Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Santa Barbara tech executive and Green Hills Software CEO Dan O’Dowd is running for the U.S. Senate on a single issue — to “make computers safe for humanity.” This week, O’Dowd, who is one of 23 candidates on California’s nonpartisan primary ballot, launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign targeting Tesla’s full self-driving software as dangerous and apt to drive off the road and into other vehicles. 

Senator Alex Padilla is also running for reelection, but O’Dowd maintained that he is not campaigning against Padilla or any other candidates. “What’s the opposite position of mine?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know, maybe it’s making really crappy software that kills everyone. The real question is about how we can elevate the issue that I am running on.”

Although one of his campaign objectives is to hold Tesla accountable and ultimately ban this software, O’Dowd emphasized that this was but one highly notable example of a larger problem in Silicon Valley. “There’s really no regulation on any software that comes out of these companies,” he said. “Companies develop these products under competitive pressure; they find what’s the fastest way to roll it out and wait for the customers to report any bugs.”

Although O’Dowd has been speaking about this issue and meeting with regulators for years before this election cycle, he believes a Senate campaign would yield some unique benefits. Campaigns are often a cost-saving measure to send a message, as running for office entitles him to the lowest available ad rate leading up to the election. More importantly, O’Dowd hopes that by running a single-issue campaign and gathering a significant amount of votes, he can signal to other politicians that people are concerned about poorly regulated and risky software. “Even 5 percent of votes can make the difference in an election,” he said. “Candidates will see that this is a pool of voters that they can appeal to by adopting my position.”

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