Alex Roy & Bryan Salesky are joined by award-winning screenwriter and WIRED contributing editor Josh Davis to talk about how he survived Russian Roulette with John McAfee, the truth about Elon Musk’s timeline for self-driving, and his new autonomous vehicles thriller, a modern-day “12 Angry Men” in which an AV company executive is charged with manslaughter. Davis has been writing about the self-driving industry since before the DARPA Challenges nearly 20 years ago. Hear what he thinks about how and when we’ll trust autonomous vehicles and the craziest discovery he’s made that hasn’t been made into a film… yet.
Alex Roy: You don’t really like doing the intros but you love doing the episodes, don’t you?
Bryan Salesky: I like doing the intros.
Alex Roy: Now, did you know Josh Davis because he came to do the podcast with us?
Bryan Salesky: Didn’t know him.
Alex Roy: Are you a fan of Indiana Jones?
Bryan Salesky: Huge fan.
Alex Roy: Because he’s basically like that but he writes movies instead of steals artifacts.
Bryan Salesky: And he doesn’t have a hat.
Bryan Salesky: It was a crazy story for sure.
Alex Roy: Do you know McAfee?
Bryan Salesky: I don’t know anything about him.
Alex Roy: Have you seen the movie 12 Angry Men?
Bryan Salesky: No. Wait. He did 12 Angry Men?
Alex Roy: Well, it’s a hint to what’s coming in the episode.
Bryan Salesky: I don’t remember 12 Angry Men in the episode.
Alex Roy: That’s a whole another episode. Let’s just do this.
Bryan Salesky: What did he actually do? What’s 12 Angry Men? I don’t remember 12 Angry Men.
Alex Roy: Really?
Bryan Salesky: Yeah. What is it?
Alex Roy: It’s a movie about-
Bryan Salesky: About what?
Alex Roy: … someone who’s charged with a crime and the jury’s made up of 12 angry men, and they’re debating whether or not the person did it.
Bryan Salesky: Did I see this?
Alex Roy: What were you doing between, say 1989 and 1996?
Bryan Salesky: I was in school.
Alex Roy: You didn’t watch—
Bryan Salesky: I was busy.
Alex Roy: You didn’t watch black and white movies on television?
Bryan Salesky: No, definitely didn’t. I can’t stand black and white for the most part. I can watch a Peter Gunn flick every now and then.
Alex Roy: Who is Peter Gunn?
Bryan Salesky: You don’t know who Peter Gunn is?
Alex Roy: Who is that?
Bryan Salesky: The detective? Come on.
Alex Roy: No, really.
Bryan Salesky: Really.
Alex Roy: What’s the show called?
Bryan Salesky: Peter Gunn.
Alex Roy: I’ve never heard of this.
Bryan Salesky: Are you serious?
Alex Roy: No, really. I’m not messing with you.
Bryan Salesky: Okay. Well, this is, I believe, this would be early 60s, ’62, ’63. It’s a detective series.
Alex Roy: I think the show is called Dragnet.
Bryan Salesky: No, no.
Alex Roy: No?
Bryan Salesky: This predated Dragnet, and it’s all black and white. Do you remember the Peter Gunn theme? Did you see Blues Brothers?
Alex Roy: Yeah.
Bryan Salesky: You know they go dun-dun-dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun. That’s the theme from Peter Gunn.
Alex Roy: I didn’t know that. I thought that was from Blues Brothers.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah, no.
Alex Roy: Wow. The things you learn. Have you seen the new Quentin Tarantino movie?
Bryan Salesky: No, it’s on the list. I cannot wait.
Alex Roy: You’re going to love it.
Bryan Salesky: Huge Tarantino fan.
Alex Roy: You’re going to love it. You’ve heard of Charles Manson?
Bryan Salesky: Yes, absolutely.
Alex Roy: He’s a real guy. I have to ask you this one more time. I’m sorry. You were sitting in a room with Pete Rander, your friend. You’re trying to come up with company names, right?
Bryan Salesky: I think actually I wasn’t in the room with Pete, I think I was just writing out a bunch of potential names.
