Forget self-driving cars — CES 2024 showed us how AI will truly benefit drivers

mercedes eqs turquoise car
(Image credit: Mercedes Benz)

CES 2024 was a big show for AI, with countless announcements and products that are seemingly trying to capitalize on AI hype. Whether we’re talking about actual robots, AI-enhanced smart home devices or something else entirely, AI certainly made itself known across Las Vegas. 

Cars were absolutely no exception, though the car AI on show at CES might not be the kind you were expecting. Obviously the idea of having AI in your car is not new. The mere concept of autonomous self-driving cars absolutely hinges on AI being able to operate vehicles like a human driver. But that wasn’t the focus at CES this year. 

Instead car AI all centered around better communication between the car and the driver.

In-car AI is on the way


(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Last June Mercedes announced plans to add ChatGPT to its in-car voice control system, with the aim of ensuring better and more natural spoken communication with your car. As Mercedes put it, ChatGPT and other large language models aren’t limited to a handful of preset commands and responses.

Clearly this idea has some merit because CES 2024 saw Mercedes’ plans for in-car AI expand. The automaker announced that the MBUX Virtual Assistant would be getting an AI-infused upgrade on a next generation MB.OS operating system, designed to offer a more natural interaction between car and driver. Mercedes promises that this would make the in-car experience more personalized.

Mercedes isn’t the only one jumping on the AI bandwagon, either. Volkswagen announced it will be adding ChatGPT to make speaking with its voice assistant more natural and generally less terrible than it has been already. This will be a standard feature in “many” VW cars in the U.S. market starting in Q2 2024. 

BMW will be doing the same, alongside a smorgasbord of in-car entertainment ideas like AR and streaming. Meanwhile Sony/Honda and Hyundai announced plans to leverage AI in their future cars — though didn’t specify how those plans would unfold. 

With such big names working on AI, it stands to reason that all the other carmakers will be following suit. Least of all the many subsidiaries owned by the likes of VW and Hyundai, which includes strong brands like Kia, Audi, Porsche and so on. The car industry loves a gimmick, especially when your parent company is one of the people trying to peddle it.

So expect a lot more car AI news between now and CES 2025.

 In-car AI is important — and attainable 

Mercedes EQS interior front seats

(Image credit: Mercedes)

While this isn’t anywhere near as exciting as a car that can drive itself, it’s still incredibly important. Voice controls are a crucial safety feature in modern cars, especially ones that are overly-reliant on touchscreens. It means you can get stuff done without taking your eyes off the road.

The problem is that it isn’t always so good at understanding what you say. That’s more apparent with more basic, half-baked voice command systems in cheaper cars, but in my experience it can also happen with Siri and Google Assistant. If you’re in the middle of a drive, even a pretty relaxed one, the last thing you need to contend with is a voice assistant that thinks you’re trying to “bust in” instead of driving to Boston.

You end up distracted trying to correct the assistant’s terrible misunderstanding. Often that means attempting another voice command, or trying to fix the error on some kind of touch screen. All while you’re getting more agitated about potentially being sent to the complete wrong place. And agitation never has a positive impact on your concentration.

So having better tech that can understand what you’re saying, with greater understanding of what you’re trying to ask for, will end up making your drives safer and less stressful. And, most importantly, we’ve already seen this is an upgrade car makers can feasibly add in the very near future.

Driverless cars work to a limited extent, but they won’t be fully replacing human drivers for quite some time. Both from a technological and legislative standpoint — no matter how much hot air billionaire CEOs might like to generate on social media. Conversational AI has no such hurdles. Is it a gimmick? Perhaps, but it’s at least a gimmick that could have a bunch of practical use.

Bottom line

Mercedes amg eqs 53 on a race track

(Image credit: Mercedes)

AI is a big deal, or so we’ve all been told, and it’s been implemented in many facets of our lives already. We had been told that one of the next big things in car technology would be autonomous driving, which would require some serious AI know-how. Now it seems that generative AI may be making the jump a little sooner

It was really only a matter of time before the car industry decided AI was a good idea. They love a good gimmick, and that seems to be the idea behind the whole turning-cars-into-smartphones trend. But at least this time, generative AI might actually offer some serious practical advantages for cars of the future. 

Communication is important, and part of that means being able to be understood the first time. If AI in cars can accomplish that, then I say full steam ahead. More so if this means further improvements can be made and carmakers and software developers get more familiar with the advancing AI tech. Self driving cars can take a backseat for the time being.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.

  • Joseph_138
    The only good thing that AI can do, is stop people who think they are somehow privileged, and don't have to obey the traffic laws, from putting the rest of us in danger. 90 in a 55? Not anymore, you don't. Like to run red lights? Not if the car locks up the brakes until the light changes. Ran through the toll booth without paying? You'll be sitting by the side of the road until the police arrive, when the car pulls itself over and shuts off. No more hit and runs, or leaving the scene of an accident, either. The car will detect an impact, and shut itself down before you get very far.
  • retiredandgoodq
    Hey Toms Guide - how about a shoutout to BlackBerry QNX the RTOS beneath MB.OS and VW.OS allowing all these great things to happen. Whether it's AI usage for system controls or ADAS systems QNX is the RTOS keeping them all running safely and securely. QNX had some huge CES announcements with QNX 8 and IVY