Self-Driving Cars Could Be Decades Away, No Matter What Elon Musk Said

A growing number of experts suggest that the path to full autonomy isn’t primarily AI-based after all. Engineers have solved countless other complicated problems—including landing spacecraft on Mars—by dividing the problem into small chunks, so that clever humans can craft systems to handle each part. Raj Rajkumar, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University with a long history of working on self-driving cars, is optimistic about this path. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

This is the primary strategy Waymo has pursued to get its autonomous shuttles on the road, and as a result, “we don’t think that you need full AI to solve the driving problem,” says Mr. Fairfield.

Mr. Urmson of Aurora says that his company combines AI with other technologies to come up with systems that can apply general rules to novel situations, as a human would.