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Introducing "Next Year," This Mythical Time Elon Musk's Been Talking About Since 2014

"The Emperor's New Clothes", "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" - all three classic tales, all three with a very strong connection to the case of Elon Musk.
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The first one is probably the most loosely connected, but some do get the feeling he's parading his transparent clothes whenever he speaks about how efficient the Full Self-Driving Beta system is, and his public is too blinded by his aura to tell him otherwise.

"The Pied Piper of Hamelin" has been cited many times in connection to the Tesla CEO, particularly his ability to talk people into believing everything he says and promises. Whether that's ultimately going to lead his followers to their doom or not remains to be seen - for the moment, the Tesla stock is riding high, so perhaps it's more accurate to talk about the exact opposite.

Finally, we have the old story of a shepherd boy who falsely cried "wolf" a few times just to have a laugh at the expense of the villagers who came to help him, so that when the wolf eventually came, his helpers didn't believe the danger was any more real than the previous times, and chose to ignore him. Just like the ill-fated shepherd boy, Musk has been invoking "next year" as a deadline for full autonomy for quite some time now, and yet it seems like "next year" never came. And now, he's done it again.

During a lengthy discussion on the Lex Fridman podcast, he nonchalantly said Teslas would offer Level 4 autonomy "next year", and since the talk took place late last December, it translates to 2022. The company has a presentation scheduled for next Wednesday, January 26, when we should find out what Tesla has in store for us for this year in more detail. It'll be interesting to see whether Musk says anything about the FSD Beta or will instead focus on the financial results of 2021 and the new vehicles expected to launch this year.

It's not as if the FSD getting a mention would actually mean anything. The advanced driver's assistance system (ADAS) that has somehow been allowed to be marketed as fully autonomous has been touted as nearly complete many times. In fact, you can trace the first such claim made by Musk as far back as 2014 when he said that the Model S would be "90 percent capable of Autopilot next year". And once started, this kind of statement has kept on coming more often than not with the deadline quoting "next year".

That's because the entire strategy for autopilot/FSD has been overhyping the overhyping and then overhyping the overhype before overhyping some more. And people fell for it. In reality, the FSD is no better - or maybe even worse - than similar systems other manufacturers (or companies such as Bosch that have been working on this kind of technology for much longer than Tesla) are sitting on right now. The only difference is that Tesla decided to release its under-development feature to the public, whereas the rest went for the more sensible option of waiting until the technology is mature enough for widespread use and the regulators get an idea about how they want to tackle this thing.

Did Musk really believe back in 2019 that "next year" would bring "robotaxis" - Level 5 autonomous cars that could function as taxis without the need of an actual driver? If he did, then I have serious reasons to doubt his grasp on the matter, which in turn casts a dark shadow over everything else he says about self-driving. But I'm pretty sure he knew full well it wouldn't happen, which means he was purposefully lying.

I'll leave it up to you to decide which of the two Elons you prefer of think is the real one: the gullible, naive one who is so desperate to push technology forward that can get carried away on a few too many occasions, or the one who understands how the market works and what needs to be done to get ahead, even if that means bloating the truth or even blatantly lying while keeping a perfectly straight face.

The real question now is whether Tesla will indeed achieve Level 4 autonomy in 2022. To get an answer, you can ask a fortune teller for help, or you can use all the evidence on your hand to draw your own conclusion. I, instead, choose to use my Magic 8-Ball and, no matter how many times I shake the damn thing, it's always the same few outcomes: "Don't count on it", "Very doubtful", or "Outlook not so good".

But Musk doesn't need Level 4 autonomy to make wild claims about first the Autopilot, and then the Full Self-Driving Beta system. For instance, the main man at Tesla said back in 2016 that Autopilot could drive safer than an actual person, and those statements have only gotten louder and bolder as time went on, with an increase in safety of 100 or even 200 percent being quoted.

You could try to explain how cherry-picking figures and presenting them in a certain light is the very definition of data manipulation, but there's a much better way of proving just how ridiculous these claims are, and it's been hiding in plain sight all along.

The automated driving system can either be perfect, in which case, "hello Level 5 autonomy", or it can be flawed, which means there needs to have a fail-safe. Naturally, that fail-safe needs to be better at whatever it is the automated system is doing, or otherwise, it wouldn't warrant the "safe" part of its name. And what is that safeguard in the FSD Beta's case? Yes, it's the same human driver that Musk says is 50 to 67 percent less safe than the vehicle's AI. Does this paradoxical situation make any sense to you, because it sure shouldn't?

And that's precisely why Tesla won't achieve Level 4 autonomy this year - there's no way the system will be able to handle all situations that could arise in traffic without any human intervention (which is what Level 4 stands for). The fact of the matter is we probably won't have full self-driving cars on roads other than freeways for a few years to come, which can only mean one thing: you'll get to hear Elon Musk saying "next year" quite a few more times. Here is a short clip of him doing it this that someone was kind enough to put together just so we know what we're in for. We'd say "enjoy" but it's actually quite cringy.



Editor's note: The gallery contains images of Autopilot crashes against emergency vehicles.
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