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Bothering And Even Spying On Your Neighbors Via An AI Self-Driving Car

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at October 10, 2021

One of the most famous TV show songs of all time urges you to sit right back and hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip that takes place aboard a tiny ship.

Name that TV show.

Well, I’m sure you immediately guessed that those are the lyrics from the ever-popular Gilligan’s Island and indeed, you would be right.

If you hear the song a few times in a row, it is abundantly catchy and might cause you to hark back to the original days of the show being aired (for those that were around then) or might remind you of watching those ubiquitous recordings online of the show as available on today’s social media platforms.

Suppose though that you were somewhat forced into hearing the endearing song over and over, perhaps due to the song being blared via massive loudspeakers toward your home from a next-door neighbor.

How would you feel about the song then?

I believe that your heartfelt sentiment toward the song would turn into a maddening overload of angst and irksomeness. Stop that song, you would undoubtedly demand. I dare say, you might opt to wear some hefty earplugs or sound blockers akin to what a ground crew wears at airports, doing so in hopes of deadening the repetitive blare and preventing your mind from going berserk. The old saying seems true that too much of anything, even something of wholesome goodness, will break the camel’s back (or some such adage).

According to a news report, a neighbor apparently opted to play the famous ballad, allegedly repeatedly so, and which then led to their next-door resident deciding to file a restraining order about the matter. The homes involved are in the tony community of Laguna Beach, California and the ocean view properties involved are worth many dozens of millions of dollars each. The owners are extremely wealthy. And these well-to-do neighbors have lobbed acrid accusations as to the other neighbor having either started the feud or carried the tit-for-tat extraordinarily overboard, as it were (overboard as in like a tiny ship!).

You might have thought that having lots of money and owning a prized mansion with breathtaking sunsets would translate into not having a single worry in this world, but apparently, no amount of wealth can stop the classic neighbor-versus-neighbor battles.

Perhaps we ought to keep in mind the legendary refrain from Robert Frost’s poem stipulating (or speculating) that good fences make good neighbors, a classic line from his poetic treatise Mending Wall. Depending upon your preferred interpretation, this might mean that human fellowship is a tug-of-war between wanting to be connected with other humans and yet simultaneously maintain some distance or boundaries from other humans too. We are seeking to paradoxically be both joined and separated, all at the same time, one might so assert.

Using loud noises is assuredly one means to irritate a neighbor, whilst another means consists of establishing a visual blight. There are plentiful times that someone opts to park an old junk car on their front lawn and let the wreck gradually rust and stew. If you live next door, at first you might be sympathetic to seeing the vehicle sitting there and assume it will soon enough be moved elsewhere. Instead, when the rust bucket is left there unattended and seemingly abandoned, for weeks and months on end, your patience is likely to run extremely thin.

Speaking of cars, consider the future of transportation and mobility, entailing the advent of self-driving cars.

It would seem that self-driving cars will be a welcomed boon to humanity. Predictions are that the regrettable 40,000 annual fatalities due to car crashes in the United States alone will be reduced enormously, and likewise, the estimated 2.3 million car crash injuries will nearly disappear.

What’s not to like about the emergence of self-driving cars?

That brings up this intriguing question: Could the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars somehow get intermingled into the act of bothering a neighbor?

This seems like a rather curious question and defies the aura of goodness that surrounds the self-driving car realm.

Let’s unpack the matter and see what can be found.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Your Neighbors

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

There is a great deal of debate in the self-driving industry about whether these types of vehicles will be owned only by large-scale fleet operators or whether there might be individual ownership involved too.

Some pundits insist that self-driving cars will be purchased or licensed solely by big entities such as car rental firms or major ride-sharing companies and then deployed onto our streets and highways. Car ownership by individuals will become a thing of the past. Once the conventional automobiles of today are eclipsed by the expanding population of self-driving cars, the very notion of an individual owning a car will be considered laughable and a historic relic.

I am known for being a contrarian on this point, due to the espoused belief that there will still be individual ownership of cars, including and particularly self-driving cars. Logically, if self-driving cars are going to be massive money makers, which nearly everyone agrees is likely, it would certainly seem that everyday individuals would want to get in on the gravy train too.

