George Hotz, iPhone hacker and Elon Musk antagonist, is leaving Comma AI

George Hotz is stepping down from Comma AI. The 32-year-old CEO, who rose to fame under his “geohot” hacker alias when just a teenager, made the announcement on his GitHub page, admitting that he doesn’t feel “capable” to continue running the driver assistance technology company he founded seven years ago.

At age 17, Hotz made a name for himself in hacker circles as the first person to carrier unlock the iPhone. A few years later, he got in trouble with Sony for hacking the PlayStation 3 (the company sued and then later settled out of court). In 2015, he got in a fight with Elon Musk, after Musk allegedly tried to hire him, for claiming he could make a better version of Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving software Autopilot. Tesla called his claims “extremely unlikely.”

Later that year, Hotz founded Comm AI with the mission of building fully autonomous vehicles. He built a working self-driving 2016 Acura ILX, which he demonstrated on the I-280, resulting in a cease and desist letter from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. But after receiving a sternly worded letter from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he abandoned those plans to focus on driver-assist technology, publishing his autonomous driving code, “openpilot,” online for free.  

Since then, he has become a bit of an autonomous vehicle apostate, declaring robotaxi startups like Waymo and Cruise to be a “scam.” (He first said it to The Verge in 2018 and then repeated the claim more recently to Bloomberg.) In Hotz’s view, autonomous ride-hailing will be too slow and inconvenient to have much of an impact on our transportation habits. In recent, as the industry constricts and timelines stretch out even further, many of his predictions have proven to be right.

But according to his blog post, running a company that was short on revenue and constantly needing to raise investment cash was beginning to wear thin. “It’s well within comma’s reach to become a 100M+ revenue consumer electronics company (without raising again!), but I don’t think I’m capable of running a company like that,” Hotz said. “I’ve always heard it takes different people at different company sizes.” (Comma AI has an estimated 20 full-time employees, according to LinkedIn.)

He continues:

It’s no longer about all nighters, powering through with brute force, sparring with elegance, winning and losing, all within grasp yet all not…I’m probably delusional but you wouldn’t start a company otherwise, right?

It’s no longer a race car, it’s a boat. And steering a boat requires too much damn planning and patienceThis is my favorite Rick and Morty clip. If comma succeeds, it really never was me, it’s the people there who can drive boats. As I am with the world, I am a cheerleader and court jester.

Hotz says he’s mulling a new company called The Tiny Corporation. “Under 1000 lines, under 3 people, 3x faster than PyTorch? For smaller models, there’s so much left on the table,” he said. “And if you step away from the well-tread ground of x86 and CUDA, there’s 10x+ performance to gain. Several very simple abstractions cover all modern deep learning, today’s libraries are way too complex.”

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Andrew J. Hawkins