Remote operation appears twice during Black Panther. This post describes the first, in which Shuri remotely operates an automobile during a chase sequence. The next post describes the other, in which Ross remotely pilots the Talon.
In the scene, Okoye has dropped a remote control kimoyo bead onto a car in Singapore. (It’s unclear why this is necessary. During the chase, Klawe tells his minion the car is made of vibranium, which tells us it’s Wakandan. Wouldn’t remote control be built in? But I digress…)
T’Challa, leaving the Singaporean casino, shouts, “Shuri!” Shuri, in her lab in Wakanda, hears the call. The lab’s AI, Griot, says, “Remote driving system activated.” The vibranium dust / programmable matter of the lab forms a seat and steering wheel for her that match the controlled car’s. A projection of the scene around the controlled car gives her a live visual to work with. She pauses to ask, “Wait. Which side of the road is it?” T’Challa shouts, “For Bast’s sake, just drive!” She floors the gas pedal in her lab, and we see the gas pedal of the controlled car depress in Singapore. There ensues a nail-biting car chase.
Now, I don’t want to de-hero-ize our heroes, but let’s face it, Griot must be doing a significant portion of the driving here. Here’s my rationale: The system has a feedback loop that must shuttle video data from Singapore to Wakanda, then Shuri has to respond, and her control signal must be digitized and sent back from Wakanda to Singapore, continuously. Presuming some stuff, that’s a distance of 7633 kilometers / 4743 miles. If that signal was unimpeded light (and these quora estimates are correct) and Shuri’s response time instantaneous, it would take that signal on the order of 600 milliseconds round trip. Sure, this is specualtively-advanced, but it’s still technology, and there are analog-to-digital, digital-to-analog, encryption, and decryption conversions to be managed, signal boosts along the way, and the impedance of whatever network these signals are riding. Plus as awesome as Shuri is, her response time is longer than 0. The feedback loop would be way longer than the 100 milliseconds minimum required to feel like instantaneous response.
Without presuming some physics-breaking stuff, there will a significant lag between what’s happening around the actual car and Shuri’s remote reaction getting back to that car. In a high-speed chase like this, the lag would prove disastrous, and the only way I can apologize my way around it is if Griot spun-up some aspect of himself in the kimoyo bead sitting on the car that is doing the majority of the stunt driving. For all the excitement that Shuri is feeling, she is likely just providing broad suggestions to what she thinks should happen, and Griot is doing the rest. (Long-time readers will note this would be similar to the relationship I describe between JARVIS and Tony Stark.) Shuri is just an input. An important one—and one that would dislike being disregarded—but still, an input.
The HUD bears two quick notes about its display.
First, the video feed around the remote operators is a sphere, onto which 2D photorealistic video projects. Modern racing games mostly use the 2D displays of televisions as well, and they’re enjoyable, but I should think that immersion and responses would be better if it was a three-dimensional volumetric display instead, improving the visual data with parallax . That would be difficult to convey on screen for the audience, but I don’t think impossible.
Third, when Klawe’s minions cause a pile-up in an intersection, Shuri’s view shows the scene with the obstacles overlaid in red. As a bit of assistance, that shows us several things. Griot is watching the scene, and able to augment the display in real time. She would find more of this context- and goal-awareness augmentation useful. For instance, she wouldn’t have had to ask which side of the road Singaporeans drive on. (It’s the left, by the way, like the UK. Her steering wheel, if it was to match the car’s, should have been on the right. Nearly all of the driving in the scene happens on the wrong side of the road to feel “correct” to right-driving audiences.)
It’s also really interesting to note that the seat provides strong haptic feedback. When T’Challa dumps a minion from the SUV in front of the car, the controlled car speed-bumps over the body. Shuri’s seat matches the bump, and she asks T’Challa, “What was that?” (This is a slightly unbelievable moment. Her focus is on the scene, and her startle response could not help but alert her to a dark shape symmetrically expanding.) We know from motion simulators that tilting a seat up and down can strongly mimic momentum as if traveling, so I’m guessing that Shuri’s very much feeling the chase.
We are not shown what happens when T’Challa sharpens that emergency turn and lifts the real car by around 35 degrees, but Griot must have supplied her with a just-in-time seatbelt if she was angled similarly.
When Klawe manages to shoot his arm-cannon at the remotely-controlled car, destroying it, for some reason Shuri’s vibranium dust simply…collapses, dropping her rudely to the floor. This had to be added in to the design of the system, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why this would be a good thing. Just…no.
Fit to purpose?
Shuri’s remote driving interface gives her well-mapped controls with rich sensory feedback, low latency, and at least the appearance of control, even if Griot is handling all the details. The big critiques are that Griot must be “there” quietly doing most of the work, that the HUD could provide a richer augmentation to help her make better real-time suggestions, and the failure event should not risk a broken coccyx.
Black Georgia Matters
Each post in the Black Panther review is followed by actions that you can take to support black lives.
