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#4 Elon Musk: This Time Autopilot Is Going To WORK!

Jonathan Bartlett: I have to say, part of me loves Elon Musk and part of me can't stand the guy

Our nerds here at the Walter Bradley Center have been discussing the top twelve AI hypes of the year. Our director Robert J. Marks, Eric Holloway and Jonathan Bartlett talk about overyhyped AI ideas (from a year in which we saw major advances, along with inevitable hypes). From AI Dirty Dozen 2020 Part III, here’s #4: Elon Musk’s fully self-driving software is finally going to work:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday that the test version of the company’s Autopilot system will be released in “a month or so.” While he didn’t describe its capabilities, Musk said that once it’s out, “you’ll see what it’s like. It’s amazing. It’s clearly going to work.”

Chris Woodyard, “Elon Musk says Tesla’s full self-driving Autopilot is coming soon and it’s ‘clearly going to work’” at USA Today

Well then, what happened to Musk’s robotaxi fleet that was supposed to take over the roads in 2020 while their owners slept? Is there a point at which we can talk about that?

Oh, maybe not.

Our story begins at 01:12. Here’s a partial transcript. Show Notes and Additional Resources follow, along with a link to the complete transcript.

Robert J. Marks: Number four of the hype list is Elon Musk claiming self-driving cars will be here next year, again. This is clearly hype, isn’t it, Jonathan? Tell us what’s going on.

Jonathan Bartlett: Bob, have you ever seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray?

Robert J. Marks: Yes, I have. He wakes up to the same environment every day again and again and again. Yes.

Jonathan Bartlett: Yes. And so this is what we have. Elon Musk has been claiming that he’s going to have self-driving cars “next year” since 2016. Now, I have to say, part of me loves Elon Musk and part of me can’t stand the guy. And I appreciate his humor. I appreciate the fact that he is more approachable than a lot of the other tech billionaires. But there’s also this huckster-ish salesmanship that just really drives me the wrong way. And so he’s actually been selling self-driving cars since 2016. People are literally paying him thousands of dollars for this feature that doesn’t exist. And he says, “Oh yeah, it’ll be here next year. Next year, I promise.”

And he says that your car will actually be worth more. Most people when they buy a car and they drive it off the lot, it’s worth less as soon as you drive it off the lot. And he says, “Oh, our cars are going to be worth more because you’re going to be able to make money with them by simply sending … when you go to sleep, you can send them out to earn money for you by being a robo taxi, so you don’t have to be there.” And he makes claims like this, and he makes them every year. And it’s not surprising that he’s making them right now because last year, he did it right before a $2 billion capital raise for his company. And now, he’s doing it right before a $5 billion, that’s billion with a B, a $5 billion capital raise.

And so he keeps on. In 2016, he said that you’re going to be able to summon your car from across the United States. And it would be able to come and get you on its own, finding charging stations on the way. And it wouldn’t even need a driver. And he said the only thing that could stop that was if we didn’t get regulatory approval. Anyway, he keeps on saying that it’s going to be next year, next year, next year. He’s saying it again. And anyway, I just wish the media would stop falling for it.

Eric Holloway: Isn’t his company supposedly now worth more than Apple?

Jonathan Bartlett: Oh yeah. So, basically, he’s got this company … so Tesla Motors, it’s a tiny percentage of the car market, but it’s basically worth more than the rest of it combined in terms of the value of the stock.

Eric Holloway: Yeah. Who said you can’t make money with science fiction?

Note: The actual advances in autonomous vehicles are Level 4 (Waymo’s level), not Level 5 (Musk’s level), as Jonathan Bartlett has pointed out. The vehicle drives on supervised roads in controlled environments.

Well, here’s the rest of the countdown to date. Read them and think:

5 AI hype: AI could go psychotic due to lack of sleep Well, that’s what we can hear from Scientific American, if we believe all we read. It seems to be an effort to make AI seem more human than it really is.

6 in our Top 12 AI hypes A Conversation bot is cool —If you really lower your standards. A system that supposedly generates conversation—but have you noticed what is says? Bartlett: you could also ask “Who was President in 1600,” and it would give you an answer, not recognizing that the United States didn’t exist in 1600.

7 AI Can Create Great New Video Games All by Itself! In our 2020 “Dirty Dozen” AI myths: It’s actually just remixing previous games. Eric Holloway describes it as like a bad dream of PACMan. Well, see if it is fun.

8 in our AI Hype Countdown: AI is better than doctors! Sick of paying for health care insurance? Guess what? AI is better ! Or maybe, wait… Only 2 of the 81 studies favoring AI used randomized trials. Non-randomized trials mean that researchers might choose data that make their algorithm work.

9: Erica the Robot stars in a film. But really, does she? This is just going to be a fancier Muppets movie, Eric Holloway predicts, with a bit more electronics. Often, making the robot sound like a real person is just an underpaid engineer in the back, running the algorithm a couple of times on new data sets. Also: Jonathan Bartlett wrote in to comment “Erica, robot film star, is pretty typical modern-day puppeteering — fun, for sure, but not a big breaththrough.

10: Big AI claims fail to work outside lab. A recent article in Scientific American makes clear that grand claims are often not followed up with great achievements. This problem in artificial intelligence research goes back to the 1950s and is based on refusal to grapple with built-in fundamental limits.

11: A lot of AI is as transparent as your fridge A great deal of high tech today is owned by corporations. Lack of transparency means that people trained in computer science are often not in a position to evaluate what the technology is and isn’t doing.

12! AI is going to solve all our problems soon! While the AI industry is making real progress, so, inevitably, is hype. For example, machines that work in the lab often flunk real settings.

Show Notes

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#4 Elon Musk: This Time Autopilot Is Going To WORK!