imagine that validating this type of control system that relies on complex sensor data must be incredibly challenging. The input space is mind-bogglingly huge, so how do you catch these kinds of corner cases in testing?
The failure here is not due to a “bug” (or “defect” in academic software engineering jargon) in the traditional sense that we use the term. Yet, there clearly was a defect in this system, and the result was a human fatality.
I was also struck by this line:
Harley [an analyst at Kelley Blue Book] called the death unfortunate, but said that more deaths can be expected as the autonomous technology is refined.
I wonder if future deaths will lead to additional regulations on how software engineering work is done in domains like this.