Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says he does not expect fully autonomous cars 'in my lifetime'

Technology will need to be able to accommodate “the dumbest human behind the wheel to take control when an unusual situation comes up,” Wozniak said.
Image: Steve Wozniak speaks at a screening in Mountain View, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2018.
Steve Wozniak speaks at a screening in Mountain View, Calif., on Jan. 17, 2018.Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images for Discovery file

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By Paul A. Eisenstein

Steve Wozniak helped launch the microcomputer revolution and remains a widely followed tech guru, but the Apple co-founder — "Woz," as he is known to his fans — has reversed course when it comes to two technologies that could radically alter the world around us over the course of the next several decades.

Once a strong proponent of both artificial intelligence, or AI, and autonomous driving, Wozniak says he doesn’t think either will live up to expectations. Fully self-driving vehicles in particular likely won’t be ready for the real world “in my lifetime,” he said during a tech conference in Las Vegas this week.

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“A couple of years ago I gave up” on believing in autonomous vehicles and many of the promises of AI, Wozniak said, discounting what he long had predicted: that computers would soon become not only smarter than humans but also able to read our emotions and interact as if they had become sentient beings.

An early convert to battery-electric vehicles, Wozniak told the crowd at the JDPower Auto Revolution conference he has a “love/hate relationship” with Tesla and its vehicles, several of which he has owned in recent years. He and his family make frequent, cross-country trips and that has become easier with the automaker’s long-range products and vast network of high-speed superchargers.

While Tesla is not the only manufacturer developing autonomous technology, it does have a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver, Wozniak said several times during his Las Vegas appearance. For one thing, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has frequently said it costs less to run a battery-car than a gasoline vehicle, and that was true when access to the charging network was free to Tesla owners. But new customers now have to pay, and the company has driven up costs to the point where it is about the same as a gasoline model, said Wozniak.

Wozniak also said he was “suckered in” by Tesla’s promise that it would offer a fully self-driving version of its Autopilot system. For four years, the company has repeatedly said such an update is coming, but has so far failed to deliver, Wozniak said.

While Wozniak still uses his Tesla for long-distance travel, for day-to-day driving he prefers his compact Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Even then, for day-to-day driving under more challenging conditions, Wozniak said he doesn’t see the auto and tech industries overcoming the obstacles to full autonomy “in my lifetime.”

“You’re going to need at least the dumbest human behind the wheel to take control when an unusual situation comes up,” Wozniak said.