You might buy a self-driving car and use it to get to work and take the kids to school, meanwhile the rest of the day it is available on a ride-sharing network for providing money-making rides to passengers. One reason given that this won’t happen is that perhaps the cost of buying a self-driving car will be beyond the reach of everyday individuals. But that is somewhat sloppy thinking since it presumes that the purchase price of a self-driving car is comparable to the purchase of today’s conventional cars. That is decidedly wrongheaded and mistaken thinking.

For today’s conventional cars, they sit unused about 95% or more of the time that you own the vehicle. In short, it is a woefully underutilized asset of a costly nature per se.

And why isn’t this valuable asset used more so?

Because you need a driver to drive the car.

In the case of self-driving cars, the AI is doing the driving and will be available 24×7. This means that a self-driving car can be operating around the clock. A conventional car rarely makes you any money, while a self-driving car has the potential for earning you some sizable bucks.

The point is that even if self-driving cars are exorbitantly priced, you could still potentially afford the vehicle due to the ROI (return-on-investment) possibilities. You would be willing to go out on a limb and get a sizable loan, believing that the car itself will make enough money to cover the loan and turn you a profit. The bank or lender is willing to make you that loan since they realize the basis is covered by the present and future value of that money-making self-driving car.

There are more facets involved in this contentious debate about the ownership question, but for the moment, assume that indeed individual ownership will occur. As an aside, some are worried that the individual owners will only be the elite and highly wealthy personages, thus leaving out of the equation the rest of society (for my analysis of this supposition, see the link here).

Okay, so we are going to assume that individuals will own self-driving cars.

Where does that take us?

Returning to the earlier discussion about neighbors versus other neighbors, the acknowledgment that there will be individual ownership of self-driving cars puts those AI-based marvels into the driver’s seat of being a potential pest or unneighborly nightmarish new guest.

I’m sure you are crying in your soup to think that a state-of-the-art innovation that embodies the latest in AI and will be helping to reduce lost lives and will be providing a potential mobility-for-all aspiration could somehow have a dent in its allure.

It does.

Here’s how.

First, imagine that your self-driving car is normally going to be parked in your driveway or on the street in front of your house. With a conventional car, perhaps you undertake the act of driving the car away from its parking spot on the order of a handful of times per day, maximumly. There is the trip to the office, the drive to the grocery store, and the journey to pick up the kids at school.

For a self-driving car, presumably, you will want it to be used as much as possible. Whenever it is being used for providing rides, the cash register is ringing. Alas, whenever it is parked and doing nothing, there is no money being made.

The implication is that the individually owned self-driving car will be constantly parking and then getting back underway. All-day long. All night long. The quiet neighborhood that most of us live in is usually especially serene during the midnight to sunrise hours. Anyone owning a self-driving car is going to have that vehicle continually exiting from its parking spot and heading out to provide a ride. Once the ride is accomplished, the self-driving car will come back to your house and park itself, becoming ready for whenever the next ride request arises.

Imagine the potential annoyance to your nearby neighbors. There goes that darned self-driving car again, a neighbor might lament. Isn’t that the eighth time tonight? On and on this goes, seven days a week, four weeks a month, all year long.

You might be tempted to counterargue that the self-driving car will be relatively inconspicuous. It won’t roar away from your house and it won’t be honking its horn. Instead, the self-driving car will start its engine, and likely being an EV (electrical vehicle) it will be relatively quiet on the ears, smoothly slinking away into the night.

Maybe yes, maybe not.

There is the shine of the headlights and the sounds of a car rumbling down your street, no matter how much of a driving ninja the AI might be. Street vibrations are a possibility. In addition, you might need to go out to the vehicle when it returns from a trip, doing so to make sure that the self-driving car is still in good shape and ready for the next trip. A rider that used your self-driving car at 2 a.m. might have been drinking and opted to take an AI-driven ride home from the local bars, wisely so, and yet they might have gotten sick to their stomach from the alcohol and a resultant mess inside your self-driving car needs urgent cleaning.

There seems little question that the otherwise stillness and purity of silence on your street is going to be usurped by those that own and are operating their self-driving cars.

Another qualm relates to the number of miles of driving on your neighborhood streets. Once someone on the block has a self-driving car, it is going to be going back-and-forth on your street repeatedly, adding a tremendous amount of wear-and-tear to your local asphalt. Expect more potholes and a sooner need to mend the street.

Consider too the increased risks involved.

Suppose you have small children, and they love to play in your front yard, including running sometimes out into the street. Hopefully, the AI will be good enough to detect those small children as they dart into the street unexpectedly.

