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Artificial Intelligence in Transportation: Why you Don't Have to be Afraid

As with nearly any hard-hitting topic in this day and age, headlines around new automotive advancements are oftentimes fraught with sensationalized, fear-mongering language - all driven by news agencies and websites determined to gain more engagement. Recent media has placed much focus on everything that can go wrong with electric or autonomous vehicles, placing much of their ire on Tesla, a company that both leads the charge in terms of advanced vehicle technology and that has seen some recent high-profile malfunctions in its vehicles.

In mid-September, Tesla CEO Elon Musk commented on the recent media frenzy surrounding Tesla vehicle fires, replying to a Tweet that laid out the relative frequency of car fires in ICE vehicles and Teslas. In standard fashion, Musk returned with the short quip: “Not super surprising, given that internal combustion engine cars literally have ‘combustion’ in the name”. Whether you love or hate Musk (an admittedly polarizing figure), his claims about the statistical frequency of vehicle fires in electric vehicles vs. ICE-powered vehicles are true: a spontaneous vehicle fire is over 5 times more likely to occur in a standard ICE vehicle than in a battery-powered EV.

Is this a reason to panic about ICE vehicles? Certainly not. There are a multitude of reasons to make the switch to electric vehicles (namely environmental concerns), but vehicle fires are not necessarily one of those reasons. Just like Teslas and other EVs on the market, ICE vehicles are well-tested and will rarely experience significant malfunctions if kept on a regular maintenance schedule. One thing that we must understand about vehicles in general, commercial or passenger, is that they always carry risk - be it engine malfunction, driver error, or something else. Vehicles are complicated pieces of heavy machinery, and their use will always require responsibility and caution. Advancements in vehicle technology do not seek to increase the risks inherent to operating a vehicle, but instead seek to (and have already witnessed much success in) minimizing these risks.

Many of the newest developments in vehicle technology, including the majority of Vorza’s services, rely on a basis of Artificial Intelligence. Here we encounter yet another buzzword that often inspires great fear. And warranted or not, widespread fear of AI capabilities has the potential to hold back necessary, beneficial advancements in vehicle technology. Like vehicles, technology holds inherent risks. However (also like vehicles), technology must be used responsibly with a focus on minimizing these inherent risks.

Musk himself has spent a great deal of time speaking on the risks of AI:

We need to manage AI or it becomes a very real and definite risk.

No developer of autonomous vehicle technology (or any other automated vehicle functions, such as ADAS systems or telematics platforms) is simply throwing these technologies out into the market to see what happens, regardless of what some reports may want you to believe. All of these technologies are subject to intense R&D and testing processes - and, again, ultimately aim to increase safety on our roads rather than the reverse.

Let’s take ADAS, for instance. Whether marketed as such or not, ADAS is essentially a lower level of vehicle automation. Entirely focused around driver safety, ADAS is one use of artificial intelligence in transportation that has already been widely implemented. Automated, AI-based functions that are integrated into standard ADAS packages include blind spot detection, lane guidance, and a number of other functions that mitigate the inherent risks of operating a vehicle. Yes, these technologies are new, and yes, they still must be used with caution. In the current AV and ADAS landscape, vehicle operators must still be on alert. It cannot, however, be argued that these advancements have not made our vehicles safer to operate and our roads safer to navigate.

Technological and scientific advancements have always faced levels of fear and skepticism from the general public, a phenomenon which may only be worsened by today’s sensational media environment. Media consumers must be willing to do their own research in order to put these sensationalized stories into perspective: technological advancements are here to help, not to hurt.

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