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True Believer Loses Faith in Fully Self-Driving Cars

Levandowski sees the future—and it is tech aids for safer driving

Here at Mind Matters News, we draw attention to the hype around AI for a reason: The best use of AI, as with any tool, is to help humans be better humans. We use tools to get things done; tools do not use or replace us.

Anthony Levandowski/Kaxelrod (CC BY-SA 4.0)

It’s good to see some of even the most avid believers in AI coming around to agree.

Anthony Levandowski co-founded Waymo and built the Google “self-driving” car. (Uber also hired, and then fired, Levandowski. He’s accused of going to work at Uber with, uh, Google company secrets.) Levandowski’s belief in AI was so strong that he founded a “church”Way of the Future — devoted to AI.

But he appears to be changing his mind. Not only does the Way of the Future site no longer mention “god,” Levandowski may have gone apostate on self-driving cars.

The Information covered a panel discussion on autonomous vehicles that included Levandowski. We learn from a report of his new found faith in humans:

Today, Mr. Levandowski, along with several dozen employees at Pronto AI, is taking a more gradual approach to developing autonomous driving features instead of pushing for “fully” automated vehicles. That is, unlike Waymo, Aurora and Voyage, he is working on a semi-automated system that would keep the human driver in the vehicle but make driving easier and less stressful.

Aaron Gordon, “Even the Guy Who Started a Church Worshipping A.I. Is Pulling Back on Driverless Car Gospel” at Jalopnik

Christopher Mims made the same point a few days ago at The Wall Street Journal: “For decades ahead, this fusion of human minds and machine reflexes will likely be the norm.”

Fully autonomous vehicles — aka self-driving cars — are a techno-utopian fantasy that stands little to no chance of realization in the coming decades. The industry is slowly starting to separate that fantasy from achievable reality.

The technology underlying the self-driving car mirage is stunning. And it has useful applications, many of which Mims notes in his piece. But replacing humans is not among them.

Thankfully, even the true believers are beginning to see the faults in their faith. Is it too much to hope for a full conversion?

Also by Brendan Dixon: The real future of self-driving cars is—better human drivers! Manufacturers are improving safety by incorporating warning systems developed for self-driving cars into conventional models.

On Levandowski’s church: The idol with feet of silicon (Robert J. Marks)


Tales of an invented god

Brendan Dixon

Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Brendan Dixon is a Software Architect with experience designing, creating, and managing projects of all sizes. His first foray into Artificial Intelligence was in the 1980s when he built an Expert System to assist in the diagnosis of software problems at IBM. Since then, he’s worked both as a Principal Engineer and Development Manager for industry leaders, such as Microsoft and Amazon, and numerous start-ups. While he spent most of that time other types of software, he’s remained engaged and interested in Artificial Intelligence.

True Believer Loses Faith in Fully Self-Driving Cars