Train of Thoughts

“If the (relatively) few trains can’t keep on the track, what may happen when millions of autonomous cars are supposed to be on the road?” – Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser

Train of Thoughts

By Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser

Am I reading right? A (railway) train jumped the tracks, right in a major city’s main train station? Perhaps I misread that (reminder to myself: get an eye-checkup forthwith!) —that must be a MISPRINT!

Doesn’t everyone know that we now live in the 21st century, with all the promises of “autonomous cars” (and everything else) “connected” to the mysterious “internet of things”? And trains run on a couple of tracks, not like cars that can meander all over the road and further afield? If the (relatively) few trains can’t keep on the track, what may happen when millions of autonomous cars are supposed to be on the road – I shudder to think of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, computers, cell phones, and many other electronic systems certainly make life easier, especially for those who prefer to live in the fast lane and be connected 24/7/365 to the “net.” But even for occasional users, the internet offers communication possibilities that were unavailable – even unheard of—a few years ago. Surely, that’s progress. But not all that glitters on the net is helpful.

In fact, I find that an increasing amount of time is needed to separate the wheat from the chaff, to delete misleading, false or fake reports, and so on. That is after the internet service provider and the email program is already dealing with much of that by holding it back altogether, marking it as spam, containing malicious code, etc.  I suspect many of my readers have similar observations. The amount of nonsense, not to mention “phishing” attempts to divulge critical information is rapidly increasing. Clearly, the internet system is not infallible.

The “Internet of Things”

When it comes to the internet’s touted ability to link everything in real time (e.g., from mousetraps to smart bombs), I have my doubts, both about the technology itself and, more importantly, the underlying data it needs to rely on in order to function correctly. I’ve experienced that problem on different occasions and in entirely different contexts, for example, with GPS systems that come with rental cars.

Current is Good

When there is a sudden need for lane or road closure, like due to physical breaks of underground pipes, no GPS system can be updated in time for you to take an alternate route when you are in close proximity to it. In situations of that kind, more likely than not, you are being misdirected, or advised to “Turn around, immediately!” I remember one occasion when the new road bridge across a river had been installed and opened for traffic. However, the old road was still the information that the GPS-map relied on and the “GPS-lady’s” voice was very adamant about my perceived mishap. Perhaps “she” thought that I was in the process of drowning.

No doubt, the modern GPS systems are a technological wonder. They even tell you when to switch lanes for the upcoming exit and everything else to find your way. However, all that information is failing when lacking real-time information. As soon as the “real-time-facts” differ from the stored data, all bets are off. That’s when your GPS advice can get you into a nearly inescapable loop or, as an old German proverb says, “send you from Pontius to Pilatus.”

The adage used to be “keep it simple, …”  I think that adage needs to be “updated” to “keep it current.”

Facts are out and tweets are in

With time, it may even be possible to provide nearly “current” information to the millions or billions of GPS users. Most definitely, that would be a step in the right direction. I don’t know how realistic that hope may be, time will tell. Any system that relies on timely information that changes from weeks, to days, then to minutes or less relies on an exponentially increasing network of sensors and observations, computing power and means of data transmission, reception and interpretation. IMHO, that’s, where the “dog lies buried.” Actually, there is more, the data needs to be not just timely but also correct.

Correct is Better

I’d prefer correct data over false but “timely” data anytime. And it doesn’t matter what type of data (“numbers”) one looks at. In many cases, you may be able to note that some “out-of-line” data are wrong. Whether they are due to transmission problems, computer error, or other (possibly human) error is irrelevant. If you need to rely on a number that may be faulty, you’ll need to choose between trusting that number or not. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide.

I get a lot of data from all kinds of sources, more or less continuously. In addition, I do study recent publications in numerous scientific journals, etc. In short, I have some knowledge and a few decades of experience in that. So, it may not come as a surprise that I send emails to various authors, university public relations agents, and so on, simply trying to verify a few details of one claim or another.

That’s where other problems start: with the communication channels. Despite all technological advances, many established communication systems appear to fail; facts are out and tweets are in. An observer ”from Mars” might conclude that social media “tweets” are all that counts. I beg to differ.


Dr Klaus L E KaiserDr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is a professional scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Technical University, Munich, Germany. He has worked as a research scientist and project chief at Environment Canada‘s Canada Centre for Inland Waters for over 30 years and is currently Director of Research at TerraBase Inc. He is author of nearly 300 publications in scientific journals, government and agency reports, books, computer programs, trade magazines, and newspaper articles.

Dr. Kaiser has been president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, a peer reviewer of numerous scientific papers for several journals, Editor-in-Chief of the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada for nearly a decade, and an adjunct professor. He has contributed to a variety of scientific projects and reports and has made many presentations at national and international conferences.

