I have to give Tesla credit where credit is due: it manages to keep creating strange, fascinating situations that never really occurred in the automotive industry before. This past weekend, thanks to some tweets from Tesla big chief Elon Musk, many, many Tesla owners were convinced to drive thousands of miles in short periods while being judged by a “safety score” algorithm that really isn’t based on genuinely safe driving, all in order to be chosen to do free software beta testing for a for-profit company. None of this seems fun to me.
The software in question was Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) Beta 10.2, what is likely to be an impressive bit of camera-based semi-automated driving software that is not “full self driving” and requires constant driver attention, just so we’re clear.
In order to qualify to be able to download this still-unfinished software, Tesla owners must have opted into a program that monitors their driving habits and assigns them a score, 0 to 100, based on what the algorithm considers “safe” driving, which doesn’t necessarily line up with what “safe” is for the real world.
Sure, the algorithm rewards smooth, consistent, careful driving, all of which is good, but it also penalizes heavily for what it considers to be hard braking or aggressive turning, either of which may be required by a driver in reality to avoid an unsafe situation. It’s a very artificial sort of driving, and if drivers are driving to please an algorithm over the demands of the situation around them, that’s not great.
For many devout Tesla fans, though, getting early access to that beta is a Big Deal, and so they needed to get perfect scores of 100 to do so, which resulted in many Tesla owners doing an awful lot of unnecessary and often, frankly weird extra driving in order to sort of game the system to get that coveted 100.
Here’s an example of a Tesla YouTuber who was actually driving around and around a traffic circle in order to try and get his score from a 99 to a 100:
Look, I’m never going to dissuade people from whatever recreational driving you want to do, because I believe in the therapeutic power of a good drive. Looking at what ambitious Tesla owners were posting on social media, though, I’m not so sure any of this was fun for the people who willingly did it.
In fact, it looks like it was often pretty miserable.
That YouTuber’s wife compared the situation to a hypothetical Black Mirror episode, where people are fooled into doing all sorts of absurd driving just to train some unseen AI; she’s got a point, there.
Here’s a little sampling of some of the tweets from Tesla owners working hard to get that perfect score:
The beta was delayed until Sunday night, from an original plan of Friday at midnight. That story about someone driving 800 miles is just one of many, a process that at least some owners found to be a good purity test for other owners:
Here’s a dude who made it after driving 546 miles between Wednesday and Saturday night:
... and here’s a 700 miler, between Thursday and Friday, but who is sadly still stuck on 99:
Here is another person stuck at 99, but only did 200 miles on a loop road around Memphis! What kind of hustle is that?
Now this dude, this is serious business: 2,000 claimed miles, with 500 over the weekend:
This efficient fellow drove 300 miles in four and a half hours to get to 100:
This guy ran, essentially, those 400 miles for three days, for a total of 1,200 miles:
And here we have another almost 1,200-miler, over a 30-hour period, and finally reached his goal. This one even includes a screenshot of the Daily Details screen that shows 797 miles driven. Holy crap:
And look at this poor bastard: stuck at 99, after driving 1,400 miles since, as he said “yesterday.” That’s, 1,400 claimed miles through four states, and the perhaps less believable claim that it was a “fun drive.”
You know, fun like a long-ass road trip where you’re never really relaxed because you’re chasing some number on an algorithm that’s judging your every move. All the fun of constant monitoring and nonstop pressure? Holy shit, that sounds like Mardi Gras and first-month-of-dating-sex all rolled up into one big gumdrop.
Interestingly, some people got better scores when not using their current version of FSD software:
..then, when the human (I assume) owner drove:
Here’s a few other high-miler masochists:
An awful lot of frankly needless driving has been going on over the past week or so, with thousands and thousands of miles of pointless loops and bleary-eyed, tense trips to please a computer.
Again, I’m all for recreational driving, but nothing about this seems recreational, and energy all comes from somewhere, so it’s also a bit of a hypocritical choice for a company so allegedly dedicated to reducing wasted energy, and that’s not even mentioning any number of other issues brought up by a carmaker incentivizing massive amounts of unnecessary, high-pressure travel in a limited span of time, a situation that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of before.
The outsider’s view of all this isn’t lost on all Tesla fans, luckily:
This dude is absolutely correct: This “test period” is not promoting safer driving. People are adapting their normal, safe driving practices to meet the demands or even game the algorithm of the Safety Score, and it doesn’t seem like a good, sustainable path forward.
From what I’ve heard about beta 10.2 so far, the driver monitoring is stricter, so that’s good, but I haven’t seen or heard enough feedback about the overall experience (I mean, it’s not even been out a full day) so I can’t comment on that.
Maybe this was some secret deal with Big Tire and Big Drive-Through to get a lot of people making long, pointless road trips in a short period of time. If that proves to be the case, well played, fellas. Well played.