Rodney Brooks

Robots, AI, and other stuff

AGI Has Been Delayed

very recent article follows in the footsteps of many others talking about how the promise of autonomous cars on roads is a little further off than many pundits have been predicting for the last few years. Readers of this blog will know that I have been saying this for over two years now. Such skepticism is now becoming the common wisdom.

In this new article at The Ringer, from May 16th, the author Victor Luckerson, reports:

Elon Musk, the driverless car is always right around the corner. At an investor day event last month focused on Tesla’s autonomous driving technology, the CEO predicted that his company would have a million cars on the road next year with self-driving hardware “at a reliability level that we would consider that no one needs to pay attention.” That means Level 5 autonomy, per the Society of Automotive Engineers, or a vehicle that can travel on any road at any time without human intervention. It’s a level of technological advancement I once compared to the Batmobile.

Musk has made these kinds of claims before. In 2015 he predicted that Teslas would have “complete autonomy” by 2017 and a regulatory green light a year later. In 2016 he said that a Tesla would be able to drive itself from Los Angeles to New York by 2017, a feat that still hasn’t happened. In 2017 he said people would be able to safely sleep in their fully autonomous Teslas in about two years. The future is now, but napping in the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle remains extremely dangerous.

When I saw someone tweeting that Musk’s comments meant that a million autonomous taxis would be on the road by 2020, I tweeted out the following:

Let’s count how many truly autonomous (no human safety driver) Tesla taxis (public chooses destination & pays) on regular streets (unrestricted human driven cars on the same streets) on December 31, 2020. It will not be a million. My prediction: zero. Count & retweet this then.

I think these three criteria need to be met before someone can say that we have autonomous taxis on the road.

The first challenge, no human safety driver, has not been met by a single experimental deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads anywhere in the world. They all have safety humans in the vehicle. A few weeks ago I saw an autonomous shuttle trial along the paved beachside public walkways at the beach on which I grew up, in Glenelg, South Australia, where there were two “two onboard stewards to ensure everything runs smoothly” along with eight passengers. Today’s demonstrations are just not autonomous. In fact in the article above Luckerson points out that Uber’s target is to have their safety drivers intervene only once every 13 miles, but they are way off that capability at this time. Again, hardly autonomous, even if they were to meet that goal. Imagine having a breakdown of your car that you are driving once every 13 miles–we expect better.

And if normal human beings can’t simply use these services (in Waymo’s Phoenix trial only 400 pre-approved people are allowed to try them out) and go anywhere that they can go in a current day taxi, then really the things deployed will not be autonomous taxis. They will be something else. Calling them taxis would be redefining what a taxi is. And if you can just redefine words on a whim there is really not much value to your words.

I am clearly skeptical about seeing autonomous cars on our roads in the next few years. In the long term I am enthusiastic. But I think it is going to take longer than most people think.

In response to my tweet above, Kai-Fu Lee, a very strong enthusiast about the potential for AI, and a large investor in Chinese AI companies, replied with:

If there are a million Tesla robo-taxis functioning on the road in 2020, I will eat them. Perhaps @rodneyabrooks will eat half with me?

I readily replied that I would be happy to share the feast!

Luckerson talks about how executives, in general, are backing off from their previous predictions about how close we might be to having truly autonomous vehicles on our roads.  Most interestingly he quotes Chris Urmson:

Chris Urmson, the former leader of Google’s self-driving car project, once hoped that his son wouldn’t need a driver’s license because driverless cars would be so plentiful by 2020. Now the CEO of the self-driving startup Aurora, Urmson says that driverless cars will be slowly integrated onto our roads “over the next 30 to 50 years.”

Now let’s take note of this. Chris Urmson was the leader of Google’s self-driving car project, which became Waymo around the time he left, and is the CEO of a very well funded self-driving start up. He says “30 to 50 years”. Chris Urmson has been a leader in the autonomous car world since before it entered mainstream consciousness. He has lived and breathed autonomous vehicles for over ten years. No grumpy old professor is he. He is a doer and a striver. If he says it is hard then we know that it is hard.

I happen to agree, but I want to use this reality check for another thread.

