The race to the first fully self-driving car might be raging on at full speed, but one of its main participants, benevolent Bond villain Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, is already looking well past the finish line into the autonomous future.
Musk — who was also on hand to announce Tesla’s expansion into the United Arab Emirates, the company’s first official entrance to the Middle Eastern market — told a panel at the World Government Summit in Dubai Monday that while self-driving car systems are imminent within the next few years, it might take longer for the tech to fully “disrupt” manual driving. When it does, he believes the world economy needs to be prepared to adjust to a society that no longer needs human drivers as part of the workforce. Business Insider first posted the video of Musk’s remarks.
“My guess is that in probably 10 years it will be very unusual for cars to be built that are not fully autonomous,” he said, before touting the Tesla HW2 hardware package, which could feasibly provide full Level 5 autonomy right now.
What’s holding it back is the automaker’s Enhanced Autopilot software system, which will be incrementally rolled out this year via over-the-air software updates. The software needs to collect more on-road driving data before it’s prepared to be used for true autonomy on a massive scale. The goal is for the system to be prepared for at least one cross-country autonomous ride by the end of this year.
“Getting in a car will be just like getting in an elevator,” Musk said. “You just tell it where you want to go and it takes you there with extreme levels of safety, and that will be normal.”
Even if the self-driving tech is already close at hand, Musk believes it will still take some time to have paradigm-shifting effects.
“The point at which we see full autonomy appear will not be the point at which there is massive societal upheaval,” he said, “because it will take a lot of time to make enough autonomous vehicles to disrupt the economy.” He guessed the full disruption won’t come for another 20 years or so.
When that disruption comes, though, he’s concerned about the potential negative economic impact autonomous cars could have — namely, putting those in industries currently dependent on driving-based jobs out of work. Musk stressed the importance of finding other ways to get displaced drivers working in an autonomous future, because they make up such a large percentage of the global economy.
Throughout the conversation, Musk also hit on some of his other passions and favorite talking points: AI paranoia, cyborgs, super intelligent aliens monitoring Earth as we speak, his secret tunnel and space exploration, repeating his predictions that humans will live on Mars within our lifetimes. After all, he thinks dying on Mars would be a fine way to go out.