Sleeping at the Wheel


Falling a sleep at the wheel... Both my nightmare and dream come true. In the past 5 years, I had gotten into 2 minor accidents when I dozed off at the wheel. Both accidents happened during rush hour in stop-and-go traffic on my way home from work. So, yeah, stay away from me on the roads!

As some of you know, I have a long commute: 100 km round-trip each day on the best highways (not!) in Canada, the DVP and the 401! I'm on the road at least 2 hours a day. And before my current job, I drove 130 km round-trip to work in Cambridge. I estimate myself to have driven half a million kilometers since 2004 or about 1.3 times the distance from the Earth to the moon!! A bit of bragging, sorry, but this will set the context for the rest of this post.

Don't get me wrong, I love driving. I've driven from Ontario to Victoria on one trip and to New Orleans and back on another, but getting stuck in traffic is really not my idea of fun. To make the time more productive, I started listening to audio books. Between 2014 and now, I've listened to more than 70 audio books while commuting to work. It's not a bad way to spend this time.

Can't Wait
In about 2 years time, that's all about to change.  Ever since Google had started doing R&D in self-driving cars, I've been eagerly looking forward to the day when I can get into my car and be chauffeured to my destination.  Looks like Elon Musk will make that a reality, sooner rather than later!  Last week, he announced that all cars that rolls off a Tesla assembly line will now have the hardware required for Level 5 autonomy (essentially, driver requires zero input).  He then went on to post a demo video on the Tesla website.  I've saved you time and posted it below.  You have to watch it!  It's amazing!  The software won't quite be ready yet, but I don't think it would take very long.

Skepticism vs. Optimisim
Many people are skeptical of the technology and I do share their concerns.  However, it's all about how the AI is trained.  There's certainly some computer programmers write code for the system, but the self-driving software uses neural networks to learn how to interpret the incoming data and make decisions.  I can say I'm probably in the top 10 percentile in terms of drivers with the most mileage, but I only really have about 500,000 km of experience, most of which is in Toronto traffic.  However, what Tesla plans to do is collect data from its entire fleet and use it to train its AI.  Assuming Tesla sells half a million cars between now and the end of 2018, it would have that many cars on the road providing it data.  If each car is driven 10000 km in a year, Tesla would have 5 billion km of data after just one year!  That would include data from all parts of the world in all kinds of climate.  Even if 1% of that data is in snowy weather, it would have 50 million km worth of data with which to train its AI.  I think that would trump my 500,000 km experience any day.

Will there be fatalities and accidents with Autopilot?  Sure.  Will there be a lot less?  Absolutely!  How can I be so sure?  I recently read (listened to, actually, during my commute) the book The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley...a great book by the way.  He talks about how throughout the ages, humans have had many challenges and we have learned to overcome these challenges through ingenuity and creativity.  I have no doubt that the problem of self-driving will be solved within the next 10 years.

I recall about 15-20 years ago, when the Internet was still a new thing, many warnings came with the technology: don't give your email address to somebody you don't know, don't give your credit card number to anyone online, don't post pictures of yourself online and God forbid, especially not your children's...well, the rest is history...It is understandable to be cautious of the unknown, but I'd like to be more optimistic and look forward to the day when I can sleep soundly in the comfort of the driver's seat of my car, while cruising (or crawling) down the 401!

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