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Elon Musk above ground. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Elon Musk has dropped his latest vision on us — a future in which we avoid "soul-destroying" traffic by vanishing underground in our electric, self-driving cars, and tool through our cities within subterranean tunnels, only to pop out at our destination on the surface. Musk says such tunnels will be necessary, namely because we are about to see a massive increase in the number of cars on the road.

Not so fast: A professor at Carnegie Mellon University is pouring cold water on the idea, at least for now. Costa Samaras, informed by his work on the mile-long extension of New York's No. 7 subway line in the mid-2000s, suggests that technologists already have enough on their hands optimizing fully autonomous cars; it's getting way ahead of themselves to contemplate yet another ultra-complex concept. He told me:

Maybe let's figure out shared, fully-driverless, electric mobility first?

Here's a video that Musk played while speaking on stage with TED's Chris Anderson on April 28.

Musk's calculus: Most people, he said, think that once all or most of us are zipping around in robot cars, everyone will be able to drive faster with much less road congestion. But that is almost certainly wrong, he said. With shared driving, "the affordability of going by car will be better than that of a bus. It will cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and traffic actually will get far worse."

This is where I asked Samaras' opinion. He noted that Musk's video shows not only tunnels, but giant caverns that would require expensive excavation and ventilation and automated elevator shafts, all of which would need to be reliable. "By my count, there are at least twenty plain old passenger elevators out of service in the New York City subway system today," he said. We are talking big money, and lots of time. That one-mile extension of the No. 7 line on which Samaras worked? It cost $2.5 billion and took a decade.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
1 hour ago - Technology

Facebook's scandals have been great for shareholders

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios

Facebook has been embroiled in scandal for the past five years, and while the specific allegations change over time, a central theme is constant. Given the choice between commercial and moral imperatives, Facebook always seems to choose the option that is best for the share price.

Why it matters: Facebook's stock chart supports that narrative. Since the 2016 scandals alleging that the social network was infiltrated by foreign actors trying to influence the outcome of democratic elections, Facebook's revenues — and its stock — have been soaring.

Biden to tap telecom trio for NTIA, FCC posts

Jessica Rosenworcel. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to name Alan Davidson as head of the telecom arm of the Commerce Department, Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner at the FCC, according to a person familiar with the process.

Why it matters: Internet availability and affordability has been a key policy priority for the White House, but the administration lagged in tapping people for the agency posts that oversee the issues.

3 hours ago - Technology

Facebook seeks fountain of youth

Data: Piper Sandler Taking Stock With Teens Study; Chart: Axios Visuals

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Monday said that the company is pivoting its strategy to focus on young adults, following reports that teens have fled its apps.

Why it matters: A series of stories based on leaked whistleblower documents suggest the company sees the aging of its user base as an existential threat to its business.