Dr. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts

Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:

9 thoughts on “Train of Thoughts

  1. I, too, think this promise of Mr. Jetson’s Flying Family Car is a joke. Presently, when I drive to and from work, I like to imagine how a “smart” car would react to all that I see:

    1) The paper bag blowing across the street? Bag or Child?
    2) The bird that just flew in front of me? Bird, Child or paper bag?
    3) The car, 3 cars ahead, who just slammed his breaks on?
    4) The rain drizzle on my windshield? What to make of it
    5) The rain drizzle on the road? Can the car sense it and adjust for a road that has gone slippery?
    6) The guy on the motorcycle, 5 cars back, weaving in between the lanes? Cycle, or bird, or child or paper bag?
    7) My car is burning oil. When does the engine freeze?
    8) My car is over-heating. Does the “smart” car know? Well, what will it do?
    9) Headlight just went out on the smart car, but I have 30 minutes of daylight before “sundown”. I can be home in 15 minutes. Does the smart car STOP, or keep going.
    10) Wife is pregnant and we MUST get to the Hospital. Will the “smart-ass” car let me do 90 in a 55 zone?

    I’ll keep my Suburban, thank you.

    • Excellent points. I think the intention is that the ‘driverless’ or ‘selfdrive’ cars will be electric as another part of there misguided utopian dream. And these cars will be charged are to be charged by their windmills and solar panels – weather permitting – even though the world’s economy can never be powered by such things.

  2. A few years ago ago, I had four handheld GPS. I gave each one the same starting and end points; I also gave google maps the same start and end point.

    I got five, FIVE DIFFERENT routes; and, the difference between the shortest and longest route was TWENTY-FIVE MILES.

    Which GPS will these so-called “self-driving” cars use?

  3. Autonomous cars? Do you really believe that this farce is for the benefit of us consumers. It’s another hoax to control everyone.
    The cars would not be autonomous At any time thru the electronic navigation & traffic control network your car can be tracked & controlled for speed time of travel, restrict your travel, your destination or simply switch you off!
    If you are one of those unhappy about listening devices, cameras etc you’ll be seething mad when this happens!

  4. Today I saw a duck with 5 ducklings cross, I kid you not, the highway, while I was traveling at 120 km/h and people behind me too. I could move out of the way, and extremely wide to signal others of the impending tragedy. Hope the rest could pass them too, I saw a lot of movement in the rear view mirror.

    Autonomous cars don’t have common sense built in. They do as programmed. I wonder what would have happened here, with autonomous cars responding. Reality beats fiction all the time. With autonomous cars we’re heading imho to an even more risk avoiding society with accompanying regulations, orders, prohibitions and costs.

  5. Very interesting read Dr. K.

    I remember years ago moving from MA to CA via train; this was in the middle of summer. When we hit the southern plains they had to slow the speed down to about 30mph, which they told us was because of an increase in derailing risk in t hat heat.

    A few thoughts on the “GPS-lady” – well, I do have a GPS but I don’t use it without looking at a map also, to get the big picture of where I’m going. Those systems appear to be designed to put you on the nearest freeway also.

    As to the so-called “smart” devices (all types from cars to phones or fridges)… I think they are mostly designed to help those who are trying to spy on us, so I avoid them when possible. Unfortunately, not always possible.

    And BTW, just mentioning the “phishing” and

  6. Think about all the newsworthy computer hacking incidents that have taken place in just the past 6 months. Then add the thousands more which were not reported so as to not harm our trust in “the system.”

    Now imagine what would happen if all vehicles on the road were controlled by those same systems that are suffering almost weekly (daily?) hacking. One shutters to think about it.

    This automated car stuff may be the techno-phile’s dream world, but for those of us living in reality it is a nightmare of epic proportions.

  7. One can’t help but wonder what solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CME’s) would do to a wireless, self-driving car system.

    “Dumb” smart cars that were guided by sensors embedded in the road, and didn’t rely on rocket science might actually work, but that’s too simple, and will never be considered.

  8. Oh boy, autonomous cars! Please be kind enough to count me out of such nonsense. One of the sensors the cars will be using to determine what is going on around them is radar. Granted that they will be low power radar units, but there will be problems. That is because I can guarantee you that there will be a LOT more such vehicles on the road than there will be frequencies available for their radar sets to use. That means there will be a bunch of vehicles using radar sets operating on the same frequency. When they get close enough to one another interference will result which could either “blind” them to objects they need to maneuver around or cause them to “see” things that aren’t there. And that’s in addition to potential bugs in the programming, the inability of A.I. systems to exercise judgement the way a human can, and the potential for malicious hacking. No, I’ll keep my old 1994 beater thank you.

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