Parable About ‘The Upstream’ Provides Key Lessons For AI Autonomous Cars Learn Coder

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Balancing the upstream with the downstream is maybe the best technique dealing with points launched by the arrival of self-driving autos on the freeway.  

By Lance Eliot, the AI Traits Insider  

There’s a widely known allegory often called the Upstream Parable that offers fairly a number of invaluable lessons and could also be gainfully utilized to the arrival of AI autonomous self-driving autos. 

The Upstream Parable sometimes often called the Rivers Story, has been attributed to quite a few originating sources, along with that some counsel it was initially launched up throughout the Nineteen Thirties by Saul Alinksy, political activist,  after which later by Irving Zola, medical sociologist, though it was possibly given its greatest impetus via a paper by John McKinlay in 1975 that utilized the parable to the world of healthcare. 

I’ll start with a slimmed-down mannequin of the story. 

You is perhaps strolling alongside the monetary establishment of a dashing river everytime you spy a person throughout the water that seems to be drowning. Heroically, you leap into the water and save the person. A few minutes later, one different particular person floats by that seems to be drowning. As quickly as as soon as extra, you leap into the river and save the person.   

This retains occurring, again and again. 

In each case, you dive in, and though you deal with to keep away from losing the person each such time, doing so denies you the likelihood to go upstream and confirm why all these individuals are moving into the water to begin with, for which you’d probably be succesful to ship the matter to an complete halt and forestall anyone else from further moving into the damaging waters.   

And that’s the tip of the story. 

You is maybe pondering, what affords with this?   

Why is it such a catchy parable? 

By most interpretations, the story presents a metaphor about how we oftentimes are so busy attempting to kind issues that we don’t be aware of how they’ve been originating. Our efforts and focus go in direction of that which we immediately see. And, significantly when one factor is demanding incessantly our rapt consideration right away. For individuals who can take a breather and mull points over in such a state of affairs, you might lastly be succesful to resolve the matter completely by going upstream, make a restore there, comparatively than being battered time and again downstream.

The reality is, it might very properly be that one restore on the upstream would forestall all the rest of the downstream efforts, that implies that economically it’s most likely far more sound to maintain the upstream comparatively than the frenetic and expensive downstream actions. 

This can be utilized to healthcare in a myriad of how. As an illustration, suppose {{that a}} populace has improper hygiene habits and lives in a vogue that encourages sickness to take preserve. Upon arriving at such a locale, your first thought is maybe to assemble a hospital to take care of the sick. After a while, the hospital may refill, so it’s good to assemble one different hospital. On and on, this merry-go-round goes, devoting more and more sources to developing hospitals to assist the ailing.   

It is perhaps easy to fall into the psychological entice of putting all your consideration in direction of these hospitals. 

You might chew-up your energy on dealing with: 

  • Are the hospitals working successfully? 
  • Do hospitals have ample medical instruments? 
  • Can you keep ample nurses and docs on-staff to cope with the workloads? 
  • And so forth. 

Recalling the lesson of the Upstream Parable, probably there ought to be consideration given to how the populace resides and try to find strategies to cut down on the breaking out of sickness. That’s upstream and it’s the extent at which the manufacturing of ailing people goes down. Take into consideration, do you have to did change the upstream to wash points up and forestall or a minimal of cut back by an enormous measure the rampant sickness, you’d no longer need such an enormous amount of hospitals, and nor all that instruments, and nor have the issues of staffing the medical teams in a large-scale method.   

Uncover too that everyone involved throughout the matter is doing what they think about most interesting to do. 

In several phrases, these developing all these hospitals perceive a should heal the sick, and they also’re sincerely and genuinely “doing the very best issue.” Sadly, they’re consumed mightily by that course of, akin to pulling drowning people out of the dashing river, and thus they fail to ponder what’s upstream and doubtless larger strategies to “treatment” the parents of their ills. 

Okay, that’s the overarching gist of the upstream and downstream related fable. 

There are fairly a number of variants of how the story is suggested.   

