Keynote Speech 1

Why is it so hard to make self-driving cars? (Trustworthy autonomous systems)

Prof. Joseph Sifakis: ACM A. M. Turing Award recipient, Verimag Laboratory


Why is self-driving so hard? Despite the enthusiastic involvement of big technological companies and the massive investment of many billions of dollars, all the optimistic predictions about self-driving cars “being around the corner” went utterly wrong.

I argue that these difficulties emblematically illustrate the challenges raised by the vision for trustworthy autonomous systems. These are critical systems intended to replace human operators in complex organizations, very different from other intelligent systems such as game-playing robots or intelligent personal assistants.

I discuss complexity limitations inherent to autonomic behavior but also to integration in complex cyber-physical and human environments. I argue that existing critical systems engineering techniques fall short of meeting the complexity challenge. I also argue that emerging end-to-end AI-enabled solutions currently developed by industry, fail to provide the required strong trustworthiness guarantees.

I advocate a hybrid design approach combining model-based and data-based techniques and seeking tradeoffs between performance and trustworthiness. I also discuss the validation problem emphasizing the need for rigorous simulation and testing techniques allowing technically sound safety evaluation.

I conclude that building trustworthy autonomous systems goes far beyond the current AI vision. To reach this vision, we need a new scientific foundation enriching and extending traditional systems engineering with data-based techniques.


Prof. Joseph Sifakis is Emeritus Senior CNRS Researcher at Verimag and distinguished visiting professor at Sustech. His current research interests cover fundamental and applied aspects of system design. The main focus of his work is on the formalization of system design as a process leading from given requirements to trustworthy, optimized and correct-by-construction implementations.

Prof. Joseph Sifakis has been a full professor at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) for the period 2011-2016. He is the founder of the Verimag laboratory in Grenoble, which he directed for 13 years. In 2007, he received the Turing Award for his contribution to the theory and application of model checking, the most widely used system verification technique today.

Prof. Joseph Sifakis is a member of the French Academy of Sciences, a member of the French National Academy of Engineering, a member of Academia Europea, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is a Grand Officer of the French National Order of Merit, a Commander of the French Legion of Honor. He has received the Leonardo da Vinci Medal in 2012.