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My AI drives faster than your AI
- January 12, 2024
- Steve Rogerson
Steve Rogerson asks how far should we go in letting AI influence motorsports.
Is there anywhere that artificial intelligence (AI) hasn’t parked its tentacles? Should there be anywhere it doesn’t?
These questions formed in my mind during a panel session at this month’s Autosport International trade show in Birmingham, UK, when the topic was raised of not just using AI to drive cars but also to race them. After all, why risk human life and limb racing cars round a track when a computer can do it for you?
The answer is simple: like it or lump it, despite all the moves to make motor racing safer, part of the excitement is knowing these men and women in the cockpit are running that mental balancing act between trying to drive faster and managing risk. Is the extra split second that could be gained through the oncoming bend worth the risk of putting the car in the crash barrier?
True, an AI driver has to make the same calculation of benefit versus risk, but the difference is the risk isn’t a serious injury or worse; even if the computer is wrecked, there will be a backup somewhere. Human beings don’t have that luxury.
The other area AI is coming into motor racing is in the designing and engineering of the cars themselves. Here, the benefits are more tangible. If machine learning can save you four hours of tedious calculations when designing the aerodynamics, then every engineer will say yes please.
This was pointed out during the panel by Alan Patterson from BeyondMath (beyondmath.com), a UK AI engineering start-up. But, and it is a very big but, how far do you let this continue? Once those four hours have been taken care of by AI, the next step will be to look at automating what’s left, and so on. The result of optimising the design using AI, said Patterson, is, at the end, all the cars from all the teams being identical; motor racing will be reduced to just a driver challenge.
OK, we know that works in some elements of motor racing, but not in Formula One, the pinnacle of the sport. Formula One is, and always has been, a team sport where engineering excellence and driver ability come together to create a fascinating spectacle. That is why I love Formula One. I love the fact that this is as much a competition between engineers as it is between drivers, and long may that continue.
So isn’t AI just another engineering development that we should embrace? Yes and no. I and other fans gobble up the detailed data that IoT sensor technology has brought as we compare car and driver performance like never before. That is a good thing.
But what we don’t want is the technology building the cars and eliminating the role of human inspiration. And we don’t want the technology driving the cars and eliminating human ability.
So, when I cheer the Red Bull team to what I hope this year will be another championship, I want to do so knowing that real people, real engineers and real drivers have made that happen. Otherwise, where’s the fun?