Looking back at these posts, I am utterly floored at the number of things that have occurred in the world that are worth remarking on with each post. Floyd’s murder. Boseman’s passing. Ginsberg’s passing and hasty, hypocritical replacement. The national election. And while there is certainly more to say about anti-racism in general, for this post let’s talk about Georgia.
Despite outrageous, anti-democratic voter suppression by the GOP, for the first time in 28 years, the state went blue for the presidential election, verified with two hand recounts. Credit to Stacey Abrams and her team’s years of effort to get out the Georgian—and particularly the powerful black Georgian—vote.
But the story doesn’t end there. Though the Biden/Harris ticket won the election, if the Senate stays majority red, Moscow Mitch McConnell will continue the infuriating obstructionism with which he held back Obama’s efforts in office for eight years. The Republicans will, as they have done before, ensure that nothing gets done.
To start to undo the damage the fascist and racist Trump administration has done, and maybe make some actual progress in the US, we need the Senate majority blue. Georgia is providing that opportunity. Neither of the wretched Republican incumbents got 50% of the vote, resulting in a special runoff election January 5, 2021. If these two seats go to the Democratic challengers, Warnock and Ossof, it will flip the Senate blue, and the nation can begin to seriously right the sinking ship that is America.
What can you do?
If you live in Georgia, vote blue, of course. You can check your registration status online. You can also help others vote. Important dates to remember, according to the Georgia website…
- 07 DEC 2020 Final day to register to vote
- 14 DEC Early voting begins
- 05 JAN 2021 Final day of voting
Residents can also volunteer to become a canvasser for either of the campaigns, though it’s a tough thing to ask in the middle of the raging pandemic.
The rest of us (yes, even non-American readers) can contribute either to the campaigns directly using the links above, or to Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight campaign. From the campaign’s web site:
We promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications.
If you don’t want to donate money directly, you can join a letter writing campaign to help get out the vote, via the Vote Forward campaign.
We will continue moving the country into the anti-racist future regardless of the runoff, but we can make much, much more progress if we win this election. Please join the efforts as best you can even as you take care of yourself and your loved ones over the holidays. So very much depends on it.
Based on my past experience with simulator/VR programming I find it very natural that the dust collapses and Shuri drops to the floor. That behaviour is what I’d expect as the default, not something that needed to be added.
Partly it’s because the developers would be thinking of this as a driving game / simulator, not an actual physical car. Mario Kart or Forza or Gran Turismo don’t need seatbelts or roll cages, so it wouldn’t occur to me that an upscale AR/VR version could be a physical danger to the player.
Mostly because of how simulation systems work. There’s a story about an early US Navy distributed simulation, where one computer system was running an aircraft carrier, another system the planes parked on the flight deck. The first computer crashed, causing the aircraft carrier to vanish from the virtual world. The second system noticed that there was now nothing holding the planes up, so dropped them all into the ocean. All components working as designed and correctly mdelling the real world, unexpected combination.
For the remote driving interface, it presumably can handle a variety of vehicles. Some have four wheels, some six. Some have two doors, others four. And the vehicle can change while being operated: sun roofs can be opened, windows lowered, windscreens smashed by debris thrown up.
So all the individual components of the simulated vehicle would be coded (probably in the common superclass) “if the real vehicle does not have this component, remove yourself” (by collapsing into dust). Handles both initial configuration and any damage occurring during the drive. But nobody thought to add special code “unless a real human is sitting on you”.
Could be fixed by going through the code for the remote driving interface, and every other simulation, looking for execution paths that could case injury. I’d just put down a few gym mats on the floor.
I might could see all this as bad coding except a) Wakanda is the most advanced technological culture on the planet and b) There’s a general AI in the lab who should be able to respond to catastrophic errors in milliseconds.
No-one who actually studies AI willing to comment? Oh well, I’ll have to try.
One problem with an AI that prevents injury would be a sort of moral hazard, in that the people using the simulator never suffer for any of their actions. One aspect of simulation and training and play in general is that there should still be consequences for mistakes, just not as severe. Here Shuri, who is in the age group mostly likely to believe themselves immortal, is at risk of a bruised backside or cracked bone (which Wakanda doctors can easily fix), but not actually dying in the simulated high speed crash. Griot could have decided not to intervene, predicting that a few days discomfort will make Shuri more careful in future when she is behind the wheel of a real car – especially a real car that doesn’t have a guardian AI.
The other problem would be something like the paperclip maximizer, if I’m reading the summaries right. If Griot is protective of Shuri, or Jarvis of Tony Stark for another example, neither human will get much done. Shuri and Tony both do R & D, which almost by definition has new and unanticipated consequences. If Griot / Jarvis were programmed to protect them from any possible injury, the AIs would lock them out of their workshops.
I wholly agree. The moral hazard encouragement is a problem with all safeguards. And the remote driving is already steeped in it. I agree, a smart AGI should dole out meaningful consequences to help avoid it.
I’m less worried about protective = smothering. Each seems reasonably subservient and with a rich theory of mind, that proscribing something so fundamental to these characters seems out of line.
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