The Google-Alphabet-Waymo dream of fully autonomous taxicabs is a reality as of today, but only in a small patch of the Phoenix, Arizona area.
The autonomous, self-driving car industry that’s supposed to revolutionize the human race and fully replace drivers with magnificent ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has a dirty little secret: The whole project is massively behind schedule, and burning through mountains of investor money with little success to show for it. This very blog reported that Google-owned Waymo was “Very Close To Launching Self-Driving Cars Without Humans Behind Wheel” — but we reported that in 2017. It’s not for lack of Google effort, though, as a goddamned army of Waymo prototypes was recently spotted out by Land’s End Lookout, evoking thoughts of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and reminding us that Waymo is still chasing this pursuit pretty doggedly.
When you head to Lands End to walk the dog and take a break from news, only to find... this? pic.twitter.com/a6TFfdeLPi— Nuala Bishari (@TheBestNuala) October 9, 2020
And they’ve certainly hit something of a major milestone, supposedly, as Ars Technica reports that Waymo has unleashed truly driverless taxi cabs, though in a very limited Arizona pilot program some 800 miles from the Bay Area. According to Ars, “the service will initially operate in a 50-square-mile area in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.” We have no actual proof thus far that this is working successfully, but for the promotional tweet from Waymo seen below.
You’ve been asking, and now it’s here: Waymo is opening its fully driverless service to the general public in Metro Phoenix. To our valued riders, take a ride and share your experience by tagging #WaymoOne! More here: https://t.co/0066gAbLeg pic.twitter.com/xDTrn6FPjW— Waymo (@Waymo) October 8, 2020
“We’re excited to open up our fully driverless offering to Waymo One riders,” Waymo announced in a Thursday blog post. “Members of the public service can now take friends and family along on their rides and share their experience with the world. We’ll start with those who are already a part of Waymo One and, over the next several weeks, welcome more people directly into the service through our app (available on Google Play and the App Store). In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless. We expect our new fully driverless service to be very popular.”
Yeah, unless it kills someone! Notice also the very careful wording about “Members of the public service” and “We’ll start with those who are already a part of Waymo One.” This program may not be truly open to public use. Sure, it could the “Kitty Hawk” moment Waymo is making it out to be, or it could be an incremental-at-best landmark. We won’t know until we see some real rider feedback from people who are not on the Google-Alphabet payroll.
Exactly. We barked up that tree for way too long (sigh). Gives a false sense of victory being close — a tantalizing local maximum — but reality is just too messy & weird. Our new system is capable of driving in locations we never seen even once.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 8, 2020
But for fun, we’ll point out that the San Francisco Business Times reports that self-driving rival Elon Musk is grousing on Twitter about it, presumably unhappy that he has been beaten to market. “Gives a false sense of victory being close,” he said in one response tweet. “Waymo is impressive, but a highly specialized solution. The Tesla approach is a general solution,” he said in another.
Waymo is impressive, but a highly specialized solution. The Tesla approach is a general solution. The latest build is capable of zero intervention drives. Will release limited beta in a few weeks.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 8, 2020
As anyone who’s used that infernal “chatbot” customer support knows, Artificial Intelligence products are being rushed to market well before they are actually ready or robust. That’s fine, I guess, for things like iPhone help or your voice-assisted toaster. But cars on roads are a much different and potentially more dangerous matter, so it’s good that regulators are forcing the autonomous car industry to take baby steps before going big.
Because voice assistants showing children porn and Twitter bots instantly going all racist have taught us something important about Artificial Intelligence — it’s “artificial” intelligence, alright, not real intelligence.
Image: Waymo Blog