Trust in Musk: the Factors of Trust in Autonomous Technology

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Commonly seen in online advertisements and owned by numerous YouTube influencers such as Casey Neistat, David Dobrik, Jake Paul, and many more, Tesla’s Model S and Model X have been seen to be driving by itself with little to no intervention by the user. This paper mainly focuses on Tesla’s autonomous technology because Tesla is the most prominent car brand which releases these types of cars and has been a leading developer of this type of technology. These models created by Tesla are what we now consider as semi-autonomous vehicles. Originally founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning and named after famous inventor, Nikola Tesla, this brand has been a lead manufacturer of fully electric cars since 2008. Subsequent research, development, and manufacturing were funded by Elon Musk, its current chairman. This research and development then lead to its 2 current models of semi-autonomous vehicles, the aforementioned Model S and Model X.

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The two aforementioned models are equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot, which comes with a series of sensors and cameras that work together and feed data to a processor which interprets the data and transforms them into commands needed by the car to essentially drive by itself. Tesla’s 2018 website states that its semi-autonomous models have: Eight surround cameras which provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength that is able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead. This collection of cameras and sensors work in unison along with developed software in order to indicate all road conditions when driving in the freeway, which are able to adjust to the current conditions and adjust the car’s speed and position with respect to all the cars around the user. This means that the car uses the road signs, lane lines, and distances from other cars in order to provide a safe Autopilot experience. Tesla’s Model X and Model S come equipped with a 70-100 Kilowatt Hour battery, which last up to 500, 000 miles of driving, and have proven to be reliable enough to have reputable sales in the worldwide automotive market. Tesla’s Model X and Model S have taken the second and third spot in the top selling electric cars of 2017 only coming second to its older version, the Tesla Model 3 which is not equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot technology as of the moment. Tesla claims that these two models will soon be capable of conducting “short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat”.

Self-driving capability in this sense means that the car is capable of automation and can make predesigned trips without the driver’s intervention. Although similar to self-driving technology, Tesla’s current autonomous technology which they call Tesla Autopilot is still not a fully self-driving experience. The company claims that its cars can match traffic speeds, stay within and change lanes, self-park, and be “summoned to and from your garage”. Despite its autonomous features, Tesla still asks every driver to be responsible, remain alert, and be ready to take over anytime when using Autopilot. However, current fully self-driving cars are in development and Tesla claims that some of the software updates that they are currently working on will allow the Model X and Model S to be fully self-driving soon. Current Chairman, Elon Musk believes that these cars are at least four times safer than human driven-cars. This statement is a proof of Musk’s confidence in his company’s technology. As a consequence, the aforementioned boom in sales can mainly be due to the chairman’s confidence in his work. People trust a creator confident in his work. This very confidence coupled with claims is enough to persuade people into trusting a person. This aforementioned reputable number of sales with the top 2 and 3 spots, taken by their two Autopilot enabled cars, are a proof of how society is slowly opening up to semi-autonomous technology. It shows society’s growing trust in autonomous technology. Although semi-autonomous vehicles are fairly new to society, semi-autonomous technology has already been seen around daily life and is used by many. An example is seen through the use of the Tinder dating app and the likes. These use certain algorithms and collected data on location, interest, ages, in order to autonomously match a user with another.

Another proof of trust in autonomous technology is how biometric scanning has crept its way into mobile phones, something most people own and use regularly nowadays. Face recognition and biometric software make use of unique patterns which they then transform into binary data and then store the data for future reference when the software requires it; this data is then fetched and matched when one has to log-on providing high security. Seen in these technologies -which society uses almost on a daily basis- is the trust society has developed through repeated use. One can see the trend of the leveling up of trust society has in technology, more particularly autonomous technology. The creators of these forms of autonomous technology rely on the trust of its users in order for the technology to sell and vastly be used. Evident then, in the case of Tinder, is the entrustment of relationships, while the entrustment of security is seen in biometric technology.

Now, with the success of these Tesla Models, comes a new entrustment. Society is now slowly entrusting transportation, the way they go about their daily lives, to technology through these vehicles by Tesla. According to a research done by Burns & Dikmen in 2016 on the Tesla Autopilot, users were pleased with what their cars were capable of and are confident in its safety. The researchers also found out that people who weren’t owners of the models viewed it to be “somewhat risky” while those who own the models and have experienced its technology rated the risk factor from “not at all risky” to “not too risky”. The same research also points out that common problems encountered by the users involved autonomous lane changing and autonomous changing of speeds. Three factors were believed to contribute to the low risk ratings and high trust of Tesla Model X and Model S owners despite of the said malfunctions: users know the technology and accept faults in its technology, and little to no malfunctions led to a negative outcome. Burns & Dikmen also discussed how Tesla users understand the technology and know how it works. Through knowing this technology well and by being fond of what Tesla is offering, the users accept the faults and trust the direction technology Tesla presents them with. These Tesla owners who know how this technology works also know its imperfections and are ready to take over any time they feel that the autopilot is not functioning properly. While not a perfectly autonomous vehicular feature, Tesla’s Autopilot is a step closer to a fully self-driving car. Technology is still evolving. Aiding this is the confidence people have in it and the trust it needs for success and usefulness. Despite this trust, society must still keep in mind that they are responsible for whatever happens to them and that this type of technology is just made in order to aid their life. While society’s trust certainly has leveled up and technology has grown greatly, people must still keep in mind that these machines are not faultless. This trust must come with boundaries.

The trust in Tesla’s Autopilot must come with knowledge of the technology and the ability to know when to take over. Tesla’s Autopilot still has a long way to go and develop along with other self-driving technology. What society does with this trust and the limitations they consider when trusting these autonomous machines are up to them. One must just remember that these technologies are flawed and educate themselves before trusting autonomous technology with their lives.

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