Weekend edition—Autonomous vehicles, MacKenzie Bezos, boring weed

Good morning, Quartz readers!

We’re about to enter a world in which autonomous vehicles (AVs) routinely make life-and-death decisions. Before hopping in, we should draw lessons on how to regulate them from recent missteps in another industry: airlines. With stronger oversight, it appears, the two fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes could have been prevented.

For decades, we’ve trusted the air-safety system. The US Federal Aviation Administration exhaustively studies crashes and proactively forces airlines and manufacturers to improve safety by adding features or redesigning aircraft. Since the 1970s, the fatal accident rate for global air travel has plunged by a factor of 16 (paywall) to one accident every 3 million flights of large commercial passenger planes.

Meanwhile AVs are nowhere near the human safety standard of one fatality for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled (although we are promised they will be safer). Several deaths have been linked to (paywall) fully or partially autonomous vehicles. Firms like Waymo (pdf) and Tesla have slowed ambitious timelines for rolling out their technology.

But so far, regulation of AVs in the US has mostly been reactive. (China, South Korea, and others have implemented rules for the industry.) The latest guidance (pdf) from the US government allows companies to self-certify their new AV technologies without safety tests

The 737 Max tragedies point to the risk this model poses for AVs. To win swift approval for its update to the 1960s-era 737, Boeing cut corners on safety. Crucial cockpit alerts were optional, and pilot training consisted of “an iPad lesson for an hour.” When safety concerns did arise, Boeing fought them. The FAA let this slide, approving a team of Boeing engineers to conduct inspections on its behalf, and never correcting a fatal flaw that caused an autonomous steering system to repeatedly force the 737 Max into a dive. Those decisions turned preventable technical mistakes into failures that killed nearly 350 people.

Last year, AV legislation didn’t pass the US Congress. “Some senators distrusted the technologies and the developers of those technologies and the regulators of those technologies,” writes Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor, via email. Those suspicions were well placed, he argues. Although we often ask whether the public trusts AVs, Smith suggests we should instead be asking if we trust the companies and regulators deploying these vehicles in the first place. —Michael J. Coren

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The $36 billion woman. You might imagine that MacKenzie Bezos, soon-to-be-ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has it all. She’s among the world’s wealthiest women, a mom, a novelist, and newly free after a 25-year marriage that lasted practically her whole adult life. But as Ephrat Livni discovered, the one thing MacKenzie wanted most as a child just happens to be the very thing she’ll never be able to attain thanks to her association with Amazon.

Law is a more lucrative career if you’re a man. No surprise there: Most industries still have a gender pay gap. But what are the specific drivers of inequality in the legal profession? In the first of several deep industry dives, Cassie Werber finds out that the “up or out” partner track—whereby aspiring partners are expected to prove themselves through long hours or leave their firm—coincides exactly with women’s childbearing years, when many grapple with hard choices about how to balance family with career.

How the Danes tackle social isolation. Loneliness is on the rise worldwide. Jenny Anderson reports from Copenhagen on a 20-year effort to help those in search of human connection by offering them a place to go and simple things to do with others: shop and make food, play games, go for walks. Ventilen, meaning “friend to one,” has profound effects for many young adults who, after years of loneliness, are finding what it means to belong.

Internal conflict at Microsoft. Some Microsoft employees are questioning the value of diversity on internal messaging boards, multiple employees told Dave Gershgorn in another Quartz scoop on the matter. The messages garnered more than 800 comments, with some agreeing with and others criticizing the anti-diversity sentiments. Some workers noted they now feel uncomfortable working alongside colleagues who have expressed the view that hiring for diversity should be disincentivized.

Does CBD work? Stressed-out Americans are readily embracing CBD—or cannabidiol, one of many chemical compounds naturally occurring in cannabis plants—as a cure-all for the modern condition. Most are using it to find relaxation, relief from anxiety and pain, and maybe even a nap. But does it work? Jenni Avins took a deep dive into the research—most of which has been done on animals—to see what the evidence suggests.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

Customized animal crossings. A highway can boost trade, but for wildlife it can also cause local extinctions. Caught between a highway and a river, animal populations can blink out for lack of genetic diversity. That’s one reason highway bypasses created specifically for wildlife are catching on worldwide (another being the need to reduce vehicle-animal collisions). But as Starre Vartan writes for National Geographic, different species and even genders prefer different types of passageways—prompting designers to plan accordingly.

Your latest dental procedure was possibly unnecessary. Dentists don’t earn much from a  routine cleaning and examination; instead, their income depends on the number and kind of procedures they perform. Meanwhile dentistry is not subject to the kind of rigorous clinical research seen in medicine. One result, writes Ferris Jabr in the Atlantic, is routine overtreatment in the industry, sometimes rising to the level of fraud and malpractice. You might want a second opinion.

Motherhood in the 2020 race. For the men trying to become the next US president, perceptions of their fatherhood haven’t mattered that much. For the women, it’s a different story. Being a “bad” mother—by, say, spending too much time on the campaign trail away from kids—can be disqualifying. But so can not having children, implying the candidate lacks essential qualities. Rebecca Traister examines the unequal standards for New York magazine’s The Cut.

The thrill of smoking weed is gone. For years, part of the pleasure of marijuana came from its illicitness, writes Stephen Marche for the New Yorker: Passing around a joint meant “sharing a little naughtiness, a tiny collective experience of rebellion.” But today in Canada, where the drug has been legal since October, pot has become exquisitely boring. The go-to conversation at Toronto dinner parties is no longer real estate, he notes, but marijuana stocks.

The hearing aid as platform. Based outside Minneapolis, hearing-aid maker Starkey was already quite profitable before it started selling its pricey new Livio AI. The ear, it turns out, is an ideal place for a personal assistant driven by artificial intelligence, and Starkey’s offers noise filtering, health tracking, and language translation, among other perks. Josh Dean profiles the company for Bloomberg (paywall), noting the Livio AI will likely account for 80% of its worldwide sales this year.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, dental receipts, and 4/20 gifts to hi@qz.com. Join the next chapter of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was edited by Steve Mollman and Holly Ojalvo.