A fine Wednesday morning to you all. Welcome back to The Autopian’s morning news roundup, now featuring our upgraded commenting system. It’s the slickest and most high-tech way yet for you to tell me (incorrectly) that I’m wrong. Today, you can use it to weigh in on Elon Musk’s surprising take on artificial intelligence; Mazda’s more concrete plans about moving upmarket; the additional layoffs at Lucid; and how American cities are so mad at Hyundai they’re filing lawsuits. Let’s make it happen.
Musk, Wozniak, AI Researchers Say Slow Down
This year will likely be remembered as the one when the world started taking artificial intelligence more seriously. But the fact that we’ve gone from “What the hell is ChatGPT?” to “How can it replace all the writers at CNET?” in like, five minutes, is deeply concerning. After all, Big Tech has an extraordinarily poor track record when it comes to developing things that have real, tangible impacts on people’s health and safety. Just look at Theranos, or the apparent link between Facebook posts and genocide, or the many false promises and dangerous missteps around self-driving cars. (Why, just this past week, a Cruise test car plowed into a San Francisco bus. When do we see any benefits from this again?)
So the fact that even Elon Musk—whose Tesla Autopilot system has been roundly criticized for pushing the boundaries of safety—is among those signing a letter urging caution around AI development is really something. That letter came out today and it includes Musk, Apple co-founder and technologist Steve Wozniak, and numerous researchers. This is from The Verge:
The letter, published by the nonprofit Future of Life Institute, notes that AI labs are currently locked in an “out-of-control race” to develop and deploy machine learning systems “that no one — not even their creators — can understand, predict, or reliably control.”
“Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4,” says the letter. “This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium.”
Signatories include author Yuval Noah Harari, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, politician Andrew Yang, and a number of well-known AI researchers and CEOs, including Stuart Russell, Yoshua Bengio, Gary Marcus, and Emad Mostaque. The full list of signatories can be seen here, though new names should be treated with caution as there are reports of names being added to the list as a joke (e.g. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, an individual who is partly responsible for the current race dynamic in AI).
You can read the letter in full here. As that story notes, it’s unlikely to have a measurable impact on AI deployment because lots of companies are rushing this stuff to market either for their product viability or just to grab investor cash.
Now, what does this have to do with cars, you ask? The answer is a lot, down the line.
AI is considered by many in the auto industry to be crucial to the software-focused features and developments planned for future cars, including virtual personal assistants, customizing the driving experience, manufacturing, connected cars and, most notably, autonomous cars. The lack of AI sophistication is the reason driverless cars are hitting walls lately (sometimes literally, like when a Tesla self-parks inside an Arby’s yet again.)
Automakers across the board are making huge pushes into software, including developing whole divisions like Volkswagen’s CARIAD and General Motors’ Ultifi, and you had better believe they’re all making big plans for AI in cars. Hearing caution from Musk, of all people, says a lot here.
I hope companies take heed, but I’m not especially optimistic. Capitalism gonna capitalism.
Mazda’s Premium American Push Comes Into Focus
I’m a Mazda fan. I’ll admit it. And not just for rotary engines or the 787B, but for the current stuff. These days your humble Editor-at-Large mostly drives a 2018 Mazda 3 hatchback. It’s not the fastest car I’ve ever owned, but it is the nicest; dead reliable, great on gas, plush inside (I have a Grand Touring so it’s got some nice stuff) and a shockingly good handler for its class. Cars like that are why I want to see the brand be successful.
But as we all know, it’s tough out there for small players like Mazda, especially with the demands of electrification—not to mention all the tech stuff I just mentioned above. Still, Mazda has new leadership as of this year and it has big plans for its most important market, America. The plan is crossovers, luxury and electrification. Here’s Tom Donnelly, the new CEO of Mazda North American Operations, talking to Automotive News:
[…] Donnelly said the CX-90 and CX-70 represent the first part of Mazda’s “multiphase plan,” which is the introduction of its plug-in hybrid technology.
More Lucid Layoffs
It’s not just hard for the smaller legacy automakers. It’s hard for everyone. But I think the startups are having an especially rough time right now. Rivian is facing significant headwinds and some of the really upstart players like Canoo may not make it through the year. Now Lucid, which has been struggling to keep demand for its cars up, is cutting nearly 20% of its workforce, Reuters reports:
The maker of Air luxury sedan last month forecast 2023 production that fell well short of analysts’ expectations and reported a major drop in orders during the fourth quarter.
The company plans to communicate with all its employees over the next three days about the plan, CEO Peter Rawlinson said in a letter, adding its U.S. workforce will see reductions in nearly every organization and level, including executives.
Lucid, which had about 7,200 employees at the end of last year, will incur between $24 million and $30 million in related charges. The company expects to substantially complete the restructuring plan by the end of the second quarter.
“We are also taking continued steps to manage our costs by reviewing all non-critical spending at this time,” Rawlinson said.
Everyone Is Mad At Hyundai And Kia
You remember those rampant Hyundai and Kia thefts recently where countless cars got Gone in 60 Seconds-‘d with humble USB cables? Hell, you may have even lost your own car that way. You certainly wouldn’t be alone there. While the Hyundai Motor Group has issued a fix for the problem, it’s about to face significant legal headwinds over the problem.
Reuters reports the city of St. Louis is suing the automaker, and in doing so it joins a bunch of other cities doing the same:
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Missouri follows similar actions taken by several U.S. cities to address increasing Hyundai and Kia thefts that use a method popularized on TikTok and other social media channels. Other cities suing Kia and Hyundai include Cleveland, Ohio; San Diego, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle.
“Big corporations like Kia and Hyundai must be held accountable for endangering our residents and putting profit over people,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.
Kia and Hyundai vehicles represent a large share of stolen cars in multiple U.S. cities, according to data from police and state officials. Many Hyundai and Kia vehicles have no electronic immobilizers, which prevent break-ins and bypassing the ignition.
The automaker responded by saying the lawsuits are “without merit.” That probably came from a spokesperson whose Sonata was stolen mere moments later by a group of teens who made a TikTok dance video while they did it.
Anyway, if you own one of these cars, make sure you’re getting it fixed ASAP.
What’s your take on all this AI stuff, especially when it comes to cars? The people I talk to regularly in the industry do seem to think it’s crucial to delivering the tech-focused future they want. Now, I’m not convinced all of that stuff (especially the subscription thing) is what car owners want, but I think we’re deluding ourselves if we believe this is all going away anytime soon.
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