Alex Roy: Okay. What other names were on the list of the company you intended to create with Pete Rander?
Bryan Salesky: I can’t share that.
Alex Roy: Yes you can.
Bryan Salesky: They might be other companies that we create in the future. That’s proprietary. You know how much effort goes into naming a company?
Alex Roy: Did you spend any money to name this company?
Bryan Salesky: Zero.
Alex Roy: And you didn’t make up the word Argo, you’d heard it before?
Alex Roy: Had you not heard of Star Blazers? The anime where the space battle cruiser Yamato goes through space to save the Earth.
Bryan Salesky: I have heard about that. In fact, maybe I should use that as the origin story of the name.
Alex Roy: You should.
Bryan Salesky: We should just adopt that.
Alex Roy: You’d earn a lot more trust in the company’s products.
Bryan Salesky: I agree, yes.
Alex Roy: All right. Let’s just dive right into this episode because it’s that crazy. It doesn’t need an intro.
Bryan Salesky: Come on, now.
Josh Davis: Yeah, I talked to John a handful of years ago in 2012. He was living down in Belize in the jungle. And he had been arrested by the gang suppression unit of the Belizean armed forces, and charged with running a meth lab in the jungle. I got on the phone with him, and I was like, “So is it true? Were you manufacturing meth in the jungle in Belize?” And he’s like,” Of course it wasn’t true. And if you come down here I’ll explain exactly what happened.”
Bryan Salesky: And so the next natural thing you would do is go down there.
Josh Davis: Go down there. I had actually just come back from Libya. I was in Benghazi a week before the Consulate in Benghazi was stormed and Ambassador Stephens was killed. I came back and I thought, “I need to do a story that’s going to be super relaxed, go sit on the beach in Belize, drink a beer. What could go wrong?” And next thing I know, I was enmeshed in John’s crazy life, where we were surrounded by assassins and prostitutes. And soon enough, his next door neighbor was shot through the head and everybody went on the run.
Bryan Salesky: Wow. Okay.
Josh Davis: Yeah, the question with John was always what was real and what wasn’t? And perhaps is still the question with John. Is what he saying accurate? He was always trying to convince me of something; trying to convince me that the country of Belize was overrun by drug lords and was deeply, deeply corrupt, and he was the only person who could fix it. And he built himself a jail in Northern Belize and started arming a kind of paramilitary force, and would bust in on people’s houses and do kind of citizen’s arrest; set himself up as a sort of John Wayne character in Northern Belize.
Bryan Salesky: Or like Charles Bronson.
Josh Davis: Or like Charles Bronson. Kicking doors down. I don’t think the Belizeans appreciated that.
Bryan Salesky: So he had a little bit of, “Not on my lawn,” type of thing. “Get out of my lawn,” type of thing. All right. Wow.
Alex Roy: Please tell us more about John McAfee.
Bryan Salesky: We think something else happened, Josh.
Josh Davis: Yeah. Stuff happened all the time. At one point, I left his compound and went to go see if what he was saying was true. Was it overrun by drug lords? I went to this little town of Carmelita that he had been living in. I went door-to-door and said, “What do you know? What did you feel about John?” And they were like, “Look, do people smoke weed? Yes.” Right? Check. Not as surprise. People smoke weed all over the place. “But is this a massive through point for drugs in North America? No. It’s this tiny little town. And all of a sudden, this white guy shows up and says he’s boss and builds a jail, and we were all freaked out.” And so then I went back to John and I said just that. I said, “This is what people are saying.” And he said to me, we were sitting in his Bungalow, and he was always well-armed. He had a gun strapped to his chest. And he took the gun out. We were sitting at this kind of a table in front of his bed. And it had five bullets in it. And he opens the chamber and he drops the bullets onto the table, and he picks up one bullet.
Josh Davis: And I’m going to paraphrase now. And he says, “This is a bullet right?”
Bryan Salesky: Check.
