Hitting the Books: How much that insurance monitoring discount might really be costing you

MFor years, machine learning systems have outperformed their human counterparts in everything from Go and Jeopardy! for drug research and cancer detection. With all the advances the field has made, it’s not uncommon for people to be wary of robots replacing them in tomorrow’s workforce. These concerns are misplaced, argues Gerd Gigerenzer in his new book How to stay smart in a smart world, if for no other reason than uncertainty itself. AIs are phenomenally capable machines, but only if they have enough data at their disposal to act. Plug the acutely fickle uncertainty of human nature into their algorithms and watch their prediction accuracy drop—otherwise we’d never have to swipe left. In the excerpt below, Gigerenzer discusses the hidden privacy costs of sharing your vehicle’s telematics with the insurance company.

Black and white text on mustard background

MIT Press

excerpt from How to stay smart in a smart world by Gerd Gigerenzer. Published by MIT Press. Copyright © 2021 by Gerd Gigerenzer. All rights reserved.


When your car reports you to the police

If self-driving cars aren’t going to happen, an alternative seems to be to train people to use AI as a support system, but to remain alert and in control when that fails – what’s called augmented intelligence. It’s coming down to partial automation, that is, sophisticated versions of Level 2 or 3. But augmented intelligence involves more than just adding useful features to your car, and may well take us to a different future, where AI will be both assisting and monitoring is used us. This possible future is being driven more by insurance companies and the police than by automakers. Its seeds are in telematics.

Young drivers are reckless, high-spirited and an insurance risk, so the cliché. Some actually are, but many are not. Despite this, insurers often treat them as a group and charge a high premium. Telematics insurers can change that by offering better rates for safe drivers. The idea is to calculate the premium based on a person’s actual driving behavior, rather than the average driver. To do this, a black box is installed in the car, which connects to the insurer (possible via smartphone and cheaper, but less reliable). The black box records the driver’s behavior and calculates a safety rating. Figure 4.6 shows the scoring system of one of the first telematics insurers. It observes four characteristics and assigns different weights to them.

a table of driver telematics

MIT Press

Heavy acceleration or heavy braking is weighted the most, followed by exceeding the speed limit. Each driver starts with a monthly budget of 100 points for each of the four functions. Points are deducted for an “event”, e.g. B. 20 points for the first rapid acceleration or exceeding the maximum speed. At the end of the month, the remaining points are weighted as shown and summed up to give an overall safety score. Although telematics is often referred to as black box insurance, the algorithm is by no means a black box like most love algorithms. It is explained in detail on the insurer’s website and anyone can understand and verify the resulting score.

Personalized rates are advertised as fairness. They take your individual driving style into account. But they also create new sources of discrimination when driving at night and in cities is penalised. Hospital staff, for example, may have little choice to avoid night work and working in cities. Thus, some of the functions are under the driver’s control, but not all. Interestingly, virtually all personalized tariffs lack a driver-controllable feature: texting while driving.

And the black box that enables fairness also enables surveillance. Consider a possible future. Why should the black box only send a speed limit to the insurer? A copy to the police would be extremely handy and save them a lot of trouble. It would make all speed cameras obsolete. If you exceed the speed limit, the car prints out the ticket in good time or, more conveniently, automatically deducts the fine from your online account. Your relationship with your beloved car can change. There is a slippery slope between fairness and total surveillance.

Would you support a new generation of cars that report traffic violations directly to the police? In a survey I conducted, a third of adults said yes, more so among those over 60 and fewer among those under 30. The technology for this future already exists, as most new cars are already equipped with a black box. The data collected does not belong to the car owner and can be used against the driver in court. In Georgia, after a fatal crash without a warrant, police obtained black box data and the driver was found guilty of reckless driving and speeding.

While motives for surveillance vary, digital technology supports them all. You don’t even have to take out telematics insurance. Modern cars have built-in internet connections and – without this being made transparent in the owner’s manual – most send their automaker all the data they can gather every few minutes, including where the driver is at the moment, whether he was braking hard, how often the position of the driver’s seat changed, which fuel or battery charging stations were visited and how many CDs and DVDs were inserted. In addition, as soon as you connect your smartphone, the car can copy your personal data, including addresses of contacts, emails, text messages and even photos. Automakers are remarkably silent on this activity, and when asked who they share this data with, they typically don’t answer. This information will help to find out many other interesting things, e.g. For example, how often drivers visit McDonald’s, how healthy they are and who they occasionally visit at night. Connected cars can aid justice and improve security, but they can also spy on you. Telematics insurance embodies the double face of digital technology: surveillance versus convenience.

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Russell Falcon

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