How Close Are We To Autonomous Driving?

I’m extremely confident that level 5 [self-driving cars] or essentially complete autonomy will happen, and I think it will happen very quickly. I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level 5 autonomy complete this year.

Elon Musk

The question of full autonomy goes back to 2014. There was a time when leaders across industry focused on the disruptive potential of autonomous vehicles. Here in 2021, those disruptive scenarios have not emerged on the timeline many expected. So, how close are we really to level five autonomous driving? That quote above provides one man’s opinion. Granted, that opinion comes from Elon Musk, a person that has made technology history for decades. As this article via Nick Hobson describes, vehicles that have achieved level five autonomy can drive in all circumstances, removing the need for a steering wheel and driver’s seat. Many experts believe reaching level five autonomy is next to impossible. Those beliefs stem from the complexity of the human mind, and the intuition we use in decision making.

Algorithms lack this intuition. They must be trained on every possible situation encountered while driving. The human brain on the other hand is remarkable in its adaptiveness. The article points to the work of Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner in economics for his work on human judgment and decision-making. He identified three ways that humans develop their intuition: we create predictable situations, we practice, and we get feedback.

While humans can leverage experiences in everyday life to build intuition–ranging in domains as diverse as walking on the street to enjoying a meal at a restaurant, through playing recreational sports–algorithms and self-driving cars are limited to experiences on the road.


It remains to be seen if Elon Musk or the “near impossible” crowd are right. With every one of these scenarios, I keep an open mind. Near impossible in this world of knowledge expansion and rapid innovation might be overly pessimistic, while solving the problem this year overly optimistic. I am reading a book titled “The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity”. I will close with a quote from the book:

One night in 1933, the world’s pre-eminent expert on atomic science, Ernest Rutherford, declared the idea of harnessing atomic energy to be “moonshine.” And the very next morning Leo Szilard discovered the idea of the chain reaction. In 1939, Enrico Fermi told Szilard the chain reaction was but a “remote possibility,” and four years later Fermi was personally overseeing the world’s first nuclear reactor. The staggering list of eminent scientists who thought heavier-than-air flight to be impossible or else decades away is so well rehearsed as to be cliché. But fewer know that even Wilbur Wright himself predicted it was at least fifty years away—just two years before he invented it.

Toby Ord – The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity

2 thoughts on “How Close Are We To Autonomous Driving?

  1. I particularly like the quotes….keeping an open mind is truly the best policy. The speed of technology advancement is increasingly running ahead of our ability to absorb or accept its capabilities.

    Liked by 1 person

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