Josh Davis: And I’m like, “Yeah. Yes. I don’t like where this is going, but yes.” And he goes, “We will agree that I am not lying when I tell you this is a bullet.” I’m like, “Fine. Okay, yes. It’s a bullet.” He chambers it, spins the chamber, puts the gun to his head. And he says, “What you think is reality,” click, “Is not reality.” Click. He’s pulled the trigger twice now; there’s five chambers. “The truth is,” click, “I control your reality.” Click. There’s only one chamber left. I’m like, “John, point made. Great. You control my reality. That’s totally fine. Put the gun down. This is a stupid game to play.”
Josh Davis: And he says, “This is not a game,” click. And pulls it the fifth time. And then he just keeps pulling; click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, with the gun to his temple. He goes, “I could do this all day. You know why? Because I am the master of reality.” And I’m like, “Okay, great. Fine. There’s some trick with the gun.” you could see the hammer moving but obviously, there’s some trigger protector or something. And I say, “This is some kind of trick.” He goes, “Oh, you think this is a trick?” And shoots the gun into the ground next to me.
Bryan Salesky: So he does all this for effect?
Josh Davis: He was trying to convey to me-
Bryan Salesky: What do I make of all this?
Alex Roy: He just announced he’s running for the presidency.
Bryan Salesky: He sounds like a perfectly viable candidate.
Josh Davis: I think he was just trying to make the point that whatever reporting I was doing on the mainland and whatever perspective I was gaining was perhaps manipulated in the same way that he could manipulate reality.
Bryan Salesky: He clearly was demonstrating he had control.
Josh Davis: Yes. That was the moment that I decided to leave.
Bryan Salesky: He had control. I’m surprised you didn’t leave the moment he chambered the bullet. This tells us a little something about you, Josh.
Josh Davis: I don’t know. What do you do? You walk out on somebody when they’re playing Russian Roulette? That would be a weird thing to do frankly. I don’t know.
Bryan Salesky: It’d be kind of weird, but it would…
Josh Davis: What would you do Alex?
Bryan Salesky: What WOULD you do?
Alex Roy: I would stay in the event that the gun fires and kills the player. I want to make sure that the forensic evidence is clear that they pulled the trigger.
Josh Davis: That you’re not implicated.
Alex Roy: Yes. And also I want to get on a radio show and tell some podcast stories about it.
Bryan Salesky: I see what it is. This the difference between me and two of you is that I’m not in relentless pursuit of a great story.
Alex Roy: I’m looking to sell the rights so why would I leave? There’s a great business there.
Bryan Salesky: Fair enough. Proof. Point taken.
Josh Davis: Yeah. It was, I think, a little over a week later that the next door neighbor Greg, was found shot through the head. And John went on the run.
Alex Roy: This sounds a lot like story by a YouTuber who made really amazing gun videos. He was always shooting up trucks and cars, and blowing stuff up. You know who I’m talking about? A couple of years ago. He was one of the biggest YouTube channels. And then he went dark. His business partner, the producer of the channels, was found tied to a chair and they had been shot. And his name was FPS Russia. Remember this guy?
Josh Davis: Yeah, I do, actually, yeah.
Alex Roy: It was a big… He had 10s and 10s of millions of… And I don’t think that story ever came out. You’re writing it down? Are you going to sell that so you can make a big movie? Right? That’s your next story? Of course it is.
Bryan Salesky: So what do you think about self-driving cars?
Josh Davis: Oh, that topic? I thought we were just talking about John McAfee on the show.
Bryan Salesky: Oh, is that not done? Are we still on the John McAfee story? Let’s do that. How does the McAfee story end?
Josh Davis: I left. Greg Fall was shot. John went on the run; escaped into Guatemala. Was deported to the US, and is now running for president.
Bryan Salesky: And if we want to see everything in between, where do we go to get that story?
Josh Davis: Go to John’s Twitter.
Bryan Salesky: There you go.
Josh Davis: He’s not shy. It’s all in the archives. John is not shy.
Josh Davis: I think I was the first like National magazine feature article about Sebastian and the 2005 Grand Challenge. Certainly not about the Grand Challenge, right? Because Sebastian didn’t compