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Uber's Self-Driving Car Saw Pedestrian 6 Seconds Before Fatal Strike, Says Report (tucson.com) 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Arizona Daily Star: The autonomous Uber SUV that struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled, according to federal investigators. In a preliminary report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that emergency braking is not enabled while Uber's cars are under computer control, "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior." Instead, Uber relies on a human backup driver to intervene. The system, however, is not designed to alert the driver. The report comes a day after Uber announced it will be ending it's self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona. The full NTSB report is available here.
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Uber's Self-Driving Car Saw Pedestrian 6 Seconds Before Fatal Strike, Says Report

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  • How much will Uber be paying that family?

  • Wait, what now? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:03PM (#56668862) Homepage

    This can't be right. They are saying that Uber's self-driving car rig is neither designed to stop for nor alert the driver about pedestrians obstructing the path of the vehicle. It's just designed to... log them?!

    What part about this is considered "self-driving" then, exactly?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I really liked that comment from the last story: "Oops, we left it in murder mode."

      Just sums up the whole situation so well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      This can't be right. They are saying that Uber's self-driving car rig is neither designed to stop for nor alert the driver about pedestrians obstructing the path of the vehicle. It's just designed to... log them?!

      Apparently the way they had it was that the computer would drive and the driver would stop it from driving, if needed. That doesn't seem like an obviously ridiculous arrangement, even if having the computer ping the driver would have been better.

      Except the driver they hired to do the stopping thin

      • Re:Wait, what now? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:20PM (#56668976)

        Except the driver they hired to do the stopping thing was texting instead of watching the road, from what the video looked like.

        If you RTFA (I know, I know), you'll see that the backup driver said she was monitoring the self-driving interface, not fiddling with a phone.

        • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

          Yeah right, so she should have noticed something with 6 seconds to do something about it.
          It doesn't look like she was either monitoring a good enough system and she didn't look up for nearly 6 seconds.

          I feel sorry for the driver but she is likely at fault. Except if Uber didn't tell her what the situ was with the car not looking out for objects.

          • by Calydor ( 739835 )

            Why do you assume that just because the car could notice something in the dark that human eyes could?

            The whole point of self-driving cars is that they have better 'vision' than we do, that they (should) see things sooner and clearer.

            At what point is it said that the unfortunate pedestrian was visible to the naked eye for six seconds rather than visible to radar, lidar, laser scan or whatever it is Uber cars use for area awareness?

      • Apparently the way they had it was that the computer would drive and the driver would stop it from driving, if needed.

        So the HAL 9000 can rightfully claim that AI is NOT to blame, and this accident was the result of "human error".

        • by Anonymous Coward

          HAL9000 was human error, too.
          So many people who watched that movie walked away from it with the wrong moral in their heads. It wasn't a tale of technology gone wrong, it was a tale about what happens when someone has no choice but to comply with all orders fully and completely, and you don't think things through.

          So yeah, this is a HAL9000 scenario. The AI was not allowed to slow down, stop, change lanes, or notify the driver. There were no available actions it could take to avoid the collision, because Uber

      • Apparently the way they had it was that the computer would drive and the driver would stop it from driving, if needed. That doesn't seem like an obviously ridiculous arrangement

        You mean... like Autopilot?

      • Re:Wait, what now? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by slew ( 2918 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @07:25PM (#56669688)

        Apparently the way they had it was that the computer would drive and the driver would stop it from driving, if needed. That doesn't seem like an obviously ridiculous arrangement, even if having the computer ping the driver would have been better.

        I suspect that the alerting the driver wasn't gonna be any better. This is all speculation, but if Uber turned off the AEB (automatic emergency braking) system in self driving mode because it would have actuated the brakes too often making the driving erratic, simply notifing the driver about the same potential collisions would eventually result in alert fatigue in the driver.

        Then the driver would start ignoring the alerts for basically the same reason that they turned off the AEB system originally.

        If you've ever taught someone to drive who was overly cautious and braked all the time you know how that goes. The flaw is that simply seeing the pedestrian isn't enough to make the braking decision and the driver has to learn to anticipate the actions in the environment to drive successfully.

        The driving instruction not only has to anticipate the environment, but also the driver to know when to intervene (grab steering wheel or apply the brake). Most self driving systems don't give these driving observers (not instructors) enough information and training to anticipate what the system is going to do to make them effective at intervening.

        This is the problem of allowing people to walk before they can crawl... Sometimes you can't bypass stages of learning. If the system's AEB system activates too much, you kind of have to let it do that until it can learn not to do that.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Paying attention all the time while driving is hard if you do the driving yourself. When you are just watching for problems, it becomes pretty much impossible. Whoever thought his set-up was a good idea is the one that actually is responsible for the kill.

