Open Letter to Elon Musk
Please consider changing your approach in creating autonomous vehicles. People’s lives, possibly the industry, your company and your legacy depend on it.
When you submitted your SpaceX code to NASA for review I believe they failed it for not being properly tested and for having exception handling issues. NASA intervened, forced you to do the right things and saved SpaceX and you. As NHTSA and others have abdicated their positions and deferred to you and the rest of the AV industry, I do not believe there is anyone with enough power to force you to do the right things and save Tesla or you here. I am making the attempt to help you save yourself as well as the many people who will lose their lives, needlessly, as you pursue an untenable process to build your autonomous vehicles. What is at stake here, in addition to the lives of these innocent people, are your employees, shareholders, most of the AV industry because they follow you, your company and you personally.
I believe you are in the process of crossing the line between being famous to being infamous. From saving lives to needlessly costing lives. From ethical to unethical. From being seen as one of the greatest visionaries, humanists and verbs of all time to someone who will be remembered for squandering all of that and becoming a monumental hypocrite. A person who becomes or does the things they say they rail against. As I have almost zero power here the best I can do is make my case, ask you to take a deep breath, try to put your ego and pride to the side, evaluate the information presented and find the courage to do the right thing. (I say almost zero power because I have done somethings that have earned me some ethical and engineering credibility. Should I not convince you to do the right thing here I will do my best to find another way to force a change.)
The issue is your use of public shadow driving as a primary or significant means of creating your autonomous technology. Versus the use of aerospace level simulation. Setting aside the deplorable and selfish use of your paying customers and their families as your Guinea pigs, let’s focus on the objective viability of that approach from a cost, time and engineering point of view. I will start with the punch line — you will never reach autonomy using this approach. You will never save lives using it. You will also make the lives of those people you have stated are necessary casualties, completely unnecessary casualties. When the public, press, insurance companies and lawmakers figure this out, after the first child or family is killed needlessly in one of your vehicles, they will feel betrayed and rightfully determine you and the majority of the industry, using this approach, are not competent or ethical enough to continue. At least not without far more regulation and delays than you would have had if you self-policed. You will also never reach the end state because you, nor anyone else, can drive the one trillion (not 6B) miles needed to get there nor spend the $300B+ to do so.
In an effort to keep this letter concise please find links two of my articles. In them I explain all of the issues, their root causes and how to resolve them in detail. I also provide links to the references I cite.
Letter to Congress — Handling of minimum standards for Autonomous industry
Who will get to Autonomous Level 5 First and Why
In closing I ask that you provide me the courtesy of reading the material I provided and to endeavor to think about it as separate from your ego and pride as possible. Think about it from the point of view of a human being, an engineer, a business owner and a mentor of a vast amount of people. If this weren’t you and someone else was going through this and they asked for your counsel, what would you suggest they do? I am pretty sure that if you made an announcement tomorrow where you explained and owned the mistakes you made, laid out an ethical and workable plan to resolve them, even if it takes another decade, most would understand, be grateful and supportive. And even if my prognostication is wrong. You would have actually saved the lives you intended to save, and many more. You would get back to being that person I you were a short time ago before your ego and pride led you down that slippery slope. You would bounce back and be just fine.