🚘 Wake up! Self-driving cars are almost here

🚘 Wake up! Self-driving cars are almost here

Negative headlines and pessimism are now trying to fool us that full self-driving is not happening anytime soon. That is wrong.

Mathias Sundin
Mathias Sundin

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Right now the pessimism is strong around self-driving cars. So strong that actual progress is dismissed or completely ignored. Best manifested with this cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek: Driverless Cars Are Going Nowhere.

"...we're still not even close to an autonomous future..." the cover says.

I believe they, and all the other pessimists, are wrong. We are very close to an autonomous future.

And I think that pessimism is to blame for the disillusionment. Now is the time to look behind the headlines, at the facts.

Self-driving technology is at the "trough of disillusionment." 

Why the pessimism about self-driving cars?

It has to do with broken expectations.

In 2016 I hosted a seminar in the Swedish Parliament with Volvo Cars to talk about self-driving cars.

Me opening the seminar with Volvo Cars.

At that time many thought full self-driving was close. When I started talking to Volvo in 2015 about the seminar, my idea, which Volvo Cars bought into, was that a self-driving Volvo would drive the other guests and me to the Parliament.

When we got closer to the seminar Volvo backed out of that. I didn't get a very good explanation, but I understood that the car wasn't even ready for a simple task like driving us a few hundred meters.

That experience taught me that predicting exactly when we would have fully self-driving cars would be very hard.

Ignore Tesla at your own peril

The most baffling to me is that the absolute leader of the pack, Tesla, is right now being ignored or dismissed. Again, I think that has to do with broken expectations. Elon Musk has said, several times since 2018, that he thinks self-driving will be achieved in a year or so, and every year that has not been the case.

After many missed deadlines he said that self-driving is a much harder problem to solve than he expected and that several times he has thought they are really close, only to discover that new, even harder problems remained.

But that doesn't mean there hasn't been any progress. The opposite. And the facts are all over YouTube. There are thousands of videos of drives with zero interventions from the human driver.

Look at this clip. Then look me straight in the eye and say that full self-driving is decades away.

Tesla's Full Self-Driving beta is now available to everyone in North America who has bought that package. That means tons and tons of data coming into Tesla. Millions of situations are processed by Tesla's top-notch machine learning team.

The conditions for fast progress are there

When you have lots of data and very good machine learning, progress is extremely fast.

But this does not mean that Tesla's full self-driving is perfect or even close to the level where the human can lean back and read a book while the car is driving. We could be, but we don't know. That is the problem with super hard problems like self-driving. Even if progress is fast, we don't know how hard the remaining problems will be to solve.

I would be very surprised though if we have to wait many more years or decades before we get there. Of course, there are other aspects than technical, like regulation, that are also hard to predict. But I stand by my original prediction from that seminar in 2016:

In 20 years humans will not be allowed to drive cars on regular roads, because computers by then will drive so much better.

Don't let the negative headlines fool you

If it takes a year, three years, five years, or even ten years to get to truly full self-driving is not the issue. What we need to understand is that it is happening, and soon.

And when it happens, the world will change. Millions of people's lives won't be wasted in car accidents. Economic value measured in the trillions of dollars will be created. Transportation will get much cheaper.

Don't get fooled by the negative headlines and the pessimism, like so many are right now. If you look at the facts, you see something coming that most people don't. That gives you an edge. The Optimist's Edge.

Mathias Sundin
Editor-in-Chief, Warp News

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