Yesterday, Reuters reported that the Biden administration would be naming two people to positions at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This would not ordinarily be notable, except that, thankfully, Tesla CEO Elon Musk happens to have an issue with one of them.
That one would be Missy Cummings, a professor at Duke University who is described in her Duke bio as “one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots.” She also has a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia; she will be a “senior advisor for safety” at NHTSA, working on safety and autonomous cars. She says reasonable things like the following, via Reuters:
Cummings in a 2018 interview said the United States needs “an entirely new regulatory framework where an agency like NHTSA would oversee” autonomous vehicles, adding the agency “does have the authority to mandate testing and other interventions, but they’re not doing it.”
This is an argument for more regulation, not just of Tesla but any company seeking to develop autonomous cars. In that same interview, she also said this, talking about semi-autonomous systems:
I wrote a paper on boredom and autonomous systems, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pretty hopeless. I say that because humans are just wired for activity in the brain. So, if we’re bored or we don’t perceive that there’s enough going on in our world, we will make ourselves busy. That’s why cellphones are so bad in cars, because they provide the stimulation that your brain desires. But even if I were to take the phones away from people, what you’ll see is that humans are terrible at vigilance. It’s almost painful for us to sit and wait for something bad to happen in the absence of any other stimuli. Almost every driver has had a case where they’ve been so wrapped up in their thoughts that they’ve missed an exit, for example. Perception is really linked to what you’re doing inside your head, so just because your eyes are on the road doesn’t mean you’re going to see everything that’s in front of you.
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Makes sense! She also seems like a good candidate to be a public servant, heart in the right place and all. Obviously, Elon Musk hates it.
The biggest concern here for me is that on Twitter Cummings also follows Michael Ballaban, a former editor at Jalopnik with bad takes who is now, I believe, dead.