Dan O’Dowd’s Senate campaign targets self-driving Tesla cars

San Francisco (CBSSF) – Over the past month, there’s a fairly good chance you’ve had the video. It’s clip after clip, essentially attacking Tesla’s self-driving technology for a full minute. She is on the airwaves all over California.

It turned out to be a political ad from Dan O’Dowd, a candidate for the US Senate. If you are confused, you are not alone.

A question: So you’re running for the US Senate, but the message after that is that “Tesla’s software is terrible”, is that right?

I would like: Well, that’s the beginning, and that’s part of the message. The whole message is much bigger than that.

Here is the need. O’Dowd is not wrong about Tesla’s autopilot problems. If you’ve been into one, you know firsthand that it can do some unexpected maneuvers.

O’Dowd serves as a single cause candidate, and primarily using Tesla is a way to join the broader cause of cybersecurity. He says our infrastructure, power grids, hospitals, and yes, self-driving cars, are all at risk of cyber-attacks.

“I see this as the biggest problem of our time, even bigger than nuclear weapons,” he told KPIX. “My motto is to make computers safer for humanity. We have to find these computers, we have to unplug them, and we’ve got to reprogram them after that, so they can’t be hacked, so they don’t fail and leave us defenseless.”

A question: What about homelessness, what about the environment, and what about drought?

O’Dowd: Well, when they bring down the power 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’s not a competitor to Tesla, and there is no conflict of interest.

A question: So the question arises is this a real race for the Senate or is this just an attempt to draw attention to the issue of cyber security in our country?

I would like: It is both. But by not taking positions on other issues, I allow people to make that decision on this single issue. Is this the most important, keep everyone safe, vote for me. If you think some of these other issues are important, vote for a candidate who supports these positions.

Nolan Higdon is Professor of History and Communications at CSU Eastbay, and he never utters his words about O’Dowd’s fortune.

“This sounds like a very wealthy individual who probably exudes narcissism and arrogance,” Higdon told KPIX. “He who thinks only because of his wealth is somehow entitled to the position.”

“I want to be polite about this because I think he’s a good guy and his heart is in the right place,” San Francisco state professor Joe Toman added. “But it shows a little bit of naivety about how politics works.”

Toman says that for O’Dowd to be taken seriously, he’ll have to talk about more than just self-driving cars.

“Basically, as I said at the beginning of this, he just stays in his own lane, and then what he’s telling us is that he’s not comfortable discussing these other things,” Toman said. “He’s comfortable with what he knows. If you’re going to serve in the Senate, you’ll know a hell of a lot more than that.”

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