Huffington Magazine This Week: Caution: Driver Onboard

In this week's issue, Bianca Bosker investigates a fascinating new technology -- self-driving cars -- and the risks they may pose. She finds that engineers have dealt with the technological questions, producing efficient cars that can run capably on their own. The biggest danger, it turns out, is not the cars, but ourselves.

"There are going to be times where the driver has to take over," as Clifford Nass, a Stanford University professor and director of the automobile-focused Revs Program, puts it. "And that turns out to be by far the most dangerous and totally understudied issue."

This "hand-off" from car to human hinges on the driver being mentally aware and focused enough to take over when the car signals that human attention is needed. As Bianca writes, the driver's "reaction speed might be slower than if she'd been driving all along, she might be distracted by the email she was writing or she might choose not to take over at all, leaving a confused car in command."

What's more, Nass has found that as we have become more attached to our gadgets, we increasingly expect machines to be in tune with our moods and feelings. Which raises a potentially frightening question: We can trust the cars, but can we trust our own instincts?

In our Voices section, Dr. Rock Positano underscores another instance in which we present hazards to ourselves -- distracted walking. While the subject is often treated humorously over social media, Dr. Positano -- the director of the Non-surgical Foot and Ankle Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York -- says we should be giving it the same serious attention we give to the use of cell phones in cars. Case in point: Researchers at the University of Washington monitored Seattle's intersections, and discovered that pedestrians who texted were four times less likely to look before crossing streets, stay in crosswalks, or obey traffic signals.

Elsewhere in the issue, Jaweed Kaleem highlights "Death Over Dinner," a dinner party trend popping up around the world. The concept: to bring friends and strangers together through discussions about life and death.

As Michael Hebb, the Seattle-based artist who founded "Death For Dinner," puts it, "This is what the table does well. It's a good place to have difficult conversations." Participants like Laura Sweet, who hosted a dinner party on her apartment building's roof, are finding that frank conversations about death can be refreshing and enlightening. As she put it, "people hesitated to leave and said they could talk about this for days. I don't use the word magical much, but this evening was."
Finally, we continue our focus on The Third Metric by examining the lasting scars that socioeconomic stress can inflict on the most vulnerable among us.


This story appears in Issue 68 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Sept. 27 in the iTunes App store.