Hey all, yesterday’s story was about Google and how the takedown of its longstanding ‘don’t be evil’ policy is an especially bad omen in the face of it becoming a literal military contractor by building project maven for the Pentagon. It is a sentiment I fully believe in and the precedent it sets scares me a lot. That being said it was more political than I like and was poorly received by the public, I think mainly for the title but also the fact that I had my sarcasm turned up to eleven, live and learn. So while not apologizing for what I believe in, I do want the tone of today’s article to show the other extreme.
So in that vein lets turn our attention to Tesla Motors who open sourced a chunk of its autonomous vehicle code and infotainment suite code on Github yesterday. The company had been getting flack for not doing it sooner though since it ships it’s cars with code installed that claims to be protected under the GPL, or General Public License. The license paraphrased states that any user can edit the code providing said user publishes that code under the same open source caveat. Publishing the code though was exactly what Tesla failed to do.
Even with that former controversy, I think that Tesla did exactly what it should have in this case. They were responsible and took the time to examine their liability in releasing the code of a machine which is more than capable of killing a person if it were to get out of control. It would seem that they also published only a portion of the code in an effort to prevent overenthusiastic DIYers from running out and building their own autonomous cars. Blindly handing it over to the public would be bad. But hiding it totally away is also bad. Remember for every bad actor you can imagine who is digging through this code there are plenty of white hat hacker/developer types who probably own their own Tesla’s and are very interested in auditing the security of the vehicles they use daily. I would argue that these people are in many cases better at building secure devices than the overworked Tesla engineers who inevitably are pressured to get products out the door before they are comfortable with their perceived completeness. If a person buys a product and has the training in a certain specialty pertaining to the product then they need the freedom to be able to disassemble the product to understand how it works, and more importantly, why using it will be safe for himself and his family. That being said the company also has a reasonable responsibility to protect the public from actors who could potentially weaponize this technology. Be it a hobbyist or a foreign agent or anyone else.
They certainly have a responsibility not to take their autonomous vehicles, slap sentry turrets on top of them and sell them to the Pentagon for big profits. Sorry, no preaching. I promise the only last thing I will say on the topic is that any time you take a firearm, attach it to a computer, and then decide whether people live or die based on a line of if-else statements it is irresponsible at best.
The Tesla Github repository can be found here.