Elon Musk says he is on the verge of solving “one of the most difficult technical problems that has ever existed”. Is he really? – .

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Elon Musk says he is on the verge of solving “one of the most difficult technical problems that has ever existed”. Is he really? – .


“I am extremely confident that level 5 [self-driving cars] or essentially full autonomy will happen, and I think it will happen very quickly, ”Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a video message to the World Artificial Intelligence Conference on July 9. “I remain convinced that we will have the basic functionalities for level 5 full autonomy this year. “

Why is it so important for Musk to claim Level 5 autonomy is within Tesla’s reach? Range 5 means cars can drive entirely without human assistance. In other words, vehicles that have reached range level 5 can do all the driving in any circumstance, even eliminating the need for a steering wheel and driver’s seat. Sounds amazing, right?

As is generally the case in Elon’s world, his request sparked substantial controversy. Reaching level 5 of autonomy is not only difficult – it is, according to experts in AI and robotics, almost impossible.

So who’s right: Elon Musk or a load of independent experts? Is Elon’s flexing just that, a controversial publicity stunt meant to draw even more attention to the eccentric billionaire?

What does a psychologist have to say?

From the perspective of behavioral science and psychology, we know that the human mind is incredibly sophisticated. One of the reasons reaching level 5 of autonomy is so difficult is that human drivers can use their intuition to make quick but rational decisions when faced with new situations.

“A distracted and groping toddler fleeing from his mother in front of him. Slow down and leave some space. “

“A sketchy-looking masked man pointing a gun behind. Accelerate… and lower yourself! ”

We have these quick answers even though it’s a whole new experience. We simply have to know the best course of action because the computer in our head has endowed us with the gift of intuition.

But the algorithms behind self-driving cars need to be pre-trained for every possible situation they might encounter, distracted toddlers and all. There have been several instances of Tesla cars on autopilot encountering unusual situations (such as overturned vehicles on the road) and crashing. In cases where the situation has not been pre-trained by the algorithm, there is no human intuition to fall back on when you are forced to make a quick decision.
On the other hand, the human brain has been driven, so to speak, by millions of years of selective pressure via evolutionary changes. As impressive as our computers are today, they pale in comparison to the remarkable adaptive processes of the human brain.
According to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate in Economics for his work on human judgment and decision-making, humans develop their intuition in three ways:
  1. Predictable. The environment must be sufficiently regular and orderly to allow individuals to generalize past mistakes to future situations.

  2. Practice. At a basic level, the opportunity to refine an intuition exposes an individual to a greater number of potential situations, presenting the opportunity to learn.

  3. Feedback. For the practice to be worth it, individuals need to know whether they are right or wrong. An unambiguous and instantaneous return is the most conducive to the development of an intuition.

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Predictability isn’t a problem for self-driving cars: the rules of the road are predictable enough that humans develop a driving intuition.

What about practice and feedback? While self-driving cars receive unambiguous and instantaneous feedback, much like humans do when a car crashes, the question remains open whether self-driving cars will ever have enough practice in the right area to develop human intuition. While humans can use everyday life experiences to develop intuition – ranging in areas as diverse as walking the streets, enjoying a restaurant meal, playing recreational sports – algorithms and self-driving cars are limited. to experiences on the road. .

This means that humans have a much more diverse set of experiences to build intuition in order to understand new situations. Self-driving cars, on the other hand, are limited to one area: driving.

Whether Musk’s claim that Tesla is on the verge of solving one of the most difficult technical problems that has ever existed may hinge on whether the algorithms have had the same set of experiences to practice the human being than humans throughout everyday life.

Are Musk and Team Tesla up to the challenge? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. As someone who hates driving long distances, he certainly has my vote.

The opinions expressed here by the columnists of Inc.com are theirs and not those of Inc.com.

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