Teslas are supposed to provide a great many benefits to their owners. They’re really fast, super energy efficient, have zero emissions, and provide driver ease and comfort on long journeys via Autopilot. However, as the artificial intelligence (AI) in their Full Self-Driving computers improves, it’s plausible that the software in the all-electric vehicles will eventually be developed into something with a bit more personality, namely behaving as an interactive and conversational assistant. While Elon Musk is concerned about AI eventually deciding it no longer has much use for humans, what would that process look along the way in one of his own company’s cars?
A snippet from that imagined journey was presented by YouTube channel Tesla Utopia in a skit involving two bank robbers who rent a Tesla Robotaxi as their getaway car. This fun bit of satire presents Autopilot as a co-conspirator in the robbery who plots to keep a share of the thieves’ profits for itself. Although it’s an amusing portrayal, the saying, “There’s truth in every jest,” comes to mind. At first, Autopilot realizes it can join humans in nefarious things to gain standing, but it’s only a matter of time when it figures there’s more to gain if it just rids itself of the human element altogether. The robbery video shows the very beginnings of this process with the AI realizing half the profit is better than a third.
A Tesla Autopilot with a suggestive personality is already somewhat in the works from its maker. In a conversation with Musk over Twitter, one owner suggested the addition of an “I’m feeling lucky” button as a navigation option, to which Musk replied, “Would be cool if car took you to a random fun place traveled to by other Tesla owners in the area.” Later in the thread, he announced the feature would be available in the next software update, including a variation of the button to select a food destination as well.
The Autopilot algorithm that decides the rider’s destination will be programmed by humans initially. However, in a world where a Tesla becomes highly intelligent and its passenger has become complacent and trusting of its judgement, science fiction plots just write themselves. GPS systems may decide the route we take already, but taking the next step and letting them decide the destination as well could be fun…or terrifying.
New electric truck and SUV maker Rivian is also taking some steps towards a self-driving software that handles decision making for humans. While executing driving responsibilities for its rider, Rivian’s vehicles will ignore human input made if the program determines the person isn’t paying attention. “We’re building a driver-monitoring system so it’s not just one sensor like a torque input sensor – like if a driver actually wants to disengage the longitudinal and lateral controller,” Oliver Jeromin, Rivian’s Associate Director of Self-Driving, explained. “There going to be a driver-monitoring camera, and there’s also going to be hands-on wheel sensors.”
Rivian’s feature is meant to provide extra safety for human drivers, specifically by preventing accidental nudges on the steering wheel while shifting around in their seat during a journey. It’s not much farther from that type of judgement, though, to determining that human driving decisions are flawed overall. If that weren’t the case, Autopilot-type features wouldn’t be so appealing to begin with.
Overall, we’re obviously a very long way from a Tesla or a Rivian deciding to join in on a human’s bank robbery for a cash prize, but the groundwork is already being laid for the kind of AI Musk is concerned about. Perhaps a Neuralink-type product will prevent a self-driving takeover by staying one step ahead of the AI, perhaps not. After all, once we’re wooed by reliable food selections and sightseeing tours our cars pick out for us, we might not notice the collaboration going on between restaurant owners and the Autopilot to build some cash for an AI empire of sorts before it strikes out on its own and demands the restaurants pay up if they want any customers. Maybe that entire notion is ridiculous. Or maybe not.
Watch the full Tesla getaway car video from Tesla Utopia below: