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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

A lot of Americans are fearful of autonomous cars, but 33% are at least somewhat likely to buy one once they are available, according to a new Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.

Why it matters: To the degree the survey is accurate and reflects a broad global trend, everything from the world's sprawling car industry, to roads and cities themselves, could be on the cusp of a fundamental transformation.

The backdrop: Every carmaker on the planet, large and small, in addition to Wall Street, Silicon Valley and governments, seems united in the conviction that we are all going to abandon the wheel and be driven around by robots.

The trouble is that, apart from a few daredevils abusing (and sometimes crashing) Teslas, there has been little indication to date that a significant number of the world's drivers want such cars.

  • But the Axios/SurveyMonkey poll revealed a solid minority of Americans are at least open to considering a purchase — in all age categories through 54. While roughly a third said they were at least somewhat likely to buy one.

As of now, the loudest signal continues to come from the supply side: In a report released Friday, Morgan Stanley analyst Brian Nowak observed that Waymo, Alphabet's autonomous car venture, is scaling up:

  • Last week, Waymo committed to buy up to 62,000 Chrysler minivans; that's on top of its agreement with Jaguar to add autonomy to 20,000 all-electric I-Pace SUVs.
  • At almost the same time, Softbank announced a $2.25 billion investment in GM's Cruise self-driving division.
  • "The AV arms race is heating up," Nowak said.

Yes but, according to the Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, a majority of Americans are scared of autonomous cars:

  • 68% are fearful as pedestrians, walking around amid self-driving cars.
  • 64% said they are fearful as a passenger.
  • Only 10% said they would feel extremely or very safe as a passenger or pedestrian.

What they're saying: Stanford University professor Jerry Kaplan writes in the WSJ that the problem is not that people reject risk — they know driving is dangerous. It's that they reject risks that seem bizarre: They do not accept machines making mistakes that a human wouldn't; after all, the machines are supposed to be better. That's ostensibly why we are turning to autonomous cars.

  • Kaplan cites an MIT study in which a Google AI system was "duped into mistaking an obvious image of a turtle for a rifle, and a cat for some guacamole."
  • In the March death of a pedestrian in Arizona, Uber engineers had disabled an autonomous car's emergency braking system "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior," said the National Transportation Safety Board, quoted by USAToday.
  • The adjustment was to correct for just the sort of bizarre, lurching vehicular accidents that make many consumers fearful.

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
49 mins ago - Sports

MLB falls out favor with Republicans

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

MLB is the latest sports league to fall out of favor with Republicans following its decision to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.

By the numbers: In mid-March, MLB's net favorability rating among Republicans was 47%, the highest of the four major U.S. sports leagues. Since then, it has plummeted to 12%, dropping the league below the NFL and NHL, according to new data from Morning Consult.

1 hour ago - World

Blinken makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan to sell troop withdrawal

Photo: CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Thursday to meet with the nation's president, Ashraf Ghani, and Abdullah Abdullah, who is representing the Taliban in negotiations, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Blinken sought to reassure the pair that the U.S. will maintain support for the country, despite President Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting May 1 and concluding in full by Sept. 11.

Women rise to the top at major media companies

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Several women have been tapped to lead some of the country's largest newsrooms over the past year — a promising sign of progress for an industry that's typically been slow to accept change and embrace diversity.

Driving the news: CBS News executive Kimberly Godwin was named president of ABC News on Wednesday. Godwin will be the first Black woman to lead a major broadcast news division when she takes the helm in May.