Bill Gates describes himself as a ‘car guy’, but says he’s ready to hand over control to machines and predicts the day will come ‘as soon as possible’. THE Microsoft billionaire took a test drive in an AV vehicle to showcase the new technology and said we are almost halfway to realizing a future with fully autonomous vehicles in all conditions.
“The car took us through central London, which is one of the toughest driving environments imaginable, and it was a bit surreal to be in the car as it was dodging all the traffic,” said wrote Gates in a blog post this week with an accompanying video, sounding optimistic about the future of AVs.
The car he was driving in was made by Wayve, a British startup that works with Microsoft on its audiovisual capabilities. For his “test drive”, Gates was accompanied by a security driver, CEO and co-founder of Wayve, Alex Kendall.
Several automakers have been working on developing self-driving cars in recent years, including General Engines and Google-parent Alphabet. GM’s Cruise even operated its own self-driving taxi service in San Francisco, and recently asked California government for permission to test its audio-visual vehicles statewide. Tesla’s cars have long offered drivers the ability to use its “Autopilot” feature, which helps steer or brake, though it doesn’t yet support fully autonomous driving.
“We have made tremendous progress on autonomous vehicles, or AVs, in recent years, and I believe we will reach a tipping point in the next decade,” Gates wrote. “And if you commute like me, think about the time you waste driving. Instead, you could check your email, read a good book, or watch the new episode of your favorite show, whatever is possible in fully autonomous vehicles.
The billionaire also has high hopes for what AVs could mean in terms of reducing social inequality if the technology is successfully deployed in the future. Gates believes AVs will become less expensive over time and improve transportation accessibility for the elderly and disabled. And since the bulk of AVs in development are also electric, he says AVs can also help tackle the climate crisis.
But Gates admitted that AVs still have a long way to go – possibly decades – before they become mainstream. But he thinks that even after that, passenger cars will be the last category to go the AV route (trucks would be first, Gates predicted).
A future full of self-driving cars means that all the infrastructure that supports them will no longer be needed, but Gates said it would be “probably decades” before that kind of transformation would happen.
Other concerns about AVs have surfaced in recent years as more and more such cars are deployed on the streets. Earlier this year, Tesla’s vehicles with experimental “Fully Self-Driving” software have been recalled because of their tendency to cause accidents. Autopilot and Tesla’s “fully autonomous driving” are under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for car accidents in the past. And there have also been concerns about how broadcast companies no longer need security drivers to help guide cars through tricky situations on the streets, causing chaos in some cases.
“Even once the technology is perfected, people might not feel comfortable in a car without a steering wheel at first. But I believe the benefits will convince them,” Gates wrote in his blog.
Gates is a strong proponent of artificial intelligence and its related futuristic technologies, and recently declared that “the age of AI has arrived”. He said he believes OpenAI’s chatbot tool ChatGPT, launched to much fanfare last year, was groundbreaking and had the potential to bring about profound change in healthcare and education.
“Entire industries will reorient themselves around it. Companies will differentiate themselves by how they use it,” Gates wrote of AI in a blog post. earlier this month.