9 Questions that Reveal Why Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Ready

Famous roboticist Rodney Brooks says we aren’t close to full autonomy

Alberto Romero
8 min readApr 21, 2022


Anton Grabolle / Better Images of AI / Autonomous Driving / CC-BY 4.0

Companies have been promising self-driving tech for 80 years now. Despite what some may think, we’re not remotely there yet.

Press releases and news articles about autonomous vehicle (AV) companies tend to overstate the stage of development of fully self-driving technology or, at least, obscure details that would remind analysts, investors, and consumers that we’re still far from that goal.

Rodney Brooks, the famous roboticist founder of iRobot (which invented the Roomba), made a list of predictions on AI, robotics, and self-driving tech in 2018. Each January since then, he revisits his predictions to assess whether he was right, too optimistic, or too pessimistic.

His predictions are characterized by going against the all too common hype, reflecting his “realistic” — as he calls it — stance. He was accused of “being a pessimist,” but now, four years later, he’s starting to think that “I too, reacted to all the hype, and was overly optimistic in some of my predictions.”

How can we know the state of the art of AVs?

One of the reasons people are overconfident in their optimism about self-driving cars is that news articles project a sensation that they’re around the corner. That’s not the case, but to make it look like it, companies have changed the very meaning behind the concepts “self-driving” and “autonomous” to refer to less ambitious goals and attract interest anyway.

Brooks says that “the latest spin from Tesla is that of course the words in the name of the software, ‘Full Self Driving’, could not possibly be interpreted to mean full self driving.” Yes, that’d be nonsense.

True autonomy should take care of everything. A car isn’t autonomous if it’s being overseen by a company employee remotely, with the capacity to stop the car at any moment. It isn’t autonomous if the driver needs to be alert to the possibility that the car mistakes the Moon with a traffic light. And, stretching the meaning to its limit, it isn’t autonomous if you can’t stop it anywhere or change the route mid-ride to pick up a friend…



Alberto Romero

AI & Tech | Analyst at CambrianAI | Weekly AI Newsletter: https://thealgorithmicbridge.substack.com/ | Contact: alber.romgar@gmail.com