Society has dreamt about them for decades, featured them in almost every futuristic science blockbuster we can think of, and now we’re on the brink of making them a reality.
Yet self driving cars — especially fully-autonomous, Internet connected ones — could be more than just a way to reduce stress, pollution and commute times. They could become the antithesis of that vision too: remotely-controlled, easily-hijacked weapons.
The warning comes courtesy of the FBI, who says that the age of the autonomous car could add a whole new set of tricks to the arsenal of committed criminals and even terrorists.
As The Guardian reported last month, an internal, restricted FBI report written by agents from the Strategic Issues Group within the FBI’s Directorate of Intelligence warned that while normal autonomous cars would be programmed to safely obey all of the rules of the road, an autonomous car in the hands of criminals could easily be hacked to disregard things like speed limits or road signs yet still effortlessly avoid hitting other road users.
“Autonomy … will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today,” the report warned.
With safety, rule-obeying protocols disabled, a self-driving car could theoretically make the ideal getaway vehicle, making use of its on-board GPS software and laser-guided sensor systems to effortlessly escape law enforcement officers, even in heavy traffic.
In such a situation the enforcement agency warns, perpetrators ordinarily preoccupied with the practicalities of simply escaping from the cops would be able to more actively dissuade them from pursuit, aided of course by the self-driving car and large amounts of ammunition.
That might sound a little too Hollywood for the real world, but from what we’ve seen of some of Google’s high-speed self-driving demonstrations, a high-speed villainous car of the near future could easily evade the long arms of the law.
Other scenarios, warns the FBI, could include packing a self-driving car with explosives to turn it into the ultimate stealth robotic weapon.
Luckily for those who aren’t international terrorists or criminals however, the advent of self-driving cars could help law enforcement too.
With appropriate computer-controlled software in operation, says the FBI, pursuit vehicles would be able to more easily tail suspects without them knowing, as well as more safely engage in high-speed pursuits without risking injury or death to civilians.
As we learned earlier this summer, making cars an extension of the Internet of things does increase their susceptibility to malicious attacks, but like any other Internet-connected devices, we suspect self-driving car technology will have to implement and demonstrate some pretty solid security protocols before they are allowed on the public roads in any large quantities.
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