ChatGPT in a Mercedes
Source: Mercedes-Benz

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Not everything needs AI added in. But, it's the new shiny toy and with the versatility of ChatGPT people and companies are finding more and more places to plug it in. But not every time they do this is a great idea — and in these early, shaky years of AI it's hard to know when it is appropriate. But… I think the line is pretty clear on this one: Mercedes-Benz is making a ChatGPT-powered AI voice assistant available for select cars as part of a three-month beta test. And that's a very, very dumb idea.

I totally get the inclination to want to put ChatGPT everywhere. It's new and exciting and buzz-worthy, and sometimes you don't know if something is a good idea until you try it. And everybody wants to try AI in whatever application they can. I run into the same thing as a programmer: when I figure out a new technique I want to go use it everywhere. As the saying goes: when all you have is a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail.

When all you have is a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail.

Of course, it takes some hardware oomph to handle the voice processing and relay it all through Microsoft Azure's OpenAI service, so you'll need a newer Mercedes car equipped with the MBUX infotainment system (that's currently 900,000+ eligible vehicles). Once installed, the beta will take over the "Hey Mercedes" voice command prompts and handle user commands with a natural language model instead of the strict scripted "Raise the temperature"-style commands MBUX currently supports. And because it's ChatGPT running the the backend, you'll be able to ask it a lot more and get more complex answers.

Of course, all of the limitations of ChatGPT still apply. While it feels very natural to use, it cannot provide references to back up its statements, it lacks knowledge of anything after 2021 since that's all the newer its training data set is (good luck asking it about the new restaurant in town), and it has a distinct tendency to just make shit up instead of going "I don't know" — but always with the utmost confidence. Mercedes initially is only offering the unmodded version of ChatGPT, with consideration for adding support for capability-expanding plugins (like making reservations at that new restaurant).

And there are definitely distracted driving concerns here. While as a voice assistant this won't require drivers to take their hands off the wheels, this sort of interaction can still be a distraction. Is it really beneficial enough to offer that kind of risk, especially in high-risk and high-stress situations like driving? Mercedes offered "suggest a new dinner recipe" like it's a legitimate thing to be asking about while you're driving and have delivered to you via voice. Come on.

Regardless, owners of eligible Mercedes-Benz vehicles wanting to take ChatGPT for a drive will have that option starting tomorrow. Just say "Hey Mercedes, I want to join the beta program," and it'll do its thing.

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