Elon Musk: Skeptics of Self-Driving Cars Are Essentially “Killing People”

Tesla's Elon Musk gives a grave warning to those trying to hold back self-driving car technology. According to him, we have it all backwards.

According to Elon Musk, we have it all backwards. It’s not self-driving cars that we should be worried about — it’s human-driven cars. In a recent call with reporters, he expressed his view that skeptics of self-driving vehicles are essentially “killing people.”


His argument is that each time a critic argues against self-driving technology, Musk said, he or she stands in the way of safer roadways. Musk expressed frustration that malfunctions of self-driving vehicles draw a disproportionate amount of attention at a time when there are so many fatalities caused by human drivers. 2015 saw the highest number of roadway deaths and injuries in 50 years, with 38,300 fatalities and 4.4 million injuries.

(CEMAXX)

When a man being driven by a Tesla Model S outfitted with the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot system died in a crash (while he was watching a Harry Potter movie), U.S. safety regulators launched an examination of 25,000 Tesla vehicles. Musk points out that this was the first fatality in 130 million autopilot-driven miles in the U.S., while there’s a fatality caused by a human driver every 94 million miles.

By equipping Tesla’s newest Model S and Model X cars with eight cameras, 12 new sensors and upgraded radar, the company hopes to have the vehicles capable of full autonomy by year’s end, "without the need for a single touch" once the car is on its way.

It’s easy to see why people are reluctant to hand over their safety to automated vehicles for which even the optimally ethical rules of the road are tricky to work out. And the technology is as yet unfinished. But it’s also easy to imagine a world in which cars communicate with each other to reliably stay safely out of each others’ way, respond effectively to unexpected hazards, use fuel more efficiently, and even eliminate current nuisances like traffic jams by coordinating their movements with mathematical precision. One Model X has already transported its owner suffering a pulmonary embolism to the emergency room for care — the man credits his Tesla with saving his life.

Musk says self-driving cars are the future and that future is coming. Every day that we cling to a comfortable, familiar system that he views as inherently more dangerous, we’re merely exposing more drivers, passengers, and pedestrians to the risk of death. According to Musk, it’s time to let someone — or something — else drive.

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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.