The Woz Predicts No Fully Autonomous Vehicles ‘During My Lifetime’

can be reached at pavel@aol.com
can be reached at pavel@aol.com
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Always blunt, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, known to Apple fans as “The Woz,” had some surprising comments during an appearance at a JDPA Power event in Las Vegas — and in an interview afterwards. For one thing, he has reversed course and now does not think there will be fully autonomous vehicles “during my lifetime.” He has similarly changed his opinion on AI. The Woz also had some intriguing comments about both Tesla and his favorite car, a Chevy Bolt EV.

  • Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak no longer believes fully-autonomous vehicles will become a reality.
  • He had some harsh words about Tesla’s tendency to over-promise and under-deliver.
  • Woz has long owned Tesla products but prefers to drive a Chevy Bolt EV.

According to one recent study, automakers will spend well over $100 billion to develop self-driving vehicles by the middle of the next decade, but one of the country’s most celebrated tech gurus thinks that could be money thrown down a rathole.

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, doesn’t believe fully autonomous vehicles will take to the highways “during my lifetime.” That’s a 180-degree turnaround from his earlier, enthusiastic support for the technology, “Woz” said during an appearance at the JD Power AutoRevolution conference in Las Vegas earlier this week.

But the widely followed Wozniak has become more skeptical about a number of technologies proponents claim will be able to change the world. That includes artificial intelligence. While there’s little doubt that computers will become smarter and smarter, he said during the AR conference, it’s far less likely they will reach a point of becoming sentient, capable of not just interacting with humans but developing their own emotions.

Wozniak had some harsh words for Tesla but praised it for setting up the vast Supercharger network. (Photo: Dario/Unsplash)

During an on-stage appearance and a subsequent interview, Wozniak expressed his most serious skepticism about self-driving vehicles, a technology he had been eagerly anticipating during much of the past decade. The reality, said Woz, is that there are simply too many things for those vehicles to learn how to do, whether navigating the chaos on a city street or dodging an obstacle dropped onto a highway.

So, while smart cars may can take control under some circumstances, “You’re going to need at least the dumbest human (behind the wheel and ready) to take control when an unusual situation comes up.”

The legendary computer designer helped transform Silicon Valley from a sleepy farming community into America’s tech capital. And he often takes the stage to talk about how computer technology will transform the world. But at 69, Wozniak has become more cautious, admitting that there are some challenges digital engineers may not be able to overcome.

Credit – or blame — personal experience. Wozniak was an early convert to battery-electric vehicles, and currently owns several, including a Model S he uses for cross-country drives. During his Las Vegas appearance, he praised Tesla’s network of Superchargers, high-speed stations that make it possible to travel without range anxiety. But Wozniak conceded “a love/hate relationship” with Tesla and, around town, prefers to drive a Chevrolet Bolt EV.

For driving around town, Wozniak said he prefers his Chevrolet Bolt EV. (Photo: General Motors)

One reason is that he is bothered by all the hype that comes out of Tesla and CEO Elon Musk. Wozniak pointed to the way the Tesla CEO frequently claims it is cheaper to drive a battery-car using the Supercharger network than filling up a regular vehicle at a gas station. That was true, Woz said, when Tesla owners got to plug in for free, but as the carmaker has raised prices for new owners to use a Supercharger, that’s no longer the case.

Woz had his sharpest words for Tesla on its semi-autonomous Autopilot system which, he said “sucked me in.” But, after years of promising to deliver a fully hands-free system, that has yet to happen, the tech guru said.

Recent comments from Tesla suggest he could yet be surprised, the automaker again promising a hands-free Autopilot update this year. But a less comprehensive software feature, the recently introduced Tesla Summon, has raised plenty of concerns. Designed to let a Tesla owner press a key on their fob to have their car exit a parking spot and come to them, it has been involved in a number of fender-benders and near-misses.

Don’t think Woz has become a Luddite. He’s still in love with technology and is particularly excited about the latest in-car voice assistants. “I want them to become more and more like a human listening to me,” he said. “Everything I do in a car I’d like to do by voice.”

Decades after building the first Apple computer in his family garage, Wozniak still maintains a relationship with the tech giant and, not surprisingly, questions turned to the subject of Apple’s mysterious Project Titan. CEO Tim Cook has confirmed the company has explored a role in the auto industry, but after cutting hundreds of jobs earlier this year, some observers have questioned whether the automotive project is dead. Others have guessed that Apple no longer wants to build its own car but is instead focusing on autonomous technology.

For his part, Woz said, “I think there is still an Apple car program,” though he added that he isn’t sure what it’s working on. Apple, he explained, is a “need-to-know company,” and considering Wozniak’s tendency to speak his mind, the company has apparently decided that when it comes to Project Titan, he simply doesn’t need to know.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The traditionally pro-tech Wozniak’s skepticism reflects what appears to be a broader pullback by technology and automotive experts who are finding it much harder than expected to teach cars to drive themselves, at least without a human backup driver.


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can be reached at pavel@aol.com
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