FBI director says self-driving cars could era in new terror attack opportunities

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned against self-driving cars at the World Economic Forum on Thursday. The World Economic Forum, which describes itself as an international non-governmental and lobbying organization, opened in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

Self-driving vehicles are often a topic of distrust for many critics of the technology. In September, a survey from Policygenius revealed that 76% of its respondents weren’t convinced of a self-driving vehicle’s accuracy or safety and felt less safe in one than a human-controlled vehicle.

In contrast, new data from Tesla’s latest vehicle safety report revealed a decline in accidents per million miles driven with Tesla’s Autopilot, its advanced driver assist system, engaged compared to the previous quarter. Although this is just one automaker out of several others, there have been several instances where Tesla’s Autopilot has saved lives and prevented accidents.

Although Autopilot isn’t fully self-driving, Tesla is one of several companies developing fully self-driving software, a technology that has been widely criticized.  One such worry is that of national security, initially reported by Fox News.

While speaking on a panel about national security during the World Economic Forum, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the expanding use of self-driving cars opened up new ways for terrorists to harm Americans.

“When you talk about autonomous vehicles, it’s obviously something that we’re excited about, just like everybody,” the FBI director said. “But there are harms that we have to guard against that are more than just the obvious.”

“One of them is the danger that there could be ways to confuse or distort the algorithms to cause physical harm.

“I’m thinking about a story I heard not that long ago about the researchers who were able to trick a self-driving car’s algorithm by essentially putting a piece of black tape over a stop sign. It caused the car to accelerate about 50 miles an hour or something.”

The incident Wray referred to happened in 2020. Researchers placed black electrical tape over a speed limit sign and were able to successfully trick a 2016 Tesla Model S and Model X using technology made by Mobileye. Tesla no longer uses Mobileye but instead is developing its own self-driving technology.

“It’s a simple example, but it shows some of the harms we have to guard against,” the FBI director said.

“A different kind of harm we’re concerned about is the enormous amount of data that autonomous vehicles, for example, aggregate. And any time you aggregate lots and lots of sensitive data, it makes a very tempting target,” Wray added.

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