Self-driving cars are coming. Tech giants such as Uber and Alphabet have bet on it, as have old-school car manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors. But even as Google’s sister company Waymo prepares to launch its self-driving-car service and automakers prototype vehicles with various levels of artificial intelligence, there are some who believe that the autonomous future has been oversold—that even if driverless cars are coming, it won’t be as fast, or as smooth, as we’ve been led to think. The skeptics come from different disciplines inside and out of the technology and automotive industries, and each has a different bear case against self-driving cars. Add them up and you have a guide to all the ways our autonomous future might not materialize.
Bear Case 1: They Won’t Work Until Cars Are as Smart as Humans
Computers have nowhere near human intelligence. On individual tasks, such as playing Go or identifying some objects in a picture, they can outperform humans, but that skill does not generalize. Proponents of autonomous cars tend to see driving as more like Go: a task that can be accomplished with a far-lower-than-human understanding of the world. But in a duo of essays in 2017, Rodney Brooks, a legendary roboticist and artificial-intelligence researcher who directed the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory for a decade, argued against the short-term viability of self-driving cars based on the sheer number of “edge cases,” i.e., unusual circumstances, they’d have to handle.