Autonomous vehicle control policy

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Should the United States government take a position on centralized vs. decentralized control systems for autonomous vehicle technology?

Image courtesy of Payal Agarwal’s Self Driving Car Simulator app

Control systems for autonomous vehicles are a current technology problem with policy implications. Should governments build centralized command systems for autonomous vehicles? There are a number of benefits of centralized direction, including route optimization, traffic jam avoidance, intersection slotting and smarter city design. Conversely, the coordination between autonomous vehicles could be distributed, where cars communicate with each other to determine optimal routes, following distance, speed, etc.

This engineering problem has policy implications. Authoritarian governments will want the centralized system so they can monitor who is going where at all times. Citizens would have their movements monitored and controlled by a centralized system.

A decentralized system would preserve individual privacy and not facilitate mass surveillance of the population. It could also require less capital investment and standards coordination by cities, but will require strict standardization of coordination protocols across manufacturers.

The U.S. government typically doesn’t involve itself in setting standards for technologies which are being developed by the private sector when there are market solutions in place. But does this issue argue for U.S. involvement to promote a decentralized standard globally? If so, the United States may want to move aggressively to develop standards and protocols for decentralized control systems. This first mover advantage would have network effects to ensure decentralized systems.

There might be differences of opinion on this even within the governments in the United States. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies might prefer a centralized model where they could more easily monitor criminal, foreign intelligence and terrorist activity.

It’s an interesting example of an engineering problem with potential global policy ramifications.


This is a Short Byte, a snippet of technology thinking designed to ignite ideas and promote feedback and discussion. Please do comment and highlight!


Opinions expressed are my own and do not represent the views of the U.S government or any other organization.

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