Some want to say that the people falling into the water are children and that you just’re as a result of this truth saving mainly helpless children (and, as if to go even further, sometimes the indication is that they’re infants). 

I assume which can make the parable additional partaking, nonetheless it doesn’t significantly change the final tenor of the teachings involved. 

Proper right here’s one function that some wish to make use of youngsters or infants relatively than referring to adults.   

A bizarrely distorted response by some is that whether or not it’s adults that are falling into the water, why aren’t they astute ample to stop doing so, and why must or not it’s that anyone else should be frightened about saving adults that presumably must know larger (thus, substituting children or infants makes that a lot much less debatable, nonetheless I’ve to say that the significantly cynical and bitter portrayal of adults is a bit alarming as a result of it might very properly be that one factor previous their power is tossing them into the drink, and anyway it fights in direction of the spirit of the parable complete). 

One different variation of the story has a second individual that involves assist in saving the drowning subjects. 

On the end of the story, this second explicit individual, after having helped to tug particular person after particular person out of the river, out of the blue stops doing so and walks upstream. 

The first explicit individual, nonetheless steeped in pulling people out of the water, yells frantically to the second explicit individual, imploring with grave concern, the place are they going? 

I’m going upstream to hunt out out what’s occurring and function to stop whoever is tossing people into the river, says the second explicit individual. 

End of story.   

That’s a nifty variant. 


Correctly, throughout the first mannequin, the person saving the lives has no probability to do one thing nonetheless proceed to keep away from losing lives (we’ll pretty conclude that if the saving have been to be curtailed, particular person after particular person would drown).   

Throughout the second mannequin, we hope or assume that the first explicit individual can sufficiently proceed to keep away from losing lives, whereas the second particular person scoots upstream to attempt to do one factor in regards to the predicament. 

Actually, life isn’t that clear reduce. 

It could very properly be that the second particular person leaving will lamentably present a extreme and life-denying finish end result on the downstream saving-lives place. 

By which case, we now have to ponder as as to if it’s larger to keep up saving lives throughout the quick, comparatively than attempting to unravel the problem complete, or that it’s important to make a demise sentence dedication to mainly abandon some to their deaths to maintain the problem by discovering out its root. 

On a related topic, virtually all seasoned software program program builders and AI builders are inclined to know that each time you’ve a budding system that’s exhibiting points, you search to hunt out the so-called root set off. 

For individuals who spend all your time attempting to restore errors being generated by the premise set off, you’ll perpetually be in a bind of merely fixing these errors and in no way stop the circulation. 

Anyway, the variant to the parable is form of useful as a result of it brings up a devilish dilemma. 

Whereas throughout the midst of dealing with a catastrophe, can you spare time and effort in direction of the premise set off, or would that within the meantime generate such opposed penalties that you just’re risking larger hurt by not coping with the quick and direct factors at-hand? 

Take observe too that just because the second particular person opts to walk upstream, we now don’t have any method of realizing whether or not or not the upstream exploration will even obtain success. 

It could very properly be that the upstream draw back is so distant that the second explicit individual in no way will get there, and through which case, if within the meantime, people have been drowning, it was pretty a hefty value to pay for having not solved the premise draw back.   

Or, probably the second explicit individual finds the premise, nonetheless they’re unable to restore it quickly (probably it’s a troll that’s too large to battle, and as a substitute the second explicit individual has to attempt to forestall people from wandering into its entice, nonetheless this solely cuts down on say one-third of the tempo of people getting tossed into the river). 

Which implies for some time, these drowning are going to keep up drowning.   

Proper right here’s a superb sadder probability. 

The second explicit individual reaches the upstream root and tries to restore the problem, however by some means, regrettably, makes it worse (probably it was a bridge that people have been falling off, and whereas making an attempt to restore the bridge, the second explicit individual messed-up and the bridge is far more precarious than it was sooner than!).  

It could very properly be that up until then, the first explicit individual was able to maintain with saving these drowning, and now, sarcastically, after the second explicit individual tried to restore the problem, and throughout the meantime wasn’t spherical to help save the drowning victims, there are a slew additional people falling into the water, completely overwhelming the first explicit individual. 


