Musk Says Tesla Will Crack Level 4 Autonomy This Year Because He Can Say Whatever He Wants

Elon Musk on Lex Fridman's podcast 12 photos
Photo: Lex Fridman / YouTube screenshot
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Elon Musk is definitely a fascinating figure for a lot of people. Some of them are wondering how someone so overwhelmingly brilliant and possessed only by good intentions can exist without a constant golden halo around his head, while others are constantly mesmerized by how successful his publicity stunts still seem to appear, despite having had plenty of time to realize what the Tesla CEO's true colors are.
There is no reconciling these two sides, but there is one thing that should give those falling into the former a little food for thought: more and more of their ranks are starting to join the latter. Not only that, but some of them even become more than just simple spectators - they are now part of the loudest voices attempting to educate everyone on who Elon Musk really is.

It makes sense if you think about it. It's one thing to observe the man's questionable behavior as a distant, impartial onlooker, and completely another for someone who got emotionally involved, who thought Musk was in it for the greater good, only to realize they've been duped. These people have been hurt, so they're going to be even angrier than the rest of us who, at the end of the day, couldn't care less about the matter.

The number of voices questioning pretty much everything about Mr. Musk - from his allegedly poor childhood to his involvement in PayPal's success or Tesla's inception - has been growing steadily and, considering he's not showing signs of changing the way he sees and does business, you can expect them to become even more numerous.

If you need a crash-course in who Elon Musk really is and why everything he says should first be doubted, then analyzed, and only then acted upon according to the result of the first two steps, I've embedded Common Sense Skeptic's excellent two-part video entitled "Debunking Elon Musk" at the bottom of this page. Watching the full synthesis will take 45 minutes of your life, but it's bound to have an impact - even if that is to find out the Common Sense Skeptic's real name and address and pay him a visit because you're Elon Musk's Stan and you feel like he needs a bit more of "the Lord" in his life.

It seems like the moment that signaled things weren't quite right for many was when Musk started to focus on Tesla's self-driving ambitions. Pushing back the release of a new model by a few months - or even a year -, especially when you consider so much was hanging on said model and Tesla was still a small company with limited manufacturing capabilities (at the time), is perfectly understandable. That may have been when people started talking about the concept of "Musk time", but it wasn't what made it famous.

It was only when the Autopilot and, more recently, the Full Self-Driving Beta features came along that Elon Musk's deadlines stopped having any valuable meaning whatsoever. According to the CEO, the streets were supposed to be brimming with Model 3 robotaxis making money for their owners more than two years ago, to give only one example.

That particular promise was so absurd that you almost feel like anyone who bought it deserved to get burned. And yet Elon Musk made the claim with a straight face and without any trace of jest or doubt in his tone. It was a fact and if you didn't believe it, well, it was your loss. He actually did say something in the line of "people would have to be crazy to buy any other brand."

If you think about it, though, declaring that your cars were going to be used as robotaxis is just another way of saying you will have reached the holy grail of Level 5 autonomy. That's where a person gets in the car - any seat of the car - inputs a destination, and then sits back and relaxes while the vehicle's AI takes care of everything driving-related.

Not only would that be a remarkable technological achievement (especially on the software part), but it would mean you will have also convinced the authorities to allow this type of vehicle on public roads, zooming around in a sea of non-robotic cars driven by flawed humans. All in no more than two years. And yet, the moment Musk mentioned the idea, people started talking about it as if it had already happened.

Well, it's 2022 now and, sure enough, Elon Musk strikes again - after all, the FSD program was stalling a bit so the public and investors alike need to be kept on their toes. During a talk with Lex Fridman on the latter's podcast late last year (so no more than two weeks ago), the CEO of Tesla said his company is going to achieve Level 4 autonomy "next year" (check out 1:26:44 in the first of the three clips embedded below).

Asked about when Tesla will solve Level 4 autonomy, Musk said: "I mean, it's looking quite likely that it will be next year". This may seem like Musk is backtracking a little after having promised Level 5 autonomy two years ago. Is he becoming more reasonable? Well, you'd be excused to think so, especially if you're not entirely familiar with the five steps of autonomous driving, but the simple answer is "no".

Level 4 is basically the same thing as Level 5, except the vehicle must be equipped with a steering wheel (not a requirement for Level 5) and offer the possibility to be controlled directly by a human driver. Other than that, the hardware and the requirements asked of the AI are the same for both levels.

Lex comes with a follow-up question to which Elon delivers one of the most stuttered, convoluted, and ultimately irrelevant answers in support of his claim that you've ever heard. With a bit more fluency in his speech, you get the feeling that Musk could have been an excellent politician - if only there was as much money to be made there as in the capital market.

To be fair, he does seem to be aware this time that solving the technical problems and getting the authorities on board are two very distinct issues, and he only really has control over one of them. However, obtaining governmental approval is not necessarily the end game here, but snatching the self-awarded accolade for being the first to crack Level 4 autonomy.

Will it happen this year, as Musk so casually just said? I think we all know the answer to that, but we also know that come December 31, 2022, Musk will either find a way to bend reality to allow him to claim success, place the blame elsewhere in case of a failure, or just swipe it under the rug completely and use dissimulating tactics to shift everyone's attention on another subject. 354 days left until we find out which of the three it will be this time.

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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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