#140 The Truth About Self-Driving Cars

It's time to put the brakes on the hype about self-driving cars. Despite industry and media forecasts, it may be more than a decade before many fully autonomous vehicles are on the road. Lawsuits and patent disputes are among the many hurdles that face auto manufacturers and tech firms.

But this doesn't mean that technology is being thrown into reverse gear. Semi-autonomous cars with vehicle assist and other features are much safer than earlier generations of automobiles. Self-driving delivery trucks and vans are no longer a fantasy.

"Fix It" guest Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver magazine is deeply skeptical about the widely-touted changes proclaimed by major manufacturers. "It's a scary concept anyway you look at it," he tells us. "The autonomous car is a very inelegant, very complex and a very fraught solution to the problem of texting while driving... and of information coming into the car when people should be driving."

For Google, Apple, Microsoft and other big data companies, autonomous cars are a big opportunity. Instead of keeping their eyes on the road, motorists would use their driving time to consume more digital media. 

But Eddie says a mix of self-driving and traditional vehicles on the road would create danger. "People will deal with or accept flawed humans crashing into each other. I don't think people will accept supposedly fail-safe machines crashing into each other."

Solutions 

  • Understand the risks of mixing traditional cars with self-driving vehicles on the same roadway.
  • Promote the use of semi-autonomous background technology to make driving safer. Examples: cruise control, vehicle stability, lane departure warning systems.
  • Adopt autonomous vehicles in "closed" environments such as industrial sites.
  • Encourage car-sharing and other initiatives to reduce commute times.  
  • Resist the temptation to encourage drivers to surrender control of their time behind-the-wheel.

#137 The Dangers Of Utopia: Michael Shermer

By overwhelming majorities, human beings have faith in the afterlife. While fewer Americans believe in God, as many as 80% still believe in life after death. Surprisingly, this includes one-in-three agnostics and atheists. According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion the numbers have stayed stable in recent decades.

Does this human refusal to accept that all we have is the here-and-now lead to a dangerous belief in religious fantasies and utopia? Do we chase after myths while ignoring practical steps we could take now to improve life for ourselves and others?

Our guest, Michael Shermer, is the publisher of Skeptic Magazine and the author of the new book "Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia." Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson calls him "a beacon of reason in an ocean of irrationality."

Michael walks us through efforts by "techno-optimists" to extend life hundreds of years into the future, from cryonic suspension-- efforts to freeze our brains with all of their neural connects and memories in tact--  to transhumanists, who want to transform us into super-humans.

He is profoundly skeptical of these well-funded efforts, saying that all we have is the present. "Make today count," Michael tells us. "Make every relationship you have count. Make your interactions with community, strangers and society count in just a tiny little bit."

#135 What's Ahead in 2018: Richard and Jim's Forecast

2018 is certain to bring surprises. In this episode, Jim and Richard bravely venture out onto the high diving board of ideas and plunge into the pool of predictions. We also asked listeners and "How Do We Fix It?" guests for their forecasts of the year to come.

Well-known author and skeptic Michael Shermer says "2018 will be the best year in the history of humanity as measured by health, longevity, medicine, technology, science and culture."

Disruptive marketer and communications designer Geoff Colon tells us that "people are tired of how noisy the world has become. So I see more people deleting apps from their phones and spending less time in the Twitter-verse."

Jim and Richard give their predictions on the 2018 mid-term elections and the new tax code (they go out on a limb here). Both forecast troubled days ahead for Facebook, Google and other giant internet firms, as they run into a buzz saw of criticism over their business practices. 

On the international stage, Richard predicts the U.S. will continue its recent retreat from diplomacy and be weaker as a result.  China's strength will grow. Jim says U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will be a shining star in the Republican party.  

What are your predictions? Go to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Tell us what you think, using the hashtag #FixItForecasts. Our Twitter i.d. is @fixitshow. Find us at "How Do We Fix It?" on Facebook and Instagram.

#134 Food & Health: Science vs. Myth: The Science Moms

It's time to shift the narrative about food and health from fear to facts. Popular culture promotes all sorts of anti-scientific myths, from astrology and conspiracy theories to vaccine denial and misinformation about GMOs.

On this episode our guest is "Science Mom" Kavin Senapathy, one of five mothers of young children who decided to collaborate on communication and push back against a conspiratorial mindset around biotechnology. They argue that there's an epidemic of bad science and fear-based marketing largely aimed at parents of young children.

Kavin writes for Forbes and Slate. Other Science Moms are writers and working scientists with PhDs—in biology, genetics, neuroscience. The crowdfunded Science Moms documentary is available for download on the Science Moms website.

On this episode, Jim, Richard and Kavin look at solutions, such as fighting back against hype and anti-science ideas with better education for children and adults. We examine how social media has weaponized debate, including attacks on academics who base their findings on careful research. Too often, science-minded parents are drowned out by shamers and "Celeb Moms" who make bogus claims about food and health.

#126 Using Data To Predict the Future: Rebecca Costa

Can data be used to prevent mass shootings, dramatically reduce opioid addiction and tell elderly people that they about to fall? Our guest, Rebecca Costa, says it can.

In this episode we look at why predictive analytics may be the most profound technological change in the past 15 years-- even more important than smartphones.

In her new book, “On The Verge,” and on this podcast, Rebecca says we now have the power to predict the future, adapting in advance to changing conditions.  She also tells us about the ideas raised on the popular radio show, “The Costa Report” and in her bestselling book, “The Watchman’s Rattle.”

Predictive analytics depend on the ability to collect massive amounts of data, using algorithms to analyze seemingly random bits of information. We explore why all this is coming together now. One example being used by doctors today is predictive healthcare.

Rebecca says that foresight and “fore action”will help human beings “assume our rightful place as aspiring Masters of the Universe.”