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Is Tesla setting a dangerous precedent by releasing ‘beta’ software?

With such rapid advancements in autonomous driver software and an audience eager to join the wave of new tech, an incident was more than likely to occur.

As the wreck of the model S Tesla is still being analysed, questions about the safety of the system, and its future, are being raised. However, was the system actually at fault? Well, the short answer to that is no. Preliminary findings showed that the driver was speeding, but how much an effect nine MPH over the limit will have is unclear.

Second, it was also suggested the driver was watching J.K Rowling’s premier driving material, Harry Potter, on his portable DVD player – which was found mangled in the footwell of his also mangled car.

Finally, Tesla strictly stated that the software was not a self-driving update for their cars, but more a multitude of software that enhances a driver’s ability not to crash. These three points more conclusively prove that the driver was more at fault than Tesla.

However, the one point which has still not been answered is: should Tesla ever have released this beta software in the first place? The very point of a beta is to open up software still in development into a small test group to analyse bugs, for those bugs then to be fixed before its general release. Surely releasing software that is still not entirely ready, to a general release audience, is dangerous, especially when that software is involved in the transportation of humans at high speeds.

Even Tesla, the kings of PR, seemed to only announce the exact details of the software and how it was not a fully autonomous driving system after the death of the driver, and along with the condolences for the driver, they also published statistics showing how the new update made their cars three times more safe than other cars. This helped their share prices only dip by one per cent, but did not exactly help the family of the deceased.

Ultimately, computers and software are more efficient and safe than humans, especially when they are applied to the monotonous task of driving. Looking to the future of autonomous driving, it is hard to see it as anything but inevitable.

This crash, while tragic, is only a blip in Tesla and Google’s relentless march forward into a world where humans take a literal back seat.

Image: Taina Sohlman

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