We've definitely heard this one before.
Lo and behold: Tesla CEO Elon Musk has upgraded his perennial promise that Tesla will achieve full self-driving "next year" to "this year."
The jokes practically write themselves at this point. After all, he has an unbeaten, nearly decade-long streak of promising that full-self driving will be achieved "next year" — every year since 2014.
But Musk was being very serious — or so we think — during his talk at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai on Thursday.
"I think we are very close to achieving full self-driving without human supervision," Musk told his audience, as quoted by Electrek.
"This is only speculation, but I think we'll achieve full self-driving, maybe what you would call four or five, I think later this year."
If you know a thing or two about the SAE standards of driving automation Musk is referring to, you might begin to suspect that he's talking out of his rear end.
For those out of the loop, the SAE standards delineate levels of autonomous driving on a scale of levels 0 through 5, with Level 5 meaning a car can fully drive itself without intervention.
Tesla's misleadingly named Full Self-Driving beta is only at Level 2, technically requiring the driver to stay alert and intervene at any moment (though some Tesla drivers ignore this minimal measure).
So for Musk to claim that Tesla will somehow leapfrog Level 3 and make it to four or five by this year is patently ridiculous.
That "or" is worth examining, too, since the difference between those levels is massive. While both mean that your driving experience will be totally hands-off, Level 4 vehicles are only autonomous in certain conditions or locations, like driverless robotaxis designed for (and limited to) specific cities.
Meanwhile, Level 5 means that a vehicle will be fully autonomous in any weather, any road conditions, anywhere in the world — something no car company has come even close to yet.
Take Musk's vague and off-the-cuff predictions with a grain of salt, in other words. It's probably been said that he sounds like a broken record at this point, but that would be unkind to broken records, which usually aren't left on to bother you for nine or so years.
We should also add that there is a heap of ongoing legal complications regarding Full Self-Driving and Autopilot that may continue to hinder Tesla's progress, including a weighty investigation by the Justice Department.
So go off Elon — we'll believe it when we see it.
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