And there are few more phony than Elon Musk. Here’s a good interview with Edward Niedermeyer, who has written a book about the way Musk built a car company on some good engineering (not done by him) and a whole lot of lies (his contribution). In particular, his so-called self-driving cars are killing people.
People such as Walter Wong and Josh Brown have died. The Tesla fans blame them. And Tesla basically says, These people chose to be distracted. They chose to operate the system in a place we told them isn’t necessarily safe for it. Therefore, it’s all on them. And the NTSB said, No. We know from literally decades of behavioral psychology—particularly those that look at safety critical systems and partial automation—that if you put someone in what’s called a vigilance task, where they’re just monitoring this automation, and they just have to be there to jump in and take over when something goes wrong, which over time gets more and more rare, it is not a question of good drivers doing okay and bad drivers doing poorly. It’s not the same as driving. It’s a task fundamentally different from driving. It’s one that we as humans are actually less well evolved to do than unassisted driving. There’s no moral or skill factor in this. Inevitably, every human who is put in that position will eventually, given enough time, become inattentive, then given enough time, the system will find something it can’t deal with. Basically, people are gambling with these sorts of numbers. They’re playing roulette in a way.
That’s an interesting point. Our brains don’t have a good autopilot — our attentiveness tends to wane if we aren’t seen constant feedback to keep us tuned in. I know that when I’m on a long distance drive, my brain needs constant reminders to refocus and stay in the present and the task at hand. If I don’t have that, I know I’ll lapse into daydreaming and thinking about totally irrelevant stuff.
I suppose if we had a really good self-driving system, we could replace the need for minute-by-minute attention to the road with a system that delivered random electric shocks with a voice over saying “wake up, dummy”, but I don’t think it would sell well, and if mandatory, would fuel a robust market in YouTube videos instructing you in how to rip it out.
When Elon Musk promotes self-driving cars, though, he’s being openly fraudulent.
For me, this is where Tesla crosses into unambiguous fraud. First of all, it’s Level 5 autonomy, which you have to understand nobody in the space is pursuing. Level 5 means fully autonomous, with no need for human input ever. But operating anywhere—basically anywhere in the United States, anywhere a human could drive, this system needs to be able to drive. This is the core of its appeal as much as, Oh, we’re developing this generalized system. Everyone else is tied to these local operating domains with mapping and all this other stuff, more expensive vehicles. We don’t have time to get into all of the ways in which this is an absolute fantasy. Anybody who’s serious in the AV sector is just amazed that this even has as much credibility as it does. What it comes down to is that he’s identified not a plausible fraud or vision that he is selling, but an appealing one. People believe it because they want to believe it. They want to believe that they can buy a car—it gets back to that frisson of futurism—without having to change any behavior. You’re just gonna go out and buy another car. It’s gonna belong to you like any other car. But unlike other cars, it’s going to drive itself anywhere and everywhere. And that’s absurd. With a camera-only system, technically, people call it AI. People call it machine learning. Fundamentally, it’s probabilistic inference. And when you think about that term, probabilistic inference, you think about something that could kill you at any second. Does it sound like a good combination?
No, it doesn’t. That’s a terrifying combination. Even worse, imagine being on a freeway with thousands of other cars, all relying on those odds. That’s not just you rolling the dice, that’s everyone doing it simultaneously, trusting that no one will get snake-eyes.
This is the principle that drives the profitability of casinos. Even tiny advantages in the odds of a chance event, when iteratively repeated by a great many people, converges on inevitability. Hey, that’s also a factor in understanding evolution!