Protesters Use Of Self-Driving Cars For Activism And Disruption
The news seems to be replete with stories of people undertaking protests these days.
Oftentimes, the protesters will organize beforehand and aim to disrupt an everyday kind of activity, while in other cases the protesters will target a specific event or occasion that they hope to disturb.
Their overarching aim is typically to get attention to their protest, along with potentially stopping or slowing down whatever it is they are interrupting.
Get started on your cybersecurity degree at American Military University.
You’ve undoubtedly seen the approach of protesters that mass flood themselves into a given space or location.
Let’s unpack that kind of protesting, and then I’d like to share with you a new way of performing those mass flooding techniques, which I predict will gradually be appearing, namely via the use of self-driving driverless autonomous cars.
Ways To Protest And How They Work
How do protesters undertake the mass flood technique?
It can be done in a subtle and hidden manner, or via an overt and demonstrable means.
There’s the “hiding trick” that involves appearing as though they are just part of the ordinary crowd and then subsequently announcing their protest.
This has been done at political rallies, blending into the assembled attendees and then suddenly shouting and making a commotion for their protest effort. Another frequently targeted venue is to go into a courtroom or a hearing room, sit quietly among others seated to attend, and at some point, make a clamor to disturb the proceedings.
Rather than the use of hiding, protesters can take a different tack and visibly amass, doing so with quite a noticeable flurry and commotion. They might then move around or proceed in a manner intended to get maximum attention and cause disruption. For example, protesters might communicate via social media to assemble say at the corner of 1st Street and 5th Avenue, and after a sufficiently sized crowd has appeared, they opt to march down 5th Avenue as a collective mass.
These various protest methods can range from being legal to becoming or being quite illegal.
In the United States, it is generally acceptable to carry out a protest, if a given jurisdiction’s requirements have been legally satisfied. You might need to get a permit or take necessary steps to legally perform a protest.
Once a protest gets underway, it sometimes exceeds the legally allowed bounds and swerves into becoming an illegal effort, perhaps shifting into violent acts or other untoward actions. The protesters might not have sought to do so, but nonetheless they could have uncorked a bottle of improper protesting, inciting a mob-like mindset, and the next thing you know the activity has veered into a lawless act.
The protesting that I’ve been describing consists of protest actions in the real-world, which I mean to say exists in the physical everyday world that we inhabit. There is nowadays a rising use of the electronic world for protest purposes, commonly known as digital disobedience.
Note that I am not trying to suggest that the electronic world is the not in the real-world, since obviously the internet and social media are indeed real, and just trying to draw a bit of a distinction between protests that in a sense physically manifest themselves such as humans assembling on a street corner or in a courthouse and contrasting that to humans doing something similar online.
For those of you that are fans of the movie The Matrix, you might know what I mean when I suggest that there is a crossover from the “real-world” into the matrix-like electronic world (oops, spoiler alert!).
Digital Disobedience And ECD Arising
Digital disobedience normally consists of performing online protest actions that aim to draw attention to the protest and simultaneously disrupt either some everyday online activity or an online special event.
When you ponder that definition, you’ll notice that it is essentially the same as the physical protesting that I’ve been describing herein and merely shifted into the electronic online space.
A more formal title given to this digital disobedience is ECD, standing for Electronic Civil Disobedience, though some assert it really should be coined as Electronic Cyber Disobedience.
I’m betting that you’ve heard or known about situations whereby a website was “taken down” by having been overwhelmed with tons upon tons of rapidly fired electronic requests to the site. In computer security parlance, this is called a Denial of Service (DoS) kind of attack. Depending upon how it is carried out, the attack can also be described as a DDoS, a Distributed Denial of Service security hack.
Remember how I mentioned that human protesters could amass in the streets and perform a mass flood that would disrupt street traffic?
Well, the DoS and DDoS are the same kind of mass flooding, using electronic bits and bytes rather than people walking and running in the streets.
To amass people in the physical world would seem to be a rather simple and easy thing to do, simply notify prospective protesters and ask them to assemble at a particular place on a particular date and time. Pretty easy to implement if people are interested and willing to participate in the protest.
Well, it’s relatively easy to do the same in terms of the electronic world, aiming to mass flood a website, and in some ways even easier than doing so in the physical world.
You can merely ask online for a ton of people to go ahead and try to access the website on the same specific date and time, all of them ready at their keyboard or smartphone to perform the protest, or more simplified would be for an individual or small set of such “protesters” to use computer automation as a means to carry out the attack (involving less online people, leveraging computers or bots to help do the mass flooding for you).