      • My new Prius nags me if it thinks my hands aren't on the wheel - I discovered while creeping along in a straight line in nearly stopped traffic with my hands resting lightly on the wheel. Apparently it senses torque inputs (even very slight ones) from the driver to determine whether someone is holding it, and in the very slow traffic the fact that I hadn't needed to apply a steering input for awhile was flagged as "not holding the wheel" by the software.

        Why didn't the Uber car have some similar sort of mech

        • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

          Why didn't the Uber car have some similar sort of mechanism to detect a non-responsive "driver"?

          Uber has always been a "let's just try something now and worry about the what-ifs later" kind of company. That they jumped into the self-driving car business without adequately thinking things through doesn't surprise me at all. I imagine we'll be witnessing a few more fiascos, if/when they make good on their plan to start flying people around in oversized drones.

      • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @08:20PM (#56670022)
        According to the FA she wasn't texting, she was minding the screen in the car, per Uber's instructions, to take notes on interesting events for later research. Uber used to have two people, one to watch the road and one to take the notes and they did away with the second one to cut costs.
        • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )
          There's no evidence besides her own report of the situation. Look at how her facial expressions changes in the video [youtube.com]. It's initially neutral, then a smirk, then neutral as she looks at the road, then amused as she looks down, and then finally horrified as she looks up for the last time.

          She was, without doubt, looking at something much more interesting than a list of vehicle status updates.
      • QA always gets short shrift, the first place where companies try to save money. So hire someone at very low pay and have them do the on-the-road testing with minimal training (which is expensive). A quality company would have had at least two testers in the car, and it would have enabled audible and visible alerts. Now if you had two people both texting instead of testing, then you need to hire better QA.

    • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
      Still waiting on the Uber apologists to show up and tell us how much safer these systems will be and how these accidents will only happen once ever. Like developers never reintroduce errors.
      • Where's 110010001000 [slashdot.org] when you need him?

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Still waiting on the Uber apologists to show up and tell us how much safer these systems will be and how these accidents will only happen once ever. Like developers never reintroduce errors.

        Seems that one death has made Uber pull out of developing SDCs, at least they've handed in the license they had and are laying off the staff so looks fairly permanent. That's probably the best that could happen to SDCs because Uber's business is built on playing it fast and loose with the law. Which is one thing when it's about medallions and whatnot, but when they get people killed it's a big deal. Hopefully the serious players will keep going slow and steady, Waymo has been working for it for 9 years and

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        Self driving cars will be a lot safer. This was a self driving car as much as Uber is not a taxi company.

    • Re:Wait, what now? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MDMurphy ( 208495 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:28PM (#56669020)

      A very poorly written article which resulted in a poorly written summary.

      Buried in the article: "Uber also disabled the Volvo's factory-equipped automatic emergency braking system when the vehicle is in autonomous mode, the report said."

      The Volvo XC90 comes with a feature they call "City Safety". https://www.media.volvocars.co... [volvocars.com]

      This is an auto-braking system with sensors. Uber's autonomous system has its own braking and sensors. It's understandable from a system perspective that they don't have two separate, independent, systems deciding when to apply the brakes operational at the same time.

      The poorly written article makes it sound like Uber's system either didn't have a feature for braking for obstacles or that it was disabled. This is not accurate. It does appear that Uber's system failed to either detect the pedestrian or to brake when detected.

      It's probably also true that when testing they don't use the factory cruise control to maintain speed on the highway. There are likely other standard functions not used when the autonomous equipment is under test.

      • Replying to my own comment for those who don't follow the link to the details of the standard Volvo system.

        Cyclists crossing the path of the car or suddenly swerving out in front it. Depending on the situation, City Safety is able to avoid a collision if the relative speed difference is up to 45 km/h (28 mph). At higher speeds, the automatic braking can mitigate the consequences of the collision.

        Pedestrians walking out in front of the car. City Safety is able to avoid a collision at speeds u

        • Re:Wait, what now? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Green Mountain Bot ( 4981769 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @06:42PM (#56669462)

          Then again the pedestrian not wearing dark clothes or having reflectors on the bike while walking in front of a car at night would probably have helped more.

          How would that have helped? The car detected her and didn't brake, and the "driver" wasn't looking and so couldn't brake.

