Featured Article : ChatGPT Inside Vehicles Opens Possibilities

Following the news that Volkswagen (VW) is to add ChatGPT to the IDA voice assistant in its cars and SUVs, we look at what this could mean for the direction of technology for cars.

Adding ChatGPT 

At the current CET in Las Vegas, VW announced that starting in Europe in the second quarter of this year, the famous chatbot will be added to a variety of VW EVs, including the D.7, ID.4, ID.5 and ID.3, Tiguan, Passat, and Golf.

Drivers will be able to use ChatGPT hands-free via VW’s existing onboard IDA voice assistant, with Cerence Chat Pro from technology partner Cerence Inc acting as the foundation of the new function, which VW says, “offers a uniquely intelligent, automotive-grade ChatGPT integration.”

Within Limits 

It’s been reported, however, that certain limits have been placed on the kinds of questions that VW’s ChatGPT will answer, e.g. no profanity or ‘sensitive’ topics (it’s a family car).

Why? 

VW’s newsroom says the ChatGPT integration will mean that: “The IDA voice assistant can be used to control the infotainment, navigation, and air conditioning, or to answer general knowledge questions.” Also, VW envisions that: “In the future, AI will provide additional information in response to questions that go beyond this as part of its continuously expanding capabilities. This can be helpful on many levels during a car journey: Enriching conversations, clearing up questions, interacting in intuitive language, receiving vehicle-specific information, and much more – purely hands-free.” 

Just The Start 

Stefan Ortmanns, CEO of Cerence, the company tasked with the integration of ChatGPT with the onboard voice assistant has indicated that this is just the beginning, and that VW looks likely to ramp-up the power of its onboard AI going forward. For example, Ortmanns says: “As we look to the future, together Volkswagen and Cerence will explore collaboration to design a new, large-language-model-based (LLM) user experience as the foundation of Volkswagen’s next-generation in-car assistant.” 

What If It Was Combined With Autonomous Vehicles? 

This first for a volume car manufacturer and commitment to integrating generative AI with vehicles, coupled with the recent UK government suggestion that autonomous cars could be on our roads by 2026 raises some tantalising possibilities and questions. For example, what if AI chatbots like ChatGPT were integrated into autonomous vehicles and how could this affect the evolution of our cars and our commuting experience? Let’s explore some of the potential impacts and transformations this could bring.

Transformation into Access-Pods? 

Cars could evolve from traditional vehicles into “access-pods” and become spaces not just for travel but for various activities. In an autonomous vehicle, the need for a driver is eliminated, which would allow for the interior to be redesigned. For example, seats could become more like comfortable office chairs, and the inclusion of small tables or workstations could become standard. This could transform the car into a mobile office or a personal lounge, making the journey itself a productive or leisurely part of the day.

Working During Commute 

With autonomous vehicles, people could start working during their commute, just as they do on the train (only in a more personal setting). This could significantly change daily schedules, allowing for more flexible work hours. Also, as travel time becomes working time, the distinction between office and home could blur, perhaps leading to a more fluid work-life integration.

Could It Lead To A Societal Shift In Work Habits? 

The ability to work from a private car might lead to changes in living patterns. People might be more willing to live further from their workplaces if they can be productive during longer commutes. This could also have a wider impact on the property market, with less emphasis on living close to urban centres.

Enhanced Productivity and Entertainment 

The integration of AI chatbots in cars (whether autonomous or not) could, as VW suggests, make a journey more interactive and informative. Passengers can engage in productive tasks like setting up meetings, conducting research, or learning new skills through conversational AI. Additionally, entertainment options could become more personalised and interactive.

Safety and Accessibility 

For people who are unable to drive due to various reasons such as age, disability, or other factors, autonomous vehicles with AI integration could offer new levels of independence and mobility.

Traffic and Environmental Impact 

If autonomous vehicles and AI lead to smoother traffic flow and more efficient travel, there could be positive environmental impacts. However, if it encourages longer commutes, it might have the opposite effect.

Regulatory and Ethical Considerations 

With these possible advancements would come the need for new regulations and ethical guidelines, particularly concerning data privacy, cybersecurity, and liability in the event of accidents.

New Business Models?

The prospect of generative AI-controlled autonomous vehicles could also lead to new business models. For example, this could include things like subscription-based access to luxury autonomous pods for commuting, or services that combine transportation with other amenities like fitness, relaxation, or entertainment.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Although VW’s integration of generative AI with vehicle voice assistants is a first for a volume car manufacturer, there was a kind of inevitability to it and it’s unlikely to take long for other car manufacturers to announce the same (they’re probably already working on it). For VW, it’s (currently) a value-adding and differentiating introduction, so provided that the restrictions on what the onboard ChatGPT can discuss aren’t too strict, it could make the driving time much more interesting, productive, and a much more personalised experience. Linking it to the sat-nav for example, may also be a feature that motorists really value, as may be the greater feeling of control, reassurance, and novelty of having something that can tell you about the car and its performance and issues. It may also provide a societal purpose and make people feel less alone while driving and perhaps more alert. Using hands-free voice commands to operate more aspects of the car (e.g. the radio, the hands-free phone etc), may also improve driver safety.

Looking ahead, perhaps to the integration of generative AI with autonomous vehicles, it’s possible that a societal shift could occur where our vehicles become more like productive and comfortable access-pods, which could have wider implications for our work/life balance and business models and could have knock-on effects for whole industries. It could even open new business and entertainment opportunities focused on access-pod occupants. This move by Volkswagen, therefore, offers us a glimpse of a better future for our personal transport options.

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