Should Self-Driving Cars Be Open-Source?

Should Self-Driving Cars Be Open-Source?

Although the world hasn’t seen a commercially available Level 5 self-driving car yet, the Level 3 and 4 vehicles are already roaming the streets. For example, in February 2022, Cruise became the second company to offer driverless taxi rides in the United States.

But as exciting as it is, some people are still wary of trusting a self-driving car with their lives. After all, there have been at least five fatal car accidents involving Tesla’s autonomous vehicles. And the news about a pedestrian killed by an Uber self-driving car in 2018 remains a cautionary tale for many.

This is one of the many reasons why some experts are calling on companies like Weymo and Tesla to make the autonomous vehicle software open-source. But what exactly does it mean? And should they do it?

Let’s investigate the matter. But be warned: you might get too curious to let this subject go! In this case, if you’re a student, you can always make time for it if you decide to hire the write my essay with EssayPro writers services. Maybe, with more time on your hands, you’ll become the pioneer of open-source autonomous vehicle software yourself?

First, A Few Words on Open-Source Licenses

Let’s be clear: not all open-source projects are created equal. Depending on the license, they can be copied, modified, and distributed freely or with certain restrictions.

Here are the three most popular types of open-source licenses:

  • GNU General Public License (GPL). It gives the right to anyone to reuse the code for patent, commercial, and private purposes.
  • Apache License. It requires you to put a license and copyright notice if you use the software in other projects.
  • MIT License. It allows you to do anything you want with the code, as long as you provide a copy of the license and copyright notice.

Now, which one would be a better fit for the self-driving car software? Well, corporations like Tesla are unlikely to be willing to offer the codebase up for modification and redistribution. So, perhaps, none of the common open-source licenses will match their needs.

An alternative to that can be creating a new open-source license. It could be designed to allow anyone only to see the code and signal the problems with it.

Now, Let’s Examine the Pros

For the pros and cons, let’s imagine that the code is made available under already existing licenses. So, what benefits could this decision bring?

  1. Bugs Have Fewer Chances to Go Unnoticed

If you’ve ever written a single function, you know that bugs are inevitable. But when it comes to autonomous vehicles, those bugs aren’t just annoying – they can lead to fatal accidents.

Unfortunately, the more complex the software is, the more likely that a bug goes unnoticed – or that behaves in a surprising way under specific circumstances.

This is where going open-source can make a huge difference. After all, this means that the code becomes available for review. So, anyone (with the right set of skills, of course) can review it and spot what other developers have missed. And they can propose ways to fix them, too!

The result? Fewer bugs, more stable software, and fewer unpleasant surprises in general. What’s not to like?

  1. Mass Review Makes the Code Safer

Bugs aren’t the only thing that can go wrong with the software. Programs are designed by humans, and humans aren’t perfect. Developers may overlook some scenarios by accident. Or, the data sets that the AI-powered software learns from may be lacking certain crucial moments.

This is where volunteer code reviewers can step in and analyze the overall logic of the codebase. And in case there’s an issue with it, they can report it – and suggest a way to fix it, too. Ultimately, this will make self-driving cars safer to use.

Algorithm flaws, however, aren’t the only safety caveat for autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars are hackable. And since the codebase is larger in the case of autonomous vehicles, there’s a higher risk that a vulnerability goes unnoticed – and that hackers exploit it.

Making the code open for review is a double-edged sword in this regard, though. On the one hand, like with bugs, it allows other developers to report a potential exploit. But some fear that it can also make it easier for hackers to find vulnerabilities.

  1. Transparency Boosts Consumer Trust

Yes, most people report more positive emotions towards self-driving cars than negative ones, according to Capgemini Research Institute. But that doesn’t mean that everyone is on board with the idea, either. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers still have to convince their potential buyers that their products can be trusted.

Open any article, essay, or academic paper on consumer trust, and you’ll see that the key ingredient to boosting it is honesty and transparency. And when it comes to programs of any kind, the epitome of being transparent is making your code available for review to anyone interested.

The thing is, if a company makes its product’s codebase open-source, it’s a clear signal to its potential customers. That signal is that it has nothing to hide.

What About the Cons?

Of course, if it were a perfect solution, self-driving car manufacturers would’ve made the source code public a long time ago. Yet, they haven’t. Here are a few of (potential) reasons why.

  1. It Might Be a Competitive Disadvantage

This is the main reason why corporations are unlikely to release their source code to public scrutiny – at least in the nearest future. They believe that if they do that, they’ll be giving up the know-how, their special secret recipe for making an autonomous vehicle, well, autonomous.

Whether that will truly harm their ability to compete in a free market depends on how much of the codebase becomes open-source – and the license it’s released under, too. Intellectual property theft is a legitimate concern here, but the license can include precautions to prevent it.

That said, on the other hand, companies will gain a competitive edge by going transparent, as explained above. That alone has all the chances to outweigh the risks associated with intellectual property theft. (Besides, it’s not like it doesn’t happen with proprietary software – just ask Tesla. It’s currently suing its former employee for exactly that.)

  1. Software Might Become More Vulnerable to Attacks

As mentioned above, revealing your code to the public eye means that any black-hat hackers can analyze it and find exploits. That can result in large-scale hacker attacks with quite serious consequences.

This is a legitimate concern among most entrepreneurs who are unwilling to disclose their software’s code. However, going open-source is also the best global security test you can run on a piece of software.

Think about it this way: if your program withstands the scrutiny on this scale, it’s the best stamp of approval you can get.

In Conclusion

As you can see, self-driving cars going open-source is a prospect with many perks. It can make the software more stable and bug-free. It can help it become better and safer. And all of that, together with the company’s transparency, can boost consumer trust in autonomous vehicles.

But, of course, it remains to be seen whether corporations like Tesla and Waymo will go through with it. After all, this might mean putting their corporate secrets out in the open – and risking more hacker attacks in the future.

Arguably, though, the pros seem to outweigh the cons. Would you agree?

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I'm not a doctor but I play one on Twitter. I'm not a lawyer, but I write like one on my blog. And I love to watch TV and drink beer (varies from day to day).