As you probably can see, I like this latter mannequin that options the second explicit individual, allowing us to extend the teachings which may be readily gleaned from the parable. 

Some though favor using the simpler mannequin. 

All of it depends upon upon the aim that you just’re attempting to drive residence via using the story. 

For these of you which of them are smarmy, I’m sure that you just simply’ve already give you completely different variations.   

Why not make a web that’s stretched all through the river and catches all these people? 

There, draw back solved, you proudly proclaim.   

Correctly, which draw back? 

The problem of the parents drowning on the downstream place, or the problem of the parents being tossed into the river and presumably leading to being drowned (hopefully, they don’t drown sooner than they attain your web). 

In any case, positive, it’s maybe good to give you an easier or atmosphere pleasant approach to avoid wasting the drowning people.   

That doesn’t basically negate the premise that it’s the basis that deserves consideration, nonetheless I love that you just simply’ve tried to find a way to chop again the trouble on the downstream, which probably frees up these that are aiming to go upstream to hunt out and restore the premise set off. 


One completely different ultimate side to say, and it significantly dovetails into the notion of constructing and placing within the internet, sometimes there could also be such a big setup of infrastructure on the downstream that it turns into unwieldy and takes on a lifetime of its private to maintain.   

Furthermore, and the twist upon a twist, suppose that the net will get virtually all, nonetheless just some happen to go underwater and aren’t saved by the net.   

Take into consideration any person standing downstream of the (already) downstream web. 

They may end up within the equivalent parable, and upon coming as a lot as uncover you and your web, think about they’ve found the premise set off.  

It could very properly be that the premise set off is further upstream and that there are a lot of completely different intervening downstream choices, all of which are (hopefully) mitigating the upstream, however it’s maybe robust to find out what’s the premise versus what’s not the premise. 

There might very properly be an virtually infinite assortment of downstream choices, all well-meaning, each of which makes the complete affair extraordinarily superior and confounding, whereas there may be maybe an elegant end to the monstrosity by by some means attending to the precise root.   

Correctly, that was pretty an instructive check out the fable. 

You is maybe questioning, can the fable be utilized in several contexts, paying homage to one factor AI-related (that’s why I’m proper right here). 

Positive, actually, proper right here’s an fascinating question to ponder: “Will the arrival of AI-based true self-driving autos most likely uncover itself getting mired in downstream points akin to the Upstream Parable?” 

Let’s unpack the matter and see.   

For my framework about AI autonomous autos, see the hyperlink proper right here: 

Why it’s a moonshot effort, see my clarification proper right here: 

For additional in regards to the ranges as a form of Richter scale, see my dialogue proper right here: 

For the argument about bifurcating the levels, see my clarification proper right here: 


The Ranges Of Self-Driving Automobiles 


You have to to clarify what I indicate when referring to AI-based true self-driving autos. 


True self-driving autos are ones the place the AI drives the automotive completely by itself and there isn’t any human assist all through the driving course of. 


These driverless vehicles are considered a Stage four and Stage 5, whereas a automotive that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is often considered at a Stage 2 or Stage 3. The autos that co-share the driving course of are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically embrace numerous automated add-on’s that are often called ADAS (Superior Driver-Assist Packages). 


There’s not however an actual self-driving automotive at Stage 5, which we don’t however even know if this may be potential to appreciate, and nor how prolonged it could take to get there. 


Within the meantime, the Stage four efforts are frequently attempting to get some traction by current course of very slim and selective public roadway trials, though there could also be controversy over whether or not or not this testing should be allowed per se (we’re all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some stage out). 


Since semi-autonomous autos require a human driver, the adoption of those types of autos gained’t be markedly completely completely different than driving customary vehicles, so there’s not loads new per se to cowl about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a second, the components subsequent made are often related). 


For semi-autonomous autos, most people must be forewarned a number of disturbing facet that’s been arising presently, particularly that no matter these human drivers that preserve posting motion pictures of themselves falling asleep on the wheel of a Stage 2 or Stage Three automotive, all of us should steer clear of being misled into believing that the driving force can take away their consideration from the driving course of whereas driving a semi-autonomous automotive. 