          • Re: Wait, what now? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Friday May 25, 2018 @12:56AM (#56671000)

            How would that have helped? The car detected her and didn't brake,

            As he pointed out, they're talking about two different systems. It's hard to parse out, but I think what they're trying to say is that the built in factory system detected her but couldn't break because it was disabled, but Uber's own system didn't detect her.

            If that's the case then yeah, maybe reflectors and such would have helped the Uber system detect her and stop. On the other hand if the factory system detected her and theirs didn't then it also means that their system is pretty shit.

      • No, you are wrong. (Score:5, Informative)

        by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:48PM (#56669172)

        And I suspect intentionally so.

        It has been clearly stated, BY UBER that they both disabled the Volvo emergency braking AND their own emergency stop/avoidance code.
        To imply it was just the Volvo system is trying to avoid the fact that Uber had intentionally removed their own code that would make emergency stops.

        They had intentionally made a system that had NO automated method of making an emergency stop, and no method of warning the secondary driver that one was needed (which would be stupid anyway,. they are supposed to be testing a system for future use without such a driver).

        They should be hammered for this - it would be the equivalent of removing the emergency brakes from a buildings lifts, or the airbags from a car, without telling anyone.

        • They had intentionally made a system that had NO automated method of making an emergency stop,

          Somewhere in an alternate universe your hypocritical clone is complaining that an automated vehicle stopped suddenly and resulted in an inattentive motorcyclist rear ending the vehicle and dying.

          They had an automated method of making an emergency stop. It was the brake pedal and a human brain. Currently that's the most robust method with presumably the best false positive\negative ratio.

      • Re:Wait, what now? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:53PM (#56669214) Homepage

        The poorly written article makes it sound like Uber's system either didn't have a feature for braking for obstacles or that it was disabled. This is not accurate.

        No, you're the one spreading misinformation. To quote the NTSB report directly:

        According to Uber emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.

        Basically they had a system that calculated it would crash, but did nothing and warned no one. In other words, the same as having no system at all.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        " It's understandable from a system perspective that they don't have two separate, independent, systems deciding when to apply the brakes operational at the same time."

        You missed the bit where they disable their own system too, this is why the car didn't stop. Not 2 systems but zero braking systems. If they were going to disable their own system then they should of enabled the original Volvo system if possible.

    • None (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @06:14PM (#56669312)
      they originally had 2 people driving the car, one to watch the road and one to watch the numbers and make notes about the car's performance. As a cost cutting measure they dropped it down to 1 person doing both jobs. The woman behind the wheel was busy making notes on the screen when she should have been watching the road.

      Uber wants data and they don't care how they get it. You can't get data on risky events if you're too cautious. kinda like how they used to vivisect criminals.
    • Re:Wait, what now? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @06:46PM (#56669488)

      "They are saying that Uber's self-driving car rig is neither designed to stop for nor alert the driver about pedestrians obstructing the path of the vehicle."

      What they seem to have done is taken a vehicle with substantial safety equipment, left the sensors operating, but turned off the accident avoidance features. Then they added a distracting task (monitor the system) for the driver. Then, SURPRISE!!!, something went lethally wrong.

      We'll have to wait until folks with time and full information perform an analysis. But it sure looks at first glance like this was/is a questionably well designed test program.

    • Fully automated Trucks of Peace. Put an Arab patsy in one, direct the drone truck to ram into some people, and terrorize your population into accepting whatever totalitarian decadence you can dream up!

    • This can't be right. They are saying that Uber's self-driving car rig is neither designed to stop for nor alert the driver about pedestrians obstructing the path of the vehicle. It's just designed to... log them?!

      What part about this is considered "self-driving" then, exactly?

      And people going to jail for this will be exactly zero.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      It did drive by itself, obviously. It drove over somebody, but it was clearly self-driving doing that. I think you are confused about the terminology used here.

    • It's a self-driving car, not a self-stopping car.

    • I think they assumed (incorrectly) that the testing drivers will be alert. It was required to have an alert human beind the wheel during testing, but given that this was Uber they undoubtedly cut corners.

    • by xlsior ( 524145 )
      It's self-driving just fine - self-stopping, on the other hand...
  • Criminal negligence, then.

    Classy.

    • Well, cheer up! At least the car wasn't hacked by someone who planted some Carmageddon subroutines in the system.

      Might still happen though, if the manufacturers keep up the shoddy security we've come to expect from them.

