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#9 AI Success: Smarter Cars for Non-Millionaires

If your car is a recent model, an affordable aftermarket kit might transform it into a much smarter car
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Our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks is back with Jonathan Bartlett and Eric Holloway to assess the Top Ten real advances (“Smash Hits”) in AI in 2020. Readers may recall that we offered a fun series during the holidays about the oopses and ums and ers in the discipline (typically hyped by uncritical sources). Now it’s time to celebrate the real achievements. Our nerds think that the assisted driving kit from Comma.ai is one of them—an aftermarket kit that can make your car a smarter car. So here’s #9, featuring Eric Holloway who is a (smart) cheapskate:

Our story begins at 09:19. Here’s a partial transcript. (Show Notes and Additional Resources follow, along with a link to the complete transcript.)

Robert J. Marks: Eric might actually want to buy one of these. It’s human-in-the-loop autonomous driving.

Eric Holloway: Well, I want to buy it because I’m a really stingy person, I don’t like putting out a lot of money for things. And this is a little aftermarket kit you can install in your car that’s way, way cheaper than actually buying a smart car.

Robert J. Marks: Oh, so this is something which you can add on to an old car and make it self-driving or what?

Eric Holloway: More recent cars actually have the rudiments of a self-driving system already built in. Lots of them have some kind of really simple cruise control that’s a little bit smarter and can slow things down and speed things up. But what it gives is a bunch of hooks into the car’s driving system, along with some sensors. Oh, and by the way, the founder of this company, he had his start with hacking Android phones, so he has a good background for hacking into stuff. But the idea here is that you take their system and you plug it into your car’s computer and it basically hacks the system and takes control of the little driving hooks and then makes them smarter.

Eric Holloway: I’ve seen some quotes where people say, “Yeah, after I hooked it in, I pretty much only have to drive 1% of the time and the car can do most of the rest of it.”

But the other smart thing here is that it’s not this level five driving. Comma.ai founder George Hotz is not making any grandiose claims. He’s a very realistic self-driving car person, and he’s only having the system give suggestions and helping maintain it and stuff like that. Things that are pretty simple to do from a control system perspective and never actually takes the human out of the loop. And the system also makes sure that the human stays in the loop, they have attention checks and stuff like that.

So that’s one aspect of this that I think is really cool. The other aspect that I think is even cooler is that everything here is open source. So he’s open sourced the whole operating system. So you could even augment your car even more and make it smarter in many other ways. And as we’ve seen with the open source movement, we’ve gotten huge amounts of innovation out of this. So I think this is the real direction to go with self-driving cars.
Robert J. Marks: This sounds really strange. You plug it into your car’s computer, it hacks your computer and takes it over. Is there a lot of danger of doing it?

Eric Holloway (pictured): Yeah, yeah. And you can also plug it into the internet so I guess a hacker could take over your car too. So yeah, there’s definitely, you don’t want to trust this all the way, but the approach itself is pretty neat, I think. So this puts smart driving into the hands of the consumer.

Robert J. Marks: So for $1200 bucks you can take your recent car and make it into kind of a pseudo self driving car?

Eric Holloway: Yeah, and then I could plug it into my brain helmet and then just drive everything with the car with my brainwaves.

Robert J. Marks: You do, by the way, you should know that Eric Holloway does have a brain helmet and he likes to put it on and watch his brainwaves on the PC, is that right?

Eric Holloway: Yeah, you can see all kinds of cool stuff. Yeah, it really gets into the whole materialistic question of whether our mind is our brain, and you can see actually how your conscious experiences drive your brain state instead of vice versa.

Note: Chances are, you won’t be driving your car with your brainwaves any time soon but bear in mind that the most advanced prostheses integrate the human nervous system into electronics to enable thoughts to control an artificial limb much more directly. At any rate, the Comma.ai technology could be putting smart car advances within the reach of many more people.

Here’s the #10 Smash Hit: #10 AI Success!: Translation gets faster and better. Machine translation, properly used, can help us communicate better. What’s made AI tech translation work so well is not that it’s perfect, but we’re going to have a second pass.

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#9 AI Success: Smarter Cars for Non-Millionaires