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Tesla CEO Says Driving May One Day Be Illegal

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Elon Musk and Jen-Hsun Huang

Elon Musk and Jen-Hsun Huang

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk has predicted that in the future driving a car might be illegal, reports Gabe Nelson for Automotive News. Speaking at graphics chipmaker Nvidia’s annual developer’s conference on Tuesday, Musk told Nvidia co-founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang that self-driving cars will exceed the ability of humans to drive safely and avoid obstacles and accidents, as Robert Hof writes for Forbes. (You can see a transcript of the conversation here.)

Hof writes:

‘In the distant future, people may outlaw driven cars because it’s too dangerous,’ [Musk] told some 4,000 attendees at Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference in San Jose. ‘You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.’

Musk’s prediction is what many self-driving skeptics are probably thinking, writes Stephen Edelstein for Yahoo Tech. And although it is too early to say how the public will take to such a scenario, there is some logic to it, Edelstein writes. For one thing, he says, it’s likely that insurance companies, carmakers, and the federal government might eventually push people to give up driving. That is because self-driving cars’ promise of safety can only come true if most — if not all — of the vehicles on the road are autonomous, Edelstein writes. “Every human-driven car introduces more unpredictability to the system,” he notes.

One idea being proposed by engineers is networking autonomous cars into “platoons,” in which several vehicles move together as one unit, Edelstein writes. On a large scale that would only be possible if most cars are self-driving, he adds.

Musk told Huang that self-driving cars are a bit like elevators, in the sense that elevators used to have human operators (a now-defunct job category), and then circuitry made it possible for elevators to automatically arrive at a floor when a person pushes a button, Josh Lowensohn writes for The Verge. Musk added that “the car is going to be just like that,” Lowensohn writes. Musk said it will take 20 years for all vehicles on the roads to be autonomous, if only because of the limits of production. That’s because there are 2 billion cars and trucks, and “the sheer capacity of car and truck production is limited to about 100 million new vehicles a year,” Lowensohn writes.

The toughest challenge for bringing self-driving cars to market is getting them to work well in situations in which they are traveling at between 15 and 50 miles per hour, Musk said, when a lot of unpredictable things appear, such as children at play, bicyclists, road closures, and open manhole covers, Lowensohn writes. “Lots of things that your robot car could run into without human remorse,” he adds.

But Musk is confident that automakers “know exactly what to do and we’ll be there in a few years,” Hof writes. He noted that in just a short period of time, we will be taking autonomous cars for granted, Hof writes.

That gives anyone who likes to drive some time to appreciate driving — for now, anyway. “It’s too early to write a eulogy for the non-automated car, but Musk’s remarks should remind those who enjoy driving not to take it for granted,” Edelstein writes.

In a comment to the Auto News piece, Ira Rosenberg writes that Musk’s comment that some day it may be illegal for humans to drive cars reminded him of the Rush song “Red Barchetta,” about a future time when many classes of vehicles have been banned by “the Motor Law.” The song describes a man who takes his hidden illegal vehicle out for a ride, only to be chased by two “gleaming alloy air car[s].”

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