Truly autonomous cars may be impossible without helpful human touch

The central premise of autonomous vehicles – that computers and artificial intelligence will dramatically reduce accidents caused by human error – has driven much of the research and investment.

But there is a catch: Making robot cars that can drive more safely than people is immensely tough because self-driving software systems simply lack humans’ ability to predict and assess risk quickly, especially when encountering unexpected incidents or “edge cases.”

“Well, my question would be, ‘Why?'” said Kyle Vogt, CEO of Cruise, a unit of General Motors (GM.N), when asked if he could see a point where remote human overseers should be removed from operations.

“I can provide my customers peace of mind knowing there is always a human there to help if needed,” Vogt said. “I don’t know why I’d ever want to get rid of that.”

This is the first time Cruise has acknowledged the long-term need for remote human operators.