Experts warn about future uses of self-driving cars for heinous crimes
08/19/2018 / By David Williams / Comments
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Experts warn about future uses of self-driving cars for heinous crimes

The future of self-driving cars is looking very bright. After all, dozens of companies are now racing to become the leader in the “auto” industry, and both the public and the private sector are working hard to deliver innovations that would benefit the general public through these autos. However, this bright future may be in jeopardy. Experts are now starting to issue warnings about future uses of self-driving cars, which could involve crimes such as transporting drugs or weapons. Even worse, they say that autonomous vehicles could one day be used by terrorists by turning them into lethal weapons.

Plenty of hype and glory has been thrown around in relation to self-driving cars and their many benefits to society as a whole as well as to individuals. They are going to create many opportunities that will certainly benefit many people. But on the flip side, they could also cause massive damage if they end up in the wrong hands. In particular, hackers could tamper with the onboard electronics and make them break away from their original programming.

According to Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at the California Polytechnic University, typical crimes committed by unscrupulous individuals with the use of cars may evolve thank to the advent of self-driving mechanisms. In a statement to the Miami Herald, he says: “Self-driving cars may enable new crimes that we can’t even imagine today.” There could, in fact, be entirely new ways to cause mayhem as soon as self-driving cars hit the mainstream, so it’s important that something gets done about it as early as now.


According to Dr. Mary Cummings, an ex-Navy fighter pilot who now serves as the lead of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering, the thought that self-driving vehicles could fall into the hands of hackers is a particularly scary one. “Most people don’t understand how easy it is to hack into a driverless car, and then basically steer it off course,” she said. “There’s no way I’d put my kid in a driverless car right now.”

In her view, hackers pose an even greater threat to the future of self-driving cars than actual criminals or even terrorists. And she’s not alone: A 2014 unclassified report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that was obtained by the U.K.’s The Guardian showed that self-driving cars could prove to be “game changing” for many criminals, terrorists, and hackers. It is said that they could turn the vehicles into “more potentially lethal weapons than they are today.”

Lin says that the FBI is already worried about robo-getaway drivers, which frees up a suspect to shoot back. “Criminals might be able to make a better escape, if a road full of self-driving cars will always move out of the way when you threaten a collision,” he also added. If you think the prospect of a car bomb that’s driven by a human terrorist is scary, then the idea of the car being an autonomous one, which is able to run on its own without the need for a human driver, is the stuff of nightmares.

There are ways to prevent these future problems, such as installing tamper-proof electronics in the vehicles themselves. But as most of those methods are rooted in hardware, they could be circumvented with just a little time and plenty of brute force from attackers. In any case, the market, as well as the public, will have plenty of time to prepare for this unwelcome future. But it will be difficult to tell whether or not the measures will be effective until the first attempted attacks finally happen.

Read more about the dangers of automated machinery at

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