  • by djbckr ( 673156 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:12PM (#56668930)
    It's time for regulatory control - like how the FAA regulates the skies, the autonomous car industry needs to have sensible regulations. Right now it just seems like a bunch of cowboys in the wild west are trying to one-up each other.
    Get this: The car "saw" the person 6 seconds before striking the person. The emergency system was disabled. The emergency system was not set up to alert the driver. So many things wrong here that would have been avoided had there been sensible regulations written by sensible engineers.
    • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
      Very true, the decisions these systems need to make should not be decided by a bunch of Uber bro's.
    • So many things wrong here that would have been avoided had there been sensible regulations written by sensible engineers.

      Hmm...you seem to think that regulations (Rules of the Road, that sort of thing) are written by engineers. Alas, the truth is that they're mostly written by politicians....

      • by djbckr ( 673156 )

        So many things wrong here that would have been avoided had there been sensible regulations written by sensible engineers.

        Hmm...you seem to think that regulations (Rules of the Road, that sort of thing) are written by engineers. Alas, the truth is that they're mostly written by politicians....

        No, I'm fully aware of who writes them... that's why I specified "by sensible engineers" in my statement.

    • Quick and easy. Just expropriate the FAA regs, global replace 'aircraft' to 'vehicle'. Delete the silly stuff. That's an alpha.

      Give the auto industry five years to get the ECUs up to snuff. Then they can get _started_ on self driving cars.

    • 'Regulate' it to a scrapyard.
    • These vehicles are already regulated.

      ...it was Nevada that first adopted autonomous legislation back in 2011. Since then, a total of 30 states, plus the District of Colombia, have put some sort of self-driving regulation on the books. Of that group, 25 states—Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermon

  • Hmmn

    on an FYI basis, my self-driving car (written in Python using PyTorch) does not work either...

    Just saying !

  • by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:38PM (#56669096)

    The New Uber Terminator Car will eliminate any unwanted pedestrians.

    Ask us how!

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:39PM (#56669104) Homepage

    There was a human in the Uber car. Theoretically she was there to provide a human element that backed up the self-driving. But she was not giving her full attention to safety.

    [The Uber safety driver] told investigators she had been "monitoring the self-driving system interface," which is displayed on an iPad mounted on the vehicle's center console.

      https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/24/17388696/uber-self-driving-crash-ntsb-report [theverge.com]

    I think Uber should change their procedure. Have two humans in the car: one to provide safety backup to the driving, and one to manage the iPad app. That will cost more than just having one human in the car, but would have saved a life in this case.

    Note that the NTSB says the pedestrian was crossing unsafely, which contributed to the incident. Again quoting from the above-linked article in The Verge:

    The report frames [the pedestrian's] actions in the moments before the crash in a fairly negative light. Investigators note she was crossing the street outside the crosswalk, wearing dark clothing, and, according to a post-crash toxicology report, had methamphetamine and marijuana in her system. The NTSB also notes that the median on Mill Avenue where [the pedestrian] was crossing the street was not illuminated by lighting and featured signage warning pedestrians not to cross there.

    I don't see what the drugs in her system had to do with anything; I think this would have happened the same way even if she was completely sober. But she was doing an unsafe thing when she died.

    • Re:Split attention (Score:4, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @07:45PM (#56669768)

      If she was sober she might have looked both ways before crossing a street or noted that an oncoming vehicle wasn't slowing to avoid her. If I was crossing the street at night sober and a car wasn't stopping for me I would stop and let it pass and then proceed once it was safe.

    • The problem that we're seeing with auto pilot cars with humans as backups is that there is lag time for the human to realize that they need to become rapidly involved in dangerous situations. That lag time is much greater than a full-time driver that isn't expecting the car computer to drive the car.

      We automatically react to dangerous situations and try to avert them as full time drivers.

      A "almost driver" in a self-driving car is likely not as attentive as a full time driver. The person in the Uber car wa

    • I don't see what the drugs in her system had to do with anything; I think this would have happened the same way even if she was completely sober. But she was doing an unsafe thing when she died.

      She was crossing at a place everyone crosses. A bike path crosses the street there, though it's not printed on the pavement, and the right hand lane, which she was half in when struck, is a bike lane. The drug testing is obvious, it's the same reason it's done for worker comp. If she was high in the last week then all fault is hers, despite all facts and evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows this is true because drugs are the devil and the cause of all problems.

      • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )
        She did not cross at a cross walk, nor was she on a bike path.

        To quote the NTSB report [ntsb.gov] itself:

        In this area, northbound Mill Avenue is separated from southbound Mill Avenue by a center median containing trees, shrubs, and brick landscaping in the shape of an X. Four signs at the edges of the brick median, facing toward the roadway, warn pedestrians to use the crosswalk. The nearest crosswalk is at the intersection of Mill Avenue and Curry Road, about 360 feet north of where the crash occurred.

