Steve Wozniak, the man credited with helping kick off the modern microcomputer revolution, has become increasingly skeptical of some of the high-tech breakthroughs expected to transform modern life in the next decade and beyond, technologies including both artificial intelligence, or AI, as well as autonomous vehicles.
A keynote speaker at an automotive technology conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, “Woz,” as he’s widely known, noted he was a long-time proponent of AI and self-driving vehicles, but “A couple years ago I gave up on that thinking.” He now believes it is unlikely that vehicles capable of operating entirely without a human back-up driver won’t be ready for production “in my lifetime.”
The Apple founder and legendary computer technician also predicted that artificial intelligence won’t go nearly as far as many experts have been predicting, with the ability to not only out-think humans but also relate to them on an emotional level.
When it comes to autonomous cars, Wozniak said, he expects manufacturers will continue to improve systems like General Motors’ Super Cruise and Tesla Autopilot, which can have some hands-off capabilities under relatively benign situations, such as limited access highways. But under more challenging circumstances, such as urban roadways, it’s another matter entirely.
“You’re going to need at least the dumbest human (behind the wheel and ready) to take control when an unusual situation comes up,” he said.
The question of whether autonomous driving will become a reality – and, if so, when – is a centerpiece of the J.D. Power AutoRevolution conference in Las Vegas this week. And other speakers pointed to how the industry has been backing off on earlier promises of bringing the technology to market quickly.
For his part, Woz not only was one of the most outspoken skeptics at the event, but also was openly critical of those who continue to say fully autonomous vehicles are just around the corner. Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk came in for a particularly sharp elbow jab, Wozniak noting how the company has been promising an updated and fully autonomous version of Autopilot since mid-decade, only to keep pulling back.
“They sucked me in,” he added, noting he had repeatedly upgraded his vehicle in expectation that the new version would get full self-driving capabilities.
Tesla came in for a number of shots, Wozniak saying he had a “love/hate relationship” with the battery-car company. Among other things, he said Tesla has been misleading customers by claiming the electricity its vehicles use is cheaper than gasoline. That was true when he bought his first Tesla, Wozniak said, the company offering free charging at its vast Supercharger network. But he noted that the free charging feature has been dropped and Tesla has been steadily increasing the price of energy at its charger stations.
That said, Wozniak praised the automaker for being “seven years ahead” of competitors by setting up the Supercharger network that now has over 5,000 stations in North America alone. That has allowed Wozniak and his family to make frequent cross-country trips without having to worry about being able to charge up.
That’s a problem for his other battery-electric vehicle, a Chevrolet Bolt EV, which Wozniak said he actually prefers to drive locally, when he doesn’t have to worry about finding a charging station.
While Wozniak may think that technologies like AI and autonomous driving remain out of reach, he expects to continue seeing improvements in automotive technologies, including voice-assistant systems like the new Mercedes-Benz MBUX.
“I want them to become more and more like a human listening to me,” he said. “Everything I do in a car I’d like to do by voice.”
During a subsequent roundtable with a handful of journalists, Woz was asked about Project Titan, the push by Apple to get into the automotive field. He cautioned that, while still working for the Silicon Valley giant, he does not have direct insight into the project, Apple being a “need-to-know company.”
But, “I think there is still an Apple car program,” said Wozniak, though he is not sure whether the company still plans to build an entire vehicle or just work on autonomous technology.