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Autonomous Cars May Ultimately Blow Our Minds, but We Have a Way to Go Yet

“Autonomy is going to come a hell of a lot faster than anyone thinks it will, and I think what we’ve got under development is going to blow people’s minds. It blows my mind.”

– Elon Musk

Elon Musk says that Tesla’s fully autonomous cars will “blow people’s minds,” reports Tech Insider. Musk, CEO of SpaceX, co-founder of PayPal, and spear header of several other ambitious projects – like Tesla Motors – is one of this age’s great inventors/business magnates, like Henry Ford before him, who revolutionized the auto industry with the introduction of his Model T in 1908.

One cannot peruse today’s news coverage without seeing Musk’s name, both the good and the bad.

But as positive as Musk coverage generally seems to be, the first death involving one of Tesla’s semi-autonomous cars is a reminder that there will continue to be tragic accidents as we transition from human-controlled cars to cars controlled entirely by computer.

This death occurred on May 7, 2016, when a big rig turned in front of the car.

The Crash of Tesla Model S

At heart, one of the principal benefits and great hopes of a future with fully autonomous cars is the elimination of fatal crashes, as well as crashes that end in serious injury. As has been argued, computers aren’t subject to those all-too-common human mistakes, like speeding, impaired driving, and texting while behind the wheel.

Compared to today – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 32,675 people died in fatal crashes in 2014 – a computer-controlled automotive environment looks utopian. This utopia undoubtedly drives much of Musk’s mission at Tesla Motors.

The fatal crash, however, indicates that we have a way to go yet.

Autopilot Did Not ‘See’ the Big Rig

To be fair, the Tesla Model S is a semi-autonomous car, not fully autonomous. Its design does not encompass the idea that the car will get you where you’re going safety while you sleep in the backseat – though as Wired Magazine reports, several Model S owners have made headlines by doing things that pose obvious risks, like allow themselves to fall asleep.

In the fatal May 7 crash, the big rig had turned in front of the car, and neither the driver nor the Autopilot system registered the white-on-white side of the trailer against the sky.

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