If we were to have AGI, Artificial General Intelligence, with human level capabilities, then certainly it ought to be able to drive a car, just like a person, if not better. Now a self driving car does not need to have general human level intelligence, but a self driving car is certainly a lower bound on human level intelligence.  Urmson, a strong proponent of self driving cars says 30 to 50 years.

So what does that say about predictions that AGI is just around the corner? And what does it say about it being an existential threat to humanity any time soon. We have plenty of existential threats to humanity lining up to bash us in the short term, including climate change, plastics in the oceans, and a demographic inversion. If AGI is a long way off then we can not say anything sensible today about what promises or threats it might provide as we need to completely re-engineer our world long before it shows up, and it when it does show up it will be in a world that we can not yet predict.

Do people really say that AGI is just around the corner? Yes, they do…

Here is a press report on a conference on “Human Level AI” that was held in 2018. It reports that 37\% of respondents to a survey at that conference said they expected human level AI to be around in 5 to 10 years. Now, I must say that looking through the conference site I see more large hats than cattle, but these are mostly people with paying corporate or academic jobs, and 37\% of them think this.

Ray Kurzweil still maintains, in Martin Ford’s recent book that we will see a human level intelligence by 2029–in the past he has claimed that we will have a singularity by then as the intelligent machines will be so superior to human level intelligence that they will exponentially improve themselves (see my comments on belief in magic as one of the seven deadly sins in predicting the future of AI). Mercifully the average prediction of the 18 respondents for this particular survey was that AGI would show up around 2099.  I may have skewed that average a little as I was an outlier amongst the 18 people at the year 2200. In retrospect I wish I had said 2300 and that is the year I have been using in my recent talks.

And a survey taken by the Future of Life Institute (warning: that institute has a very dour view of the future of human life, worse than my concerns of a few paragraphs ago) says were are going to get AGI around 2050.

But that is the low end of when Urmson things we will have autonomous cars deployed. Suppose he is right about his range. And suppose I am right that  autonomous driving is a lower bound on AGI, and I believe it is a very low bound. With these very defensible assumptions then the seemingly sober experts in Martin Ford’s new book are on average wildly optimistic about when AGI is going to show up.

AGI has been delayed.


23 comments on “AGI Has Been Delayed”

  1. Using the word “delayed” implies that an action has caused the timeline to be pushed back. I don’t think that is the case here. Rather, the growing consensus is now more realistic — in other words, it’s closer to what you have always maintained!

    AGI has not been delayed; the public’s perception of AGI’s arrival is closer to reality.

    1. That title was a self-serving attempt at irony… only the perception of when it might arrive has been delayed.

  2. I think full autonomous cars will require an almost complete AGI, not a lower bound one, unless roads are modified to accommodate these cars.

    1. Two points here. I think we will get autonomous cars by modifying our infrastructure and that in itself will take a long time. So I actually think Urmson is being optimistic about true level 5. We will get autonomy in his time frame but only in modified geographies. As to whether true level five requires full AGI, I am not so sure, but I may be too optimistic on that one.

  3. Rodney,

    Listening to the media one could be forgiven for believing that we were on the verge of a vehicle with level 5 autonomy.

    As you know the leader of the pack is Tesla, with 500K+ vehicles on the road. Each one collecting precious data to feed into its self improving deep learning algorithms.

    I watched the official Tesla Self Driving video:

    And thought wow!!! Where do I sign up?

    But then I watched an independent Tesla lover testing out his model 3 in the UK:

    And I was more than a little disappointed. The car wasn’t anywhere near as clever as I assumed it would be. There’s no way you could drive for more about 1/2 mile on a UK A-Road without having to intervene to save your own life.

    There’s a way to go before the dream is realised.

    Kind Regards,

    1. Yes, lots of modifications to our road ways will speed the arrival of autonomous vehicles. But that issue is orthogonal to the argument I am making here.

  4. 70% AI accuracy gives way to 30% in-accuracy. That’s not had to achieve, but not good. 95% AI accuracy gives way to 5% in-accuracy. That’s where we’re at today. Also not good. It’s diminishing the 5% in-accuracy to 0.0000000000005% that’s gonna be the hard part! You are right Rodney, maybe another 20 years for autonomous cars? However, why are we working so hard for full autonomous? … when we can just start placing beacons on the road itself and reduce the problem to partial autonomous. But no matter what the solution, the human element is still a big issue.

