Speaking to robots, asking the Google Assistant for directions, using Amazon Alexa to lock the front door. Those things reveal the current state of artificial intelligence--a human powered endeavor with some assistance. Soon, it will all seem like the Dark Ages. Tesla has decided to radically improve how A.I. automates our lives.
Announced late last night during the Presidential debates, the new Enhanced Autopilot will work in future cars in the Tesla line-up, depending on regulatory approval. The current Model S sedan already drives autonomously and can adjusts its own speed, brake automatically, and handle the steering for you. Yet, the new version--available as a software download soon--will take complete control, and one of the most interesting features has to do with your schedule.
Let's say you are sipping a dark roast downtown and slip behind the wheel of that brand new Tesla Model 3 you just bought for $35,000. You're distracted by more than the coffee. You know your next meeting is in the suburbs with the boss, and it might be an important one. You are scanning through the social media feeds trying to see if people are talking about the product launch from last week. The car doesn't know you're stressed but it will relieve some of the stress. According to the Tesla blog post, the car will see when and where you have the meeting and start driving you there. You won't need to punch up the navigation system or talk to a bot.
This is remarkable for a few reasons, and not only because the car will become fully autonomous. As you drive, it will adjust the speed for the current traffic and change lanes if that will get you to the meeting faster and safer. It will use the exit ramp and drive you into the parking lot and park. In your meeting, you'll be able to summon to come and pick you up at the curb.
All of this sounds far-fetched and futuristic, but they are real plans for next year. The Model S already has a summon mode where you can have it drive out of the garage by itself. It already adjusts it's speed and steering. What's different with Enhanced Autopilot is that it will do all of the driving and thinking for you en route, which is a bold move for a company that announced recently that there was a road fatality with one of its cars while in self-driving mode. The company is adding more sensors, more technology, and more intelligence to take on Big Auto.
What impresses me even more than the autonomous tech is the integration. Reading a calendar appointment is not exactly rocket science these days -- the Google Pixel phone can do that. What is amazing is that the car would decide to drive you there. And, if you don't have anything left on your schedule, the car will decide to drive you home. This is the scenario that is the most helpful and perhaps the most troubling. It's helpful because we all do way too much busywork with technology. Clicking buttons, downloading apps, swiping on screens.
I want my car to know I am heading to the airport and decide to take backroads because it knows I'm taking an international flight and need to arrive an hour earlier than normal. I want the car to "discover" new places to eat based on social media chatter and offer to make reservations and drive me there. I don't want to constantly talk to a bot, I want a bot to be proactive, to solve problems when I don't even know there's a problem, to smooth over the rough edges of life so I can deal with relationships and get to a soccer game faster and safer.
The troubling part is, when these bots think for us, what if they make a mistake? What if the bot drives us through a bad part of town trying to get us to a meeting faster? The all intelligent super powerful carbot that doesn't know about a construction snafu is not that powerful.
Yet, there are trade-offs. Cars will be mostly helpful and intelligent. Someday, they will do the annoying work behind the scenes and inform us about delays so we don't have to search on a 5.5-inch phone and scan through traffic cameras every time we go downtown. More advanced A.I. will not just save us time. It will do the busywork.