Elon Musk: Self Driving Cars Closer Than You Think

Elon Musk: Self Driving Cars Closer Than You Think

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is so bullish about self driving cars and the promise of artificial intelligence, that he wonders if one day, there will be “something left for us humans to do.” Today he joined Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang onstage at the company’s annual developers conference in Silicon Valley and used the opportunity to recruit for Tesla’s autonomous driving team.

“Tesla is the leader in electric cars, and we’ll also be the leader in autonomous cars…at least autonomous cars that people can buy. If anybody is interested in working on autonomous cars, we’d love to have you work at Tesla. We’re going to put a lot of effort into autonomous driving…it’s going to be the default thing…it will be extremely transformative,” Elon Musk.

Musk, who Huang describes as an engineer’s engineer, views autonomous driving as “a solved problem” and expects that once its life-saving potential is proven, we’ll all take autonomous cars for granted.

“We know exactly what to do and we’ll be there in a few years,” Musk says. Yet he acknowledges that although freeway driving and driving under 10 mph are (relatively) easy problems to solve, “in between is hard,” especially in suburban areas where there are children playing, roadworks and other unexpected obstacles.

Elon Musk Jen-Hsun Huang by Fresh Dialogues 2015Huang was keen to explore what Tesla’s big announcement will be on Thursday, something Musk has described as providing “an end to range anxiety.”

But Musk was tight lipped, though he did explain how Tesla’s software system is like the human brain in only using a small part of its capacity. The company’s ability to offer regular software updates allows the Model S performance to continually improve over time.

“The first thing we want to do is establish the hardware platform, make sure we have the sensors and computing power, even though the software is only taking advantage of a small percentage of the sensors’ compute power and we do continuous updates to make the car more and more capable. We’re going to see a lot of that happen later this year. If I didn’t have an announcement Thursday, I’d be saying a lot more,” Elon Musk

Road Blocks

Is Musk concerned about big government thwarting big advances in autonomous vehicles?

Not in the least. He appreciates that where public safety is concerned, a cautious approach is necessary and he anticipates that a green light will come from regulatory authorities approximately two years after autonomous driving teams prove their vehicles are safer than humans.

“Regulators will want to see a large amount of statistical proof…but the evidence will be overwhelming,” says Musk. He even anticipates that one day (in the far future), humans driving cars may be illegal because, after all, “You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”