    1. Again, I agree that we will likely modify our roadways to speed the arrival of autonomous vehicles. But that is orthogonal to the argument I am making here. I am saying that if well placed people are saying that true level 5 (no modifications to roadways) is many decades away then surely AGI must be even longer away. I have talked about how I think adoption will play out in other posts. This post is not about that at all.

  5. I agree that with the observation that a lack of AGI is preventing self-driving cars.

    A car based solely upon neural networks and statistical learning cannot figure out driving conditions and cannot deduce what to do.

    My own work in symbolic logic and knowledge based AI techniques has been kept on track by what Rodney Brooks has written – with the exception that I believe in hierarchical contextual world models. I am following Alan Turing’s guidance to construct the mind of a child and to proceed to educate it via dialog.

    1. I must not have been very clear in my writing. I did not say at all that a lack of AGI is preventing self-driving cars. Whether that is true or not is not part of what I was trying to argue in this post.

  6. I agree with all of that. A speculation though – that there exists some method of cracking Moravec’s Paradox from the bottom aka replicating evolution/environment interactions in A-Life. That sounds like I described it so I have a pet plan to declare – I don’t. The concept is monstrous.

    Do you have a speculation or a different take?

  7. I think Elon Musk is himself aware that his predictions are too optimistic but it is a war against the market, against the short termism of traders. It’s an economic game.
    On the other hand, Ray Kurzweil still has more credibility given the number of predictions made: 87% success rate
    Singularity is still science fiction for the current state of technology, but I have a question to ask:
    Considering the progress in the field of NLP (Google Duplex, Xiaoice, Cainiao of Alibaba, GPT-2, etc…), do you think it is possible that in 2029, the machine will pass the turing test?
    If your answer is not far from that date then I think we should start taking Ray seriously.

  8. Great article.
    What if we make all-atonomous-cars in roads got controlled by one regulatory system?
    So all the cars’ direction and location are calculated and shared with the system to control…?
    I vaguely think it by the way.
    Thank you for all great articles always

    1. Scroll up to see my responses to earlier posters about changing the world. Same answer: yes, we will deploy autonomous cars by changing how we think about them operating, not the current thought that they will be independent one for one replacements of human driven cars on today’s road infrastructure. But that is irrelevant to the argument I was making in this blog post.

  9. It’s funny–one of the last places I worked constantly told us to temper our expectations of the future. The result almost always meant being overly conservative. Even my original enthusiasm would usually be off by a year or three. You are right that Musk’s prediction is too soon. Yet, I prefer it to the next-to-never conservative positions of most! Musk’s predictions inspire others to accept the inevitability of a thing in nearer terms.

    1. When one has authority in the world one needs to be careful about what one says, so that people do not take actions based on wrong information. That includes having people take their hands off the steering wheel and dying.

  10. So I won’t get to see AGI or GOFAI (good old-fashioned artificial intelligence)
    in my already superannuated lifetime? (I saw Dwight David Eisenhower once, when he was running for the presidency and my Army father took us kids to catch sight of Ike.) And here I have been rooting for AI all along.
    I went to a Marvin Minsky lecture back around 1983, where so many people came in that Professor Earl B. Hunt of AI fame had to sit on the floor. To my shame, I feel asleep in front of as he lectured about his artificial retina. I met the snarky Rodney Brooks at Seattle’s University Book Store when he was signing copies of “Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us” on February 28, 2002 — seventeen years ago!

  11. Just one question sir, have you sat in a tesla which is in auto pilot mode on mass pike from Natick to boston set to 75 mph?
    Happy to give you a ride to give you an appreciation for where we have come and where we are going

    1. Yes, I am very well aware of how far we have come. I was at the very first announcement, by Ernst Dickmanns at the 1987 ISRR in Santa Cruz, of autonomous freeway driving at 90Km/h on the autobahn outside Munich. And I have followed every development since. The initial demonstration was monumental, and the progress has been breathtaking.

      However, average case performance does not include edge case performance, and that is what is delaying deployment. So your comment is completely irrelevant to my argument.

      And I recommend that you keep your hands on the wheel. I would prefer that you live.

Comment on this

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *