Artificial intelligence (AI) was among the technologies receiving the most attention at the Consumer Electronics Show last month. AI was prominently on display in the form of digital assistants such as Microsoft Cortana, Google Home, and Amazon Alexa, which are consumer-ready for smart home automation. Two other AI applications promoted at CES 2017 also received a lot of attention: the Toyota Concept-i car and the DRIVE PX 2 platform developed by computer graphics giant NVIDIA. The Toyota and NVIDIA displays of autonomous driving vehicles made CES attendees think of Tesla, the electric car manufacturer that has come the closest to incorporating AI systems currently in use such as the company’s Autopilot, which is described as full self-driving hardware.
On January 23rd, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk announced that the HW2 system, an advanced suite of sensors, cameras, and radar controlled by a supercomputer, would be installed in all new vehicles from now on. This does not mean that new Tesla models will be fully autonomous this year; the AI software, called AP2, is still under development. Once federal and state guidelines become more receptive of self-driving cars, Tesla owners will receive a software update to this effect. Tesla vehicles may not be as advanced as the models being tested by Google, Toyota and NVIDIA; however, they are the most accessible to drivers today. Musk has admitted that his company is taking it slow with Autopilot because engineers want to see extensive testing before the AP2 software updates are rolled out. One fatal crash has already involved Tesla’s first Autopilot system, but that accident was not attributed to the AI itself.
Drivers who purchase new Tesla vehicles in 2017 may one day enjoy fully autonomous cars thanks to the planned AP2 software upgrades. The options start at $35,000 for a Model 3 sedan all the way to nearly $140,000 for the ultra luxurious XP90D SUV. What is interesting about Elon Musk and his approach to AI is that he has warned against this technology. In 2014, he surprised scientists and graduate students at MIT when he called AI an existential threat that humanity should be careful to embrace. His analogy was that of a person summoning a demon, thinking that he would be in control of a diabolic being. Musk is very receptive to regulatory oversight of AI technology in consumer-grade products, which explains why he wants to take it slow with smart Tesla vehicles.