George Hotz, the hacker and entrepreneur who as a teenager became famous as the first person to jailbreak the iPhone and then the PlayStation 3, is determined to build a human-level artificial general intelligence. As a first step, he's racing to build the world's first fully self-driving car system.
Hotz's company, comma.ai, which has raised $8.1 million, is competing against giants like Google offshoot Waymo, Amazon-owned Zoox, and General Motors project Cruise. Those efforts rely on custom vehicles with expensive sensor arrays such as LIDAR—light detection and ranging—to identify surrounding objects and people, navigating a pre-mapped path. Hotz says his better-financed competitors have misled the public with hype about what their products can do and on what time scale.
But comma.ai takes a radically different approach, using vision alone to analyze the road ahead and drive as a human would. Its latest product, the comma three, runs on a smartphone processor and plugs into most new cars, taking over the built-in steering, gas, and brake systems. The company's open-source software, openpilot, uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to ingest the comma three's video feeds and predict where to drive in real time.
While Tesla is also moving toward a vision-only system, Hotz says comma.ai's approach is unique: The latest version of openpilot features the self-driving industry's first "end-to-end" architecture for lane keeping, which means that it won't explicitly identify objects and people or rely on road features such as lane lines. Instead, the software analyzes a scene holistically and determines the most likely path a human would drive.
Hotz says only this approach to computer vision and self-driving can lead to the development of robots that can cook, clean, and do manual labor—and ultimately to an A.I. system that can do everything a human can.
According to Hotz, comma.ai's commitment to open-source software also represents a philosophical split with companies like Waymo that are building closed systems with centralized control. In the self-driving space and the larger tech industry, Hotz is optimistic this will be a "decade of decentralization," and predicts that the 2020s will see distributed systems powered by blockchain technology—including cryptocurrencies like bitcoin—overtake corporate giants like Visa in both trust and value to consumers.
Produced, written, and edited by Justin Monticello. Director of photography Dillon Mortensen. Camera operator Elvis Leon. Audio production by Ian Keyser.
Music: The City of Hope by Borrtex.