Autonomous self driving cars? I wouldn’t hold your breath.


The CES (consumer electronics show) was recently held in Las Vegas, showing lots of cool consumer electronics.  One that always makes the news is the new car stuff.  Cars are becoming platforms for their infotainment systems vs. a vehicle to get you from point A to point B.  Tesla, Infiniti, Mercedes Benz, and BMW all have some level of “hands off” self driving cars.  While these still require your hands to be at least occasionally on the steering wheel, they’re not without flaws and they sometimes try to send the car into traffic or off the road!  The reason why is because they can’t possibly see all the conditions and anticipate things as well as a human.

Here’s a test: do you see a cat or a dog below?

A computer couldn’t tell you if that’s a cat or a dog!  Computers are good at quickly calculating things with 99.99999% accuracy, but they don’t have any common sense.  It wasn’t until last year, that someone developed a computer program that can tell the difference between a cat and a dog, but only AFTER a human has programmed and taught it what’s a cat and what’s a dog.  NPR 2014  While this sounds like a simple problem, it’s actually a major breakthrough.  The guy who wrote it was quickly hired by Facebook as head of AI.  So far, it’s the only thing that has come close to solving this common sense problem.

Audi recently tested their autonomous RS7 racing car…if you don’t trust a self driving car on the road, would you trust it at 140 mph?  Even though the car will race on a track better than your average person, it still needed to be “trained” what the left and right boundaries of the track are, and even still, couldn’t race as well as a professional, because there are limitations on adapting like a human.  For example, if a deer runs out onto the track, you get smashed deer.  What if another car spins out or rubber track marbles get thrown into the computer’s camera?  The result: a blind car moving at deadly speeds.

The point is that computers can do extremely difficult tasks, as long as it’s within strict parameters, and taught by a human what to look for.  There are simply too many variables and unknowns for a computer to deal with, to safely drive on the public roads….for now.  I’m sure someone will solve it but it’s much farther off than the recent demos at the CES would suggest.

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