There are a few important milestones associated with the advent of autonomous driving: the first self-driving car being commercially available, all new cars have self-driving capability, and all cars on the road have self-driving capability. There could be years or even decades between those milestones.
At the end of 2017, it will be the deadline for Elon Musk’s most recent prediction for the first one and since he predicted that Tesla will be the first to market, it’s also when the company plans to have its first fully self-driving software build available.
Today, Musk is making a prediction for the second milestone and consequently the last milestone.
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Tesla’s CEO was at the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier today and had an interesting conversation about the future before the government leaders in the audience.
Artificial intelligence was the main subject if the ~30-minute conversation since he believes it to be the sector of technology that will have the greater impact. In the short-term, he sees one of those impacts being autonomous driving.
While he sees the advancements coming soon, like Tesla’s first level 4 autonomous driving system by the end of the year, he warns that the disruption will be relatively slow due to the huge size of the transport industry:
“There are about 2 billion cars in the world and the total annual production capacity is about 100 million cars, which makes sense since the average life of a car before being totally scrapped is about 20-25 years. So the point for which we see autonomy appear will not be the point when we see a massive impact on people because it will take a lot of time to make enough autonomous vehicles to disrupt. That disruption will take place for about 20 years.”
He added that he sees the bulk of the change happening within 10 years – when he predicts that almost all new cars will be capable of self-driving.
The transition in itself will be interesting since once a single self-driving car is available, it will lower the value of all other new cars that are not capable of self-driving, which makes the first mover advantage so important. Yet, it needs to be excessively safe in order to succeed and therefore, it can’t be rushed.
Musk found an interesting way to solve this issue at Tesla by incorporating what he believes to be the necessary hardware for autonomous driving in all new cars since October 2016 and gradually release more advanced software in those vehicles.
Interestingly, he hinted today during the talk that Tesla could need to upgrade the computer in the new vehicles in order to enable fully self-driving. Tesla’s vehicles are equipped with NVIDIA’s Drive PX 2 supercomputer and Musk said that it could be enough to surpass human driving, but if not, they could easily upgrade the computer.
While Tesla is promising level 5 autonomous driving on its new hardware, NVIDIA thinks that level 3 is possible, but two Drive PX 2 computers would be necessary for level 4-5.
Musk also briefly addressed the issue of the self-driving transition affecting a large part of the workforce that drive vehicles for a living:
“20 years is a short period of time to have something like 12 to 15 of the workforce being unemployed.”
He reiterated that he sees universal basic income as the best solutions for artificial intelligence taking over human labor.
Here’s a video of the talk (Musk gets on stage at around 27:30):