FBI Warns That Driverless Cars Could Be Used for Evil

Daniel Bean
Editorial Assistant
July 16, 2014
Driverless car with devil's horns
Driverless car with devil's horns

(Original image: Google. Modified: Yahoo Tech.)

The recent debut of new autonomous models from Google, Cadillac, and Audi may have you dreaming of someday putting a self-driving car in your garage.

Alas, the FBI has a warning for you: An idling driverless car is a devil’s playground.

Driverless car technology introduces the potential for criminal “multitasking,” and the cars themselves could be turned into “lethal weapons” by evildoers, the FBI warned in secret documents unearthed by reporters at The Guardian.

“Autonomy … will make mobility more efficient,” the papers, which came out of the FBI’s Strategic Issues Group, apparently read, “but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today.”

The report found that the technological autonomy that drivers concede to the vehicles’ systems could, one day, be compromised remotely by hackers. And even if a bad guy in a car chase is himself behind the wheel, he could engage in harmful multitasking, like firing a weapon at pursuant law enforcement as the car drove him away.

And the suits in D.C. may be on to something. The potential of driverless cars being meddled with was a topic discussed at last year’s Def Con hacker conference. Whether it’s by way of GPS manipulation or simply tricking the number of sensors around the vehicle, “like everything else humans ever made, [driverless cars are] going to get hacked,” one speaker said.

But if you’re hell-bent on not letting these warnings rain on your driverless parade, you could point to Google’s own (very general) statements concerning safety.

Driverless cars “will be designed to operate safely and autonomously without requiring human intervention,” the company explained in a May blog post about its driverless car demos. “Our software and sensors do all the work. … And we’ve capped the speed of these first vehicles at 25 mph.”

And even the party-poopers who wrote the FBI’s recent report agree that, if the technology is used properly, driverless cars could help reduce the number of distracted-driver accidents that plague our roads today.

(And, by the way, we seem to remember bad guys driving and shooting at the same time in, well, basically every Michael Bay movie ever. Has no one at the FBI seen Bad Boys II?)

Of course, the truth is that, though 2014 has so far brought enough real-life driverless vehicle demonstrations to make us believe the tech is near, we’re still deep in the prototype phase. We shouldn’t expect driverless cars for at least the next several years, and probably not before 2020.

By that time, we would expect driverless car companies to better explain how potential hackers would be thwarted, and the technology itself should continue to evolve and improve out in front of the release of a consumer vehicle.

By then, maybe the FBI’s outlook on driverless cars will have improved, too.

Have questions, comments, or just want to tell me something funny? Email me at danbean@yahoo-inc.com.