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Uber crash could put brakes on self-driving cars

An Uber self-driving Volvo. Photo: Uber

It's finally happened. A self-driving car has hit and killed a pedestrian, a scenario everyone in and out of the industry knew would eventually happen. Uber, which operated the car in question, has put on hold its self-driving car effort in three cities and the NTSB is investigating.

So now what? There are two big mistakes that we could make as a society in dealing with self-driving cars.

  • The first would be not to recognize that giving the keys to a machine is a big deal and to think we can let the industry proceed without any guidelines or regulations.
  • The second, and in my opinion more dangerous, would be to dramatically slow the development of self-driving car technology just because it isn't yet 100 percent perfect. Human drivers kill lots of people.

The real challenge, then, is to set some sort of safety standard for determining when the technology is "good enough." How much more should we demand of autonomous vehicles — should they be twice as good as human drivers, 10x better, 100x?

Yellow light: There were lots of calls on Monday to slow down, including from the head of the well-regarded self-driving car lab at Carnegie Mellon. Opposition could kill an already stalled bill in Congress that would have allowed testing of self-driving cars to proceed with minimal oversight from the NHTSA.

  • "This crash should be a clear wake-up call for Congress to halt this flawed legislation and add desperately-needed minimum performance requirements and safety standards," said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters on Monday that "[i]t should change the calculus, it should change the dynamic to make people more aware of how risky these vehicles potentially are. They are extraordinarily dangerous at this point. Moving them to the roads hastily or recklessly could be the consequence of this bill."

Read the full story here.

In retrospect, Arizona may need changes

In some ways, it's not surprising that Arizona was the place where the first pedestrian was killed by a self-driving car.

Why? Arizona has touted itself heavily as the place for testing, promising limited regulation and wooing the likes of Waymo, Uber and Lyft.

At the same time, Arizona is the state with the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities.

Facebook reaches a tipping point — and the hits keep coming

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Of all the news crises Facebook has faced during the past year, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is playing out to be the worst and most damaging. Here's just some of the fallout:

  • Facebook shares fell nearly 7% at market close on Monday. Its stock hasn't seen this type of a drop in response to any of the major scandals its faced over the past year. Even during the Russia hearings on Capitol Hill, Facebook stock hit record highs.
  • Republicans were unusually swift to call for action. GOP Sen. John Kennedy and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley calling on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress. Republican Sen. John Thune said he'd send questions to Facebook Monday night.
  • The FTC is looking into whether Facebook violated the terms of a 2011 settlement regarding how it uses personal data, Bloomberg reports this morning.
  • In Europe, regulators are calling on Zuckerberg to testify before the U.K. Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The British Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said her office was "investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used."
  • Consumers are balking at the news, with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook sweeping across Twitter, somewhat ironically.
  • Media scrutiny is intensifying for Facebook, especially in light of the way it has responded to the news reports about the story. The story was the subject of cable news reports all day on Monday.

More importantly: It's not clear how many more shoes there are to drop. The New York Times reported late Monday that chief security officer Alex Stamos plans to exit the company after clashing with others over how to disclose and handle issues related to Russian disinformation. Stamos had been looking into Russian interference as far back as June 2016, per the NYT.

  • The Verge reports this morning that Facebook plans to hold an emergency meeting to let employees ask questions about the Cambridge Analytica situation.

Kim Hart and Sara Fischer have more in the Axios stream.

The common thread: Techlash is looming

Salesforce chief product officer Bret Taylor pointed out the string that ties the Uber and Facebook stories together: the harsh, bright spotlight shining on Silicon Valley.

"The top two stories in both WSJ and NY Times are about Facebook data being used improperly to manipulate elections and a self-driving Uber killing a pedestrian," Taylor tweeted. "So much nuance to these stories, but one thing is clear: the world’s relationship with technology has changed."

Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • Lyft has hired two former Googlers to its management ranks. Nilka Thomas is joining as VP of talent and inclusion, while Sam Arons has been hired as director of sustainability.
  • Comcast promoted Mitch Rose to senior VP of congressional and federal government affairs.
  • Vevo and DoorDash co-founder Evan Charles Moore has joined Khosla Ventures.

ICYMI

  • Lawyers for AT&T and the Justice Department sparred in court Monday over which evidence should be allowed in the forthcoming trial over the AT&T-Time Warner deal. Opening arguments are expected on Wednesday.
  • President Trump signed an executive order blocking Americans from buying Venezuela's Petro cryptocurrency.
  • The Daily Beast reports that popular trivia app HQ had some headaches, first from a winner who turned out to be a cheater and then because it forgot to update a credit card and found itself briefly removed from the App Store.
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