SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In the past month, chances are you’ve got the video. It’s clip after clip, essentially bashing Tesla’s self-driving technology for a minute. And it’s on the air all over California.
It turns out to be a political ad by US Senate candidate Dan O’Dowd. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.
Question: So you’re running for the US Senate, but then the message is ‘Tesla software is terrible’, am I right?
O’Dowd: That’s the beginning, that’s part of the message. The whole message is much bigger.
This is what it is about. O’Dowd is not wrong about the problems with Tesla’s Autopilot. If you’ve ever been in it, you know firsthand that it can make some unexpected maneuvers.
O’Dowd is running as a candidate for one issue, essentially using Tesla is a way to participate in the broader issue of cybersecurity. He says our infrastructure, power grids, hospitals, and yes, self-driving cars are all at risk from cyber-attacks.
“I consider this the biggest problem of our time, even bigger than nuclear weapons,” he told KPIX. “My slogan is making computers safer for humanity. We have to find those computers, we have to disconnect them. We then have a reprogramming so they can’t be hacked, so they don’t fail and leave us defenseless.”
Question: What about homelessness, what about the environment, what about the drought?
O’Dowd: Well, if they shut down the electricity grid, everyone will be homeless. You won’t be able to go anywhere. I just think it’s a more important issue.
O’Dowd became a billionaire after founding Green Hills Software in 1992. He sells software to automakers related to self-driving, but says he is not a competitor of Tesla and there is no conflict of interest.
Question: So in begs the question is this a real run for the senate or is this just to try and draw attention to the cybersecurity problem in our country?
O’Dowd: It’s both. But by not taking positions on other issues, I let people make that decision on this one issue. Is this the most important, keep everyone safe, vote for me. If you think some of those other issues are important, vote for a candidate who supports these positions.
Nolan Higdon is a professor of history and communications at CSU Eastbay and didn’t mince words about O’Dowd’s wealth.
“This sounds like a very wealthy person who may be dripping with narcissism and hubris,” Higdon told KPIX. “Who thinks that just because of their wealth is somehow entitled to this position.”
“I want to be polite about this because I think he’s a good person and has his heart in the right place,” added Joe Tuman, San Francisco state professor. “But it shows a bit of naivety about how politics works.”
Tuman says that to be taken seriously, O’Dowd needs to talk about more than just self-driving cars.
“Basically, as I said at the beginning of this, he’s just staying in his own job, and what he’s telling us is that he’s not comfortable discussing these other things,” Tuman said. “He’s just comfortable with what he knows. If you’re going to serve in the Senate, you need to know a lot more than that.”