The electronic world and the physical world can be combined as a mass flooding or Denial of Service method via the use of self-driving cars.
Self-Driving Cars As Unwitting Accomplices
Imagine that you want to undertake a protest at the corner of 10th Street and Pinole Avenue, seeking to form a crowd that will disrupt traffic and draw attention to your protest.
Once self-driving driverless cars are prevalent, it is assumed that we will be able to hail them for ridesharing purposes via our smartphones.
As such, you could ask fifty people to show-up at noon tomorrow at the designated street corner and have all of them at the precise noon hour all-at-once initiate requests for a self-driving ridesharing car to come pick them up.
This would presumably cause at least fifty self-driving cars to simultaneously attempt to converge on that specific street corner at nearly the same point in time. It would likely gum up traffic. Other traffic including human driven cars would get mired in the traffic snarl.
Those that sought to have the self-driving cars come to the spot might then try to keep the self-driving cars there, telling the AI that they need time to get into the now awaiting driverless car.
You might wonder whether you could pull that same trick today, doing so to human driven ridesharing cars. The odds are against it. If you had human drivers in ridesharing cars, they would likely get wise to what was taking place and it is doubtful that you would be able to either get the ruse to work or that it would last for very long.
You might argue that the ridesharing networking system ought to have detected that a mass of requests was happening all at once in the same location, and therefore should have gotten suspicious about the matter.
But, it’s not so easy to ascertain that it isn’t a legitimate act, since it could be that a concert or some local event has ended, and the attendees are all now seeking to get rides home.
Of course, a downside for the protesters is that they (in theory) would have to be registered on the ridesharing network and therefore their names and identifies would be known (this could be tricked). Also, they might need to incur a cost for having the self-driving cars come to pick them up, though this could also be dealt with via other sneaky electronic means.
Actually, in comparison to humans amassing in the streets, wherein the police could readily nab them or have video taken to later trace the protesters, the use of the self-driving cars as unwitting accomplices can potentially be done in a more surreptitious manner. The “protesters” could electronically conceal themselves if they were wise to how to do so.
There are numerous variants of this.
You might ask the AI to park the self-driving car in the middle of the street. This could then become a blockage for traffic and disrupt the other cars trying to use the road.
Interestingly, this brings up a key “ethics” or societal question that has yet to be addressed about driverless cars.
Should humans be able to direct the actions of a self-driving car, telling the AI what to do, and if so to what degree is the AI supposed to obey such commands?
If you are immediately thinking that it isn’t right for a self-driving car to just park itself in the middle of the street simply because a human directed it to do so, I’d challenge you to consider whether the AI would know that it is a sensible thing to do or not do. There might be some very valid reasons that a human would park a car in the middle of a street, and the AI has no common-sense reasoning to decide whether the instruction is a proper one or not.
The bottom-line is that self-driving cars could be dragged into use as a protest tool.
Though I had provided a scenario of fifty people on a street corner hailing driverless cars, it could be that those fifty people were actually spread around the globe and merely submitted their electronic requests as though they were standing on the street corner (tricking or spoofing their actual location).
Worse still, it wouldn’t need fifty people and could be done potentially via one person alone, and again the person might not be anywhere physically near the street corner being used for the protest, perhaps sitting in their pajamas at home in their bedroom.
Some readers might be disturbed that I’ve brought up something that perhaps protesters would not have ever thought of, and thus somehow opened or revealed a Pandora’s box, allowing protesters to become cognizant of an idea about what they might do in the future.
I’d actually argue the opposite, and state quite fervently that I’m doing an important service by bringing up something that ultimately would have been stumbled upon, and that would otherwise have been an “unforeseen” nightmare which the automakers and tech firms would have had to figure out how on-the-fly they could cope with.
Sticking our heads into the sand about what self-driving cars portend for us is a risky and foolhardy proposition, I assert.
Instead, since true self-driving cars aren’t here yet, it makes sense to bring up these aspects now, allowing for time to put in place cybersecurity methods to detect and prevent such actions.
I’d rather that we solve or resolve these kinds of hacktivism possibilities, beforehand, rather than all of us getting caught “unawares” because we didn’t think carefully about how self-driving driverless cars will change the world as we know it today.
Let’s take the red pill, now, and not fall for the blue pill (oops, another spoiler alert reference to The Matrix).