One dire fear is that kids will begin to assume that the AI driving systems are always able to detect and stop in time. In that case, children might falsely believe that can unabashedly scamper into the street in front of an ongoing self-driving car. Those same youngsters might be afraid that a human driver would not stop or would not see them, thus the kids are more reserved in that circumstance, but when they spot a self-driving car they will be more emboldened.

Busy Car City On Your Neighborhood Block

So far, we have you irking your neighbors with your self-driving car because it comes and goes at all hours, it disturbs and undercuts the peace and tranquility of the street, it causes the street to go into disrepair sooner than normal, and it endangers the children that are innocently playing in the quaint front yards of the neighborhood.

Perhaps all of that seems enough of a proof of the pudding to cause a semblance of neighborly concern.

Wait for a second, there is even more.

One of the reasons that some doubt there will be individual ownership of self-driving cars is due to the maintenance and upkeep requirements. In order for a self-driving car to operate safely and properly, it has to be kept in a relatively pristine shape. A human-driven car can be in a rather poor shape and yet the human driver will nonetheless be able to drive the vehicle. With a self-driving car, all of the sensors must be working and they cannot be blocked by dirt or otherwise be inoperable, else the vehicle is supposed to refuse to get underway.

This translates into the individual owner having to strictly and stridently stay on top of the upkeep for the self-driving car.

Here’s where things get worse for your neighbors.

In addition to keeping your self-driving car parked in your driveway or on the street in front of your house, you also opt to set up a small repair bay or tent at your home. This will allow you to do regular cleaning such as making sure the inside of the car is bereft of debris and undertake the removal of any leftover flotsam by prior riders. You might also do your own oil changes and other simplistic car upkeep.

Yikes, it now appears that your home is becoming a car repair and maintenance facility. That is going to be an eyesore and a noisemaker.

One might also question how far this can go, and indeed there will undoubtedly be disputes taken to the city or county about just what is permitted in your neighborhood. You can bet that various local homeowners associations will bicker about these matters and try to put in place local conditions and restrictions about what is allowed and what is disallowed.

Let’s add a kind of coup de grace to this list.

Throughout all of this discussion, the assumption has been that whoever owns and is operating that self-driving car will be respectful of the neighborhood and genuinely will try to keep things quiet and unintrusive. That is the glass-is-half-full viewpoint of mankind.

Envision a situation wherein a feud among neighbors is taking place, not necessarily due to the advent of the self-driving car on the block, but due to some other perceived transgression, such as loudly playing TV show theme songs.

In short, someone that has a self-driving car can opt to turn it into another avenue of annoying their neighbors. You could purposely have the self-driving car continually going back-and-forth, just to irk your neighbor. Have the AI pull into their driveway, as though it is confused or maybe trying to turnaround. Make it park in front of their house. Etc.

The evildoing can get even worse.

Remember that a self-driving car has lots of sensors, including video cameras, radar, LIDAR, thermal imaging, ultrasonic, and so on. You could have the sensors recording whatever happens while it is parked in front of your neighbor’s house. This would allow you to somewhat “spy” on your neighbor as to the comings and goings at their home. I’ve previously discussed in my columns the notion of the roving eye of self-driving cars, which has some potential benefits but also serious privacy repercussions too (see my coverage at this link here).


The arrival of self-driving cars bodes for the best of times, or possibly the worst of times, depending upon how this latest in AI-advanced capabilities is utilized and deployed.

Something as simple as being neighborly can be enhanced, such as allowing your self-driving car to give free lifts to the people on your block that otherwise do not have ready access to mobility. On the other hand, you can inadvertently become unneighborly, trying to run a self-driving car “business” from your homestead. You can even become vindictive and try to use your self-driving car as a foil in your neighbor-versus-neighbor feuding argument.

One quick counterargument to these misgivings is that some people might outsource the care of their self-driving car and perhaps even park it at some prearranged faraway parking lot, though this introduces other complications of cost and logistics. Whether everyone would take this path is highly debatable and it seems realistic to assume that some or many will seek to keep their self-driving car as much as possible at their primary domicile.

Good fences make good neighbors, and likewise, goodness in running your local self-driving car will hopefully be a blessing for your neighborhood.  Maybe by the time we have a prevalence of AI-based true self-driving cars, there will no longer be bickering neighbors and we will all get along, and fences will be an antiquated remnant of the past.

That is quite some poetically beauteous dreaming.


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