You’re the accountable social gathering for the driving actions of the car, regardless of how loads automation is maybe tossed proper right into a Stage 2 or Stage 3. 


Self-Driving Automobiles And The Parable 


For Stage four and Stage 5 true self-driving vehicles, there gained’t be a human driver involved throughout the driving course of. 


All occupants may be passengers. 


The AI is doing the driving. 


Sounds pretty good. 


No need for any arcane fables or tall tales. 


Nonetheless, wait, give the Upstream Parable a possibility. 


Some proper now are arguing that additional regulation is required on the federal diploma to data how self-driving autos may be designed, constructed, and fielded. 


These proponents are inclined to say that having the states or native authorities in cities and counties having to give you ideas for utilizing self-driving autos is counterproductive. 


You is maybe shocked to know that plenty of the automakers and self-driving tech companies seem to often agree with the notion that the principles ought to be on the federal diploma. 




One function may be the presumed simplicity of getting an across-the-board algorithm, comparatively than having to control or craft the AI system and driverless automotive to accommodate a attainable morass of tons of upon tons of of varied tips all through all of the nation. 


Then once more, a cogent argument is made that having a singular federal diploma technique received’t allow for ample flexibility and tailoring that befits the desires of native municipalities. 


Let’s suppose that the native technique prevails (I’m not making such a proclamation, it’s solely a what-if). 


If self-driving autos have trouble coping on the native ranges, we’d turn into centered on the downstream points. 


Within the meantime, one might contend that it was the upstream that needed to supply an overarching technique that was ample to abate the downstream factors. 


Once more to the parable we go. 


Suppose a fleet of self-driving autos is owned by a selected automaker. 


The self-driving autos discuss with a cloud-based system, via OTA (Over-The-Air) digital capabilities, and pull down patches and updates to the AI system that’s on-board, and likewise the on-board system uploads collected sensory data and completely different knowledge from the self-driving automotive. 


Faux that one factor goes awry throughout the self-driving autos of that fleet. 


Do you try to quickly maintain each explicit individual self-driving automotive, which is maybe on the roadway and endangering passengers, pedestrians, or completely different human-driven autos, or do you try to ferret out the premise set off after which see if you’ll get that patch shoved out to the fleet in-time? 


Some assert that this very type of issue is why there ought to be a kill button or kill swap inside all self-driving autos, allowing presumably for a human passenger to determine correct there throughout the driverless automotive to stop it from processing. 


In any case, you may probably liken this to the upstream versus downstream fable. 


Pleasingly, as quickly as as soon as extra, lessons are revealed ensuing from a useful underlying schema or template. 


For why distant piloting or working of self-driving autos is often eschewed, see my clarification proper right here: 

To be cautious of faux details about self-driving autos, see my solutions proper right here: 

The ethical implications of AI driving methods are essential, see my indication proper right here: 

Take note of the pitfalls of normalization of deviance within the case of self-driving autos, proper right here’s my title to arms: 



Normally, the Upstream Parable is pretty useful for loads of circumstances. 


Part of the rationale it’s so memorable is on account of facet that it captures innately what we see every day, and helps to ship to gentle the in some other case hidden or unrealized elements of methods spherical us that we’re immersed in. 


Whereas standing on the DMV and prepared endlessly to get your driver’s license renewed, it’s essential to let your ideas wander to keep up your sanity and marvel if you happen to’ve found your self floating throughout the downstream waters. 


Drowning in paperwork! 


If the DMV had its act collectively, there’d be a solution on the basis which may make your must resume your driver’s license a bit a lot much less arduous and worsening. 


For sanity sake, go ahead and use the fable to your coronary coronary heart’s content material materials and preserve discovering strategies to steadiness the downstream with the upstream, aiming to cease points sooner than they arrive up and make the world a larger place. 


That’s lesson no matter the way you slim it.  


Copyright 2020 Dr. Lance Eliot  

This content material materials is initially posted on AI Traits. 


[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:] 




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