23-12-2019 5:36 am Published by Nederland.ai Leave your thoughts

2019 is almost over and that means it's time to check in on Tesla's progress toward a million robo-cabs. You see, Elon Musk told the world that by the end of 2020 he would have a million fully autonomous robot axes, and we wanted to see how much he has managed to produce so far.

Let's count together. One, two, three, zero: He has developed exactly zero production model robo-taxis. We know this because “zero ” is exactly how many full-fledged production cars there are in the world.

This is good for the world-famous AI experts Rodney Brooks and Kai Fu Lee. They went to Twitter immediately after Musk had made a prediction to challenge the timeline.

Brooks tweeted, “Let's count how many truly autonomous (no human safety drivers) Tesla taxis (public chooses destination & pays) on regular streets (unlimited human powered cars on the same streets) on December 31, 2020. It will not be a million. My prediction: zero. Then count & retweet this. ”

His claim was taken over by Lee, who responded with “If there are a million Tesla-robo taxis on the road in 2020, I will eat them. Maybe Rodney Brooks will eat half of it with me?”

And the bet was sealed with Brook's response: “Hi Kai-Fu, absolutely. I'll share the party with you. If there are a million Tesla-robo taxis on the road next year, we'll have them eat them all together! And while I'm normally worried about indigestion, I think the conditionality in this challenge will mean that both will be fine! ”

Because a deal is a deal, we wanted to make sure we had it in the record – no take back now!

If you are not familiar with the intimate machinations of the AI community, you are probably more familiar with Musk than with Lee or Brooks. But the separation between the two camps is not at the expense of the expertise of one or the other. In this case, all parties are right (one more than the other).

Musk's claim is that the robo-cabs are coming, and most experts agree. Only not in the timeline he gave. He imagines a world in which you arrive home from work by 2021, your Tesla drops you off, and then he goes out to earn more money for you. It is the ultimate turn-key business (you need a car, right?). The “end of 2020” seemed like a pretty good deadline in early 2019, so here we are.

Unfortunately for Musk, the AI technology is not yet able to sniff. There are dozens of companies from Waymo to Uber that claim to have autonomous vehicle technology, but they all get an asterisk. To be clear: to date, there is no single autonomous vehicle capable of driving on any street, without a safety driver, without external connectivity with the cloud or other networks, in any weather, and with pedestrians and through people driven vehicles in traffic. This is not just an AI problem, a series of services and infrastructure (not to mention the policies and regulations) are needed to attract truly autonomous vehicles.

Cars that drive both themselves and people do not yet exist, and we may be ten years or more away from it. The good news is that there are numerous AI technologies in use, such as Tesla's ill-named Autopilot, which work as driver assistance and allow almost autonomous transportation.

Companies around the world are building infrastructure – such as smart roads and autonomous traffic lights – that will facilitate the transition from driver assistance to driver assistance without AI. And it is clear that the big technology spends tens of billions of dollars in R&D for the production of advanced vehicle technology. The dam will eventually break and the combination of AI technology and civil engineering will lead to robo-taxis that make our cities safer for everyone.

But, with the exception of the kind of technological breakthroughs that science fiction writers usually just give up and attribute to extraterrestrials, we're probably not much less than a million within 12 months of setting up a single fully autonomous robo-taxi.

That is not to say that several companies will not be demonstrating this year, the hype cycle alone requires that Tesla, Waymo, Apple, and other companies knee deep in the hoopla have at least one product to show for their investment and work. But that product, like many early tech gadgets (looking at your Hololens), will almost certainly not reach its goal. We will see a lot of cars that are advertised as “fully autonomous,” but it is unlikely that you will see casual driving on regular roads without a safety driver in 2020.

On the other hand, Musk also has more influence on the US government than most major technical companies. He works closely with the Trump administration through his SpaceX company, while NASA is trying to privatize more and more of his taxpayer-funded duties. And he has friends in conservative places like his former friend, from Pay Pal, Peter Thiel's managed to become the belle of ICE's ball. If someone can convince the federal government to step into heel regulation on behalf of a dangerous pipe dream, then it's Elon Musk.

At least for the time being. The 2020 elections can make things harder for US AI companies hoping to evade security rules. If a Democrat replaces Donald Trump as president, we will probably see AI regulated for public security. Releasing the same technology that drives the Autopilot (in the back of police cars, the sides of semi-trucks and the back of more police cars) on the streets of the city without human security drivers seems a bad idea, but conservative lobbyists have a way of enforcing government rules to prevent interference with the basic rules of the company.

All Musk has to do is hope that Democrats cannot regulate an AI, can invent an AI that can do things no other system currently.

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