The feeling of Artificial Intelligence

CogX conference : Tesla Model 3 : No buttons

No hands

This magnificent beast belongs to Tomas Sareklint

Recently, the two writers of this newsletter have both had thrilling experiences of autonomy. What we mean to say is that we've driven Tesla Model 3s, without steering said cars. We want to thank the Tesla store in Täby, Stockholm, and Tomas Sareklint of All Binary for letting us into their respective electric chariots.

We imagine that most of our esteemed readers have yet to sit behind the wheel of a car that can literally drive itself. Some of you have sampled this now available slice of future, that we know. Yet, it's safe to say that this is something entirely new that we as a society and culture have yet to figure out.

This week's newsletter is all about the human interface to Artificial Intelligence, in its many forms. At the time of writing this, Sebastian and Fredrik are less than patiently awaiting their flight to London (please do reply to this email with your favourite methods of climate compensation, we're looking for new options).

Living the life

While in the UK, we will not only attend Fully Charged Live (famously known as the Coacella of renewable energy and electric transport) but also the CogX conference - or AI Festival, judging by the headline.

When less is worse

We are all familiar with how car dashboards are designed. There are buttons, gears, knobs and dials for a great number of different functions. In order to allow a driver to operate these controls without taking his or her eyes of the road they are made tactile and easy to feel.

This is the new electric Audi e-Tron. Lots of buttons

Every feature - heat, music, windows etc - are usually awarded its own separate physical space. This is how it's always been because it works.

This is it

A Tesla Model 3 has essentially no physical input mechanisms whatsoever apart from the steering wheel. Every function of this car, of which there are many, is exclusively available through the giant touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard. As you can imagine, this is in practical terms a worse experience than in a normal car.

While driving, it’s now significantly more difficult to adjust settings than it ought to be. The Tesla Model 3, meant to be an affordable-ish vehicle for the masses, is a worse car in terms of user experience than a conventional alternative in terms of how you interface with the interior.

Until it becomes everything

The anticipant face of a bearded man (Sebastian) that is about to let a car steer him for the first time

That is, until you stop driving and let the car take over. This was frightening at first, and then seductively easy. The Model 3 is the latest offering from Tesla Motors, and it's unrivalled in its capacity for self-driving. During our limited time with the vehicles, the autonomous driving (called Auto Pilot by company) was flawless.

As a driver you are required to leave a hand on the wheel so as to let car know you're still paying attention. For legal reasons you must be ready to take over manual control at any moment. However, you are perfectly able to lean back with only a light touch on the wheel and enjoy being chauffeured by a robot whose ability to safely drive a vehicle vastly exceeds yours.

Watch the Tesla Autopilot save lives including that of a wild boar - 4 minutes of video

When you let the computer take over, the minimalist dashboard and huge touchscreen not only makes sense but become better than any system of physical gears and knobs. As soon as you are able to take your attention away from the road, you do want your settings presented to you digitally.

Makes sense as long as you’re not driving. But then it makes so much sense

Every function now has unlimited space on the screen, no longer being confined into an on-off button or a mechanical slider. You can fiddle with details and get things just right, because spending time doing so no longer makes you an unsafe driver.

Removing complexity

What we mean to say is this: When the technology of Artificial Intelligence, here in the form of a self-driving car, takes practical form in our world it leads to simplification of previously complex systems. It removes the need for advanced manual controls by letting humans direct machines (including both hard- and software) in a more abstract sense.

Instead of controlling every movement of your car, you tell it where to go and help it adjust if need be. In fact, you and your car becomes a highly capable team. You have the strategic vision (where you're going) and understanding of highly improbable situations (a renegade goat jumps onto the highway from a circus wagon) and the car does the mechanical driving. Together, you outperform both human and machine.

When you get a chance to drive or sit in a Tesla Model 3, do so. It is, we argue, the closest thing now available to experiencing the human-machine interface that will become how we navigate an increasingly automated world. At the CogX conference in London, the topic of what AI means will be discussed from every angle imaginable.

We're going there to listen, learn and if possible add to that conversation - but one thing is clear: Machines and humans are intuitively good at very different things, and it’s when these two types of intelligences work together that the impact becomes exponential.

Trying to blend in

Finishing this newsletter with excitement from a genuinely English pub in the quaint village of Silverstone during a roaring football match, your humble correspondents Sebastian & Fredrik.

Next week we will write about Fully Charged Live and CogX.