        The accident could've been easily avoided, if either she or the driver been paying any attention at all. But really, what do you expect when a phone-addicted ex-con encounters a homeless meth-addict while "driving" a vehicle with experimental software from a "ride-sharing" company?

  • because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled

    Sensors on the fully autonomous Volvo XC-90 SUV spotted Herzberg while the car was traveling 43 miles per hour and determined that braking was needed 1.3 seconds before impact, according to the report.

    A diagram in the NTSB report shows that the Uber system determined that the SUV needed to brake when it was at least 20 meters (65.6 feet) from Herzberg; it was traveling 39 mph (63 kilometers per hour) at impact. Kornhauser said that was enough distance for the SUV to stop, or slow considerably to mitigate damage from the crash.

    Uber also disabled the Volvo's factory-equipped automatic emergency braking system when the vehicle is in autonomous mode, the report said.

    So what was disabled? The factory auto brake, or Uber's auto brake? Surely they weren't allowing a car that wasn't able to brake itself out on the roads. Does the Uber system have a separate "emergency braking" subsystem?

    Headline says the system "saw" her 6 seconds before impact, but it determined that it needed to brake just over 1s before impact? (traveling at about 59fps at impact)

    This article sucks.

    • Seems pretty straight forward to me.
      Uber disabled the factory emergency braking system. Understandable, if they have something better...

      Uber's system detected the pedestrian 6 seconds before impact. Fine.
      It them determined, 1.3 seconds before impact the the pedestrian was going to get hit if it did nothing. Makes sense, the woman was walking across the road, not standing still in the middle of the lane.

      The system did nothing because Uber had disabled that functionality, apparently due to too many false posi

      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        Uber's system detected the pedestrian 6 seconds before impact. Fine.
        It them determined, 1.3 seconds before impact the the pedestrian was going to get hit if it did nothing.

        What happened to the "swerve to avoid a collision" option? Maybe they were planning that for the v2.0 release?

  • Car Development (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Only Time Will Tell ( 5213883 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:44PM (#56669140)
    It goes to show that development of the next generation of self-driving or autonomous cars has to be undertaken by companies heavily driven by pedestrian and passenger safety. It seems like an engineering failure was partly to blame here when the car was aware of the pedestrian, but neither alerted the driver nor attempted to stop or redirect its path. A tech company masquerading as a car company strikes me as the exact conditions that could lead to this failure.
    • They did the right thing. False positives of slamming on the brakes isn't safe for other drivers. Extreme\dangerous reactions should only be initiated by a safety driver until the false-positive rate is confirmed to be lower than the safety driver's false negative rate.

      • The right thing would to have never tested a Cracker Jack box toy on real roads endangering human life. Google (waymo) is 500x better than this joke of a car and they don't think it's ready. Uber would already be firing workers with these if they could get away with it.
    • It wasn't an engineering failure that caused the system to neither alert the driver or react to the situation.

      Someone at Uber decided to disable the system because they couldn't get it right.
      Nothing failed, it was turned off, so never had the chance to fail.

  • by DanDD ( 1857066 ) on Thursday May 24, 2018 @05:59PM (#56669244)

    A bit of system engineering discipline, FMEA [wikipedia.org] , might have prevented this. It helps when innovators are trained to manage complexity, capability, and risk.

    Or common sense, but such things can be on short supply on large projects run by program managers who have an 'MBA' mentality: https://www.inc.com/nathan-fur... [inc.com]

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Indeed. And apparently a mindset of "it is only software", just that it is not your browser that crashes here. The MBAs are the Plague and Cholera rolled all in one.

  • So it's ok to kill people in every state except Arizona? Ridiculous! If you aren't operating in Arizona then you shouldn't be operating anywhere.

  • the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled

    This is utter madness. I would say 'pants on head' crazy but there's something a tiny bit endearing about that phrase, suggesting a gentle kind of crazy. No, this is 'dissociative, dig out your own eyeballs and eat them, psychotic break' insanity.

    How about this: lets make a machine gun that's just always shooting bullets. It chooses which direction to point, and it's usually right. Sometimes, though, it might

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      It is probably a case where a lot of pressure to perform was applied to the engineers by some clueless MBA bean-counter and, in addition, nobody apparently had the experience and training to realize how woefully inadequate a "safety driver" is in such a set-up actually is.

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday May 24, 2018 @08:11PM (#56669976)

    At least when the machines are actively trying to kill us, we can be fairly sure that once in a while they'll screw up and leave their victim alive.

  • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 ) on Friday May 25, 2018 @12:41AM (#56670944) Journal

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