September 28, 2022

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Meet the Reclusive Software Billionaire Attacking Elon Musk

7 min read

“Trillion-Greenback Ponzi Plan.”

“Deep Flaws.”

“Unsafe.”

The tv ads for Dan O’Dowd, a software billionaire managing as a Democrat for Senate in California, are not your typical campaign places. To an remarkable diploma, they are all aimed at one particular subject: Tesla’s automated driving software program. Not at his putative opponent, Senator Alex Padilla, the incumbent Democrat.

O’Dowd’s marketing campaign slogan is “Making Desktops Protected for Humanity.” Tesla’s computers, he claims, are not.

“The trouble of the final 5 or 10 decades has been that we have been taking everything that our lives rely on and placing computers in demand of it,” O’Dowd stated in an interview. “So now our electrical power grid, our automobiles, or our dams, or bridges, hospitals — anything has been set in computer systems that have been place in demand of every thing.”

He extra: “And a great deal of the software that was employed to do that is pretty bad good quality.”

O’Dowd’s preliminary aim, he explained, is on Tesla’s complete self-driving computer software, which he claims really should have by no means been allowed on the highway.

“The application that drives autos that are going to have thousands and thousands of folks dependent on it really should be our best program, the most diligently created and analyzed computer software,” he mentioned. “Instead we’re making use of pretty much the worst software.”

O’Dowd also ran a paid out advertisement in a print edition of The New York Times, headlined “Don’t Be a Tesla Crash-Test Dummy.” The advertisement encourages The Dawn Job, O’Dowd’s internet site highlighting his know-how as a software engineer for jobs like the Boeing 787 and the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet.

Some of O’Dowd’s critics have questioned the motives driving his anti-Tesla marketing campaign. Automobile providers use his company’s software program in different parts and units, which includes automated driving programs.

For Democrats, Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder, helps make for an inviting political quarry.

In new weeks, Musk has shared his unsolicited views on politics, free speech, “cancel culture,” his “hardcore litigation department” and anything at all else that appears to cross his brain on Twitter. He has bashed the Democratic Celebration as the get together of “division and hate” and explained that he will now “vote Republican.”

Musk’s engagement in general public debate has price him dearly. The selling price of Tesla shares has dropped by just about $400 due to the fact the information to start with emerged in early April that he had taken a stake in Twitter, which he has because agreed to obtain.

Tesla did not reply to a ask for for remark for this report. On its web site, the firm says that its entire self-driving technique requires “active driver supervision” and does not “make the car or truck autonomous.”

But Musk has at occasions implied otherwise. “I’m really self-assured the vehicle will generate by itself for the reliability in excess of a human this yr,” he said in January 2021. “This is a extremely huge offer.”

When I questioned O’Dowd why he had taken the unorthodox route of working for place of work, somewhat than starting up a nonprofit and merely boosting the issue in the community arena, he claimed he experienced taken that approach now.

“I’ve tried out practically anything,” he said. “I’ve tried using going to the govt, to the regulators, to the politicians, to the businesses by themselves.”

“I’ve been giving speeches for 7 years, emotion relatively lonely,” he explained. But now that his crusade against Tesla has gotten considerable coverage, he additional, “I’ve not been sensation so lonely.”

If the state of California or some other lawful authority decrees that Tesla’s self-driving software package is not all set for public use, he’ll “shut up,” he explained.

But for now, O’Dowd is inclined to shell out “whatever it takes” to achieve his objective of taking it off the market, he stated. “A total raft of much more commercials” are in the operates.

“I never have a funds,” he explained make a difference-of-factly.

O’Dowd is fully self-funding his campaign. He has previously spent almost $3.5 million on ads, significantly much more than any other prospect in the race. His marketing campaign manager is Jon Blair, a veteran Democratic strategist who previously aided elect Gina Raimondo, the former governor of Rhode Island.

He’s also employed Mark Putnam, a Democratic advert-maker whose organization has come to be perfectly-recognised for making gauzy biographical movies for candidates, which include spots for Amy McGrath and M.J. Hegar that served start them into the nationwide highlight.

Putnam’s advertisements for O’Dowd feature numerous of the traits that have created him a person of the most sought-soon after imaginative minds in his area: psychological urgency, to start with-person recommendations and compelling footage. For a nontraditional campaign topic, they are rather arresting.

Putnam’s most new advert, the a single that accuses Musk of running a “Ponzi plan,” is almost two minutes extensive — an amazing indulgence for most strategies.

But O’Dowd’s procedure is not like most strategies. He does not utilize an formal pollster, nevertheless he has commissioned polls. He is not keeping marketing campaign rallies or walking rope strains, while he has held meetings with tiny teams of voters, interest teams and elected officers to air his issues.

O’Dowd benefits from federal restrictions that call for broadcasters to deliver steep discount rates to skilled candidates for public workplace. Had he established up a tremendous PAC or some other motor vehicle to underwrite his ads, broadcasters would have experienced a lot more leeway to refuse them, or to demand hefty fees.

But there’s almost nothing untoward about what he is executing, authorities on marketing campaign regulation claimed.

“It’s not lawfully novel to operate a single-challenge campaign, even when that difficulty is hyper-concentrated,” said Adav Noti, vice president and authorized director of the Campaign Lawful Center. “The regulation is pretty agnostic as to what candidates decide on to target on.”

The primary is coming up on June 7. Because of California’s one of a kind election guidelines, underneath which the leading two finishers progress to the standard election, O’Dowd could be in a head-to-head matchup with Padilla in the tumble.

O’Dowd does not say so explicitly, but he is not striving to acquire, just.

“I’m heading to limit myself to these challenges incredibly carefully,” he mentioned. “And I’m likely to inform persons, you need to vote for me if you think this is the biggest dilemma.”

O’Dowd insisted that his company, Environmentally friendly Hills Software, is not a competitor to Tesla.

“We do not make self-driving cars,” he claimed, incorporating that some auto firms have been making use of its software program in particular minimal-level elements. “That’s not our business enterprise.”

Eco-friendly Hills encourages its abilities in earning specialized software package made use of in automatic driving programs. Its web-site suggests that its code is used in “hundreds of tens of millions of motor vehicles.”

The New York Instances has documented extensively on the shortcomings of Musk’s force for absolutely autonomous vehicles, which include in a new documentary film.

In February, Tesla recalled 54,000 of its cars and trucks to disable a characteristic of its software package that permitted the autos to make rolling stops in some circumstances. There are entire web-sites devoted to documenting deaths involving Teslas, together with people wherever driver-support options had been proved to have been involved.

When we spoke in late April, O’Dowd mentioned he experienced not spoken to Musk about his considerations — though not for deficiency of striving. “I’ve manufactured three or 4 endeavors to do so by means of mutual buddies,” O’Dowd reported. “Trust me, he is aware who I am. He appreciates what I do. And he’s not interested.”


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The image was taken during a news convention in Tokyo with Key Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, just immediately after President Biden claimed he was ready to protect Taiwan with navy power, if required. At this moment, the president was pondering a different query, but reporters in the room ended up buzzing — anyone realized he experienced just designed the news of the working day.

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