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The Tesla Episode – can autonomous cars save us from an evolutionary mismatch?

Cars kill a lot of people. We see the consequences every day in the ER. The two most common sources of accidental deaths in New Mexico – automobile accidents and drug overdoses – can be thought of as resulting from mismatch between human neurobiology and modern environment.

Mismatch between the current environment and the one we evolved in is an evolutionary concept that has been proposed to explain many modern causes of death. Because the majority of human evolution occurred in Africa during the Pleistocene, human genes have undergone selection in an environment that bears little resemblance to our modern surroundings. Modern changes, including fast cars, toxic drugs, have arisen far too recently for natural selection to modify their health effects.

Hominids running on the African savanna presumably never approached the 27 miles per hour land speed record of Olympic gold medal winner Usain Bolt.  Now, many of us routinely pilot 3500 lb automobiles at speeds in excess of 75 mph. This feat is not one that the human brain was not evolved to perform, especially when undertaken after drinking ethanol or while texting. Car crashes are a source of mortality that has affected only the most recent generations of humans, and are a prime example of environmental mismatch.

Is there a technological fix for this mismatch problem. Can we let the computer do the driving for us? Is partial autonomy an even greater risk and mismatch problem for our brains and bodies? Coffee Brown and I explore these issues in this podcast.

NHSTA data

Driving cars is safer now, than it was in the late 1960s, but accidents still account for over 35,000 deaths a year in the US

Links we discussed in the podcast:

Categories: Uncategorized

Joe Alcock

Emergency Physician, Educator, Researcher, interested in the microbiome, evolution, and medicine

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