We’ll Have Self-Driving Cars By 2025

Atrios takes to the podium once again to insist that self-driving cars are just a pipe dream of nerdy cultists:

If the driver has to pay attention it isn’t a self-driving car. And the self-driving cars are never going to happen (in my lifetime, yes, yes, one day our descendants might upload their brains into self-driving car bodies). Things which are a bit more self-driving but are really just cruise control plus will become more widespread and the technology will improve. They still won’t be self-driving cars….Maybe you’ll like your new toys, but they won’t be self-driving cars.

After reading several dozen similar posts over the past couple of years, I guess I’m curious: why is he so convinced that self-driving cars are impossible in our lifetime? I happen to be on the other side of this question, and since neither one of us is an expert in artificial intelligence I’ll offer up three non-expert reasons to think that self-driving cars will become a reality in the next decade or so:

  • Computing power, and AI in general, continues to improve rapidly. The progress in self-driving cars has been eye-popping over the past ten years. Why should the next ten years be any different?
  • And it’s not just AI. Enabling technologies—mapping, radar, machine vision, etc.—are getting better rapidly too. Keep in mind that cars aren’t limited to either the senses that humans use to drive a car or to the cognitive algorithms we use. They have additional technology that humans can’t make use of.
  • Lots of companies are spending a ton of money on this. If it were just Google, that would be one thing. But can a dozen auto manufacturers, mostly run by distinctly non-nerdy bean counters, all be so bedazzled by the technology that they’re wasting millions of dollars year after year chasing after a chimera?

If you want to say that five or ten years is too optimistic, fine. Maybe it’s more like 15 years. Or even 20. But 50? What’s the argument for thinking the technology is that far away?