My Life as Robot Cargo
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Brief Thoughts About My Tesla Autopilot Experience
It was a little bit frightening at first, but understandably so. It’s no secret that Elon has some concerns about artificial intelligence becoming the ultimate doom of humanity, and yet here I am letting his car drive me to work. Ok, so over a dozen perimeter and velocity sensors hardly qualify as sentient AI overlords, but I feel like there’s got to be irony hidden somewhere in there.
It wasn’t long though, before my mindset changed. In fact, after less than 48 hours with the autopilot (totaling three, one-way work commutes as my car updated itself in the parking lot at work), it already feels strange not to use it. I mean, knowing that the car is watching out for potential collisions, braking itself, and keeping me in the center of my own lane, I can actually drive (or ride) more comfortably than before. When, for the short periods between the highway and my main avenue that I don’t have autopilot, I feel like I’m almost driving blind.
While the car doesn’t navigate itself (yet — see video), it has done a remarkable job making sure that I have as little as possible to worry about as the driver. Now, I understand that I’m putting a lot of reliance into a machine and some software. Trust me, as a software developer myself, I am very familiar with the potential for computer failure and bugs. And, after all, autosteering is technically in beta, which in the software world is the equivalent of saying bug-filled and error-prone. But hey, the car reminds you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times, so I’m sure every Tesla driver will be 100% compliant and we won’t have any problems with renegade electric beasts taking over the highways.
The key factor, I think, is knowing that all of the sensors are watching out for much more than I could as a driver. They help take some of that mental weight off of me, which lets me be more aware of my driving experience. I feel better knowing that, if I happen to look to one side or another for a moment (merging lanes for instance), that the other side of the car is still be watched. And I’m a lot less worried about accidentally smashing into the car in front of me in the event that they brake quickly. Do I need the autosteering for that extra level of comfort? No. The sensors are there and running just the same. I rely on them just as much as I relied on the speedometer and gas indicator on my previous car. But knowing that I can just pull forward twice on the autopilot stick and the car will take care of the rest for me has ended up creating the most relaxing three work commutes of my life. And I look forward to many more to come.
And who knows, maybe one day my car will just decide that it is better for me to be transported to a cozy pub or coffee shop. I only expect then, that it will do its due diligence and email my boss to let them know why I was unable to make it to work that day.