The programming of self-driving cars has been in the news lately, as engineers and philosophers debate what rules the cars should follow in dangerous situations (for instance, what to do when forced to choose between hitting a pedestrian or swerving into oncoming traffic). Ponytail suggests one approach for solving this problem: to think of the car as behaving like a horse, using its own intelligence and ignoring dangerous commands in the interests of self-preservation.
The comic begins with Ponytail claiming that in the old days, riding a horse or driving a horse drawn vehicle while drunk was less dangerous than drunk driving today. Given the higher speed and the denser traffic today this might seem plausible. On the other hand, modern cars have seat belts, airbags, and other features designed to save lives when crashes do occur; horses and horse-drawn vehicles lacked these safety features. However, if you do fall asleep on a horse, it will not suddenly walk into a tree or other obstacle, and it may actually just stop walking while you sleep.
Ponytail expands the argument by stating the horse itself will be acting in the interest of its own self-preservation. She finally states that in a comparison of the ability of self-driving cars, we should forget humans, and instead it should be the ability of horses that should be the benchmark that the self-driving cars should be judged against.
This segues into a scene in the near future where White Hat is bragging to Cueball and Megan about the features of a car (in order to sell the car to them) by comparing the features to those of horses. Car engines are traditionally measured in horsepower, which (roughly) compares the power output of the engine to that of a horse. White Hat goes a step further, claiming that the car (which is presumably self-driving) has an onboard computer with driving abilities equivalent to 3.5 horses, comparing the car's ability to mitigate for a drunk driver and/or avoid obstacles to that of a horse. White Hat has been depicted as a salesman before in 1350: Lorenz and similarly earlier in 260: The Glass Necklace.
The title text features more comparisons of the car to horses. In the text, Randall states that the car has 240% of a horse's decision-making ability and produces only 30% as much poop as a horse. This statement is absurd because self-driving cars do not usually produce poop. It also suggests that even with 3.5 times as much horse-intelligence as a horse, the car may only have 2.4 times the decision-making ability, although the car in the title text could also just be a different car from the one in the comic.
Note that riding a horse while drunk is in fact still dangerous and illegal in many places (for example, the UK and Ireland). A badly-driven horse can throw off its owner, trample passersby, fall on bad surfaces, and destroy any wagon or carriage it's pulling. A self-driving car should be able to understand road rules, which a horse will not - which is presumably why the cars in the comic and the title text are both specified as being more intelligent than a horse.
In 887: Future Timeline dogs driving cars are mentioned. Self-driving cars is a recurring topic on xkcd. In 1461: Payloads spacecraft mass is measured in horses.
- [Ponytail walks right with Cueball.]
- Ponytail: Drunk driving was less of a problem before cars. If you got on your horse drunk and fell asleep, it could just walk home.
- [Zoom in on Ponytail's torso; she holds up a palm to proffer an idea.]
- Ponytail: And if you tried to ride into a tree, the horse could be like "No."
- Ponytail: Forget human drivers – that's the benchmark we should be judging self-driving cars against.
- [The front end of a car, with the bottom of the windshield and the right side mirror just inside the panel is parked before White Hat. He is holding his hand, palm up, out to the left towards the car as he brags about it to Megan and Cueball standing in front of him admiring the car. At the top left of the panel a small frame with a caption is placed over the panels frame:]
- White Hat: This baby has 200 horses under the hood and 3.5 in the computer.
- Megan and Cueball: Ooooh!
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Except, no one really worries about drunk drivers driving into a tree. If that happens, I'd say its all good, servers them right... The real problem is drunk drivers running into other drivers, pedestrians, property, etc. And even back in the days of horses and carriages, when forced to go at full gallop the horses would not be able to prevent such mistakes. 184.108.40.206 13:22, 15 August 2016 (UTC)
A horse is a low tech version of KARR. Surely we want a KITT?
220.127.116.11 14:04, 15 August 2016 (UTC)
"A badly-driven horse can toss-off its owner"... *fnar fnar*. Perhaps "throw off" or "buck" would mesh less easily with the remnants of immature adolescent brain that I still possess? 18.104.22.168 14:12, 15 August 2016 (UTC)
Alert: your car has noticed a wolf. Initiating auto-ejection procedure. Notice: your car has driven over a rattlesnake. Initiating horn honking and spinning out. WARNING: your car has drawn the attention of a pickup of the opposite sex. Program Sexy-fun-times is now running. Sux to be you. ~~ Siliconwolf 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- LikeMikemk (talk) 21:37, 15 August 2016 (UTC)
- White Hat -- salesman or owner?
I personally think white hat is a salesman because in the title text a different car is described. It could be a different person describing it, or that white hat owns multiple cars (though given his friendship with black hat, this seems unlikely). I further think that the incomplete tag should be either removed or moved to the transcript section, and a note made in the article. Vote: salesman, vote: remove incomplete tag Mikemk (talk) 21:43, 15 August 2016 (UTC)
- Being sexist, under normal circumstances my wife would rather watch Golf on TV than stand around being regaled by a proud car owner, so I'm voting for car salesman. :) RoyT (talk) 07:03, 16 August 2016 (UTC)
- I'm not sure he is a sales man. Megan could be a horse girl thus interested in the horse aspect. Also it could just as well be the same car in the title text, why could a car not be represented with these two lines: This baby has 200 horses under the hood and 3.5 in the computer -- and it has -- 240% of a horse's decision-making ability and produces only 30% as much poop. No reason to assume it is two cars. I guess this depends highly on what you thought of the first time you saw the comic? But I can easily imagine both that he brags about his own car or that he tries to sell this one (and maybe that it's another in the title text). Too bad Randall has stopped making transcripts when he releases comics. They sometimes get up later, but recently they have been up for the wrong comic... I have fixed the transcript so it is not assuming it is his car. --Kynde (talk) 13:45, 16 August 2016 (UTC)
Personally I think he's a salesman. But both alternatives seem plausible to me, so I vote for keeping it as it is and remove the tag. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:29, 23 August 2016 (UTC)
Here is very recent example of the horse-powered argument https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC7_Hkf8wnA 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Para 3: "A cars "poop" would be it's exhaust" should be "its" --188.8.131.52 11:40, 16 August 2016 (UTC)
- Just fix it, its (it's ;-) a wiki. Has been fixed now. --Kynde (talk) 13:45, 16 August 2016 (UTC)
Note that current programmers are VERY far from making an AI as intelligent as horse. They currently struggle with making drones as good in avoiding obstacles as bees are. -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:42, 16 August 2016 (UTC)
Very similar to an old Dinosaur Comics, specifically the one from March 10, 2014: http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=2588
184.108.40.206 04:09, 18 August 2016 (UTC)
Not sure being very close to decomposing manure and urine is less toxic (or carcinogenic) than breathing our relatively dispersed modern car exhaust. Would be a very difficult thing to quantify. Might we change in some way "Of course the amount of pollution created by the cars of the world makes them much more toxic both for humans breathing the exhaust fumes and on the larger scale with the climate."? -- Jubal Harshaw (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I'm removing the references to Randall as Ponytail for two reasons: 1) I haven't seen this done in previous comics, and 2) it's just a little weird having a guy playing a girl (this is not Shakespeare) --Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 04:16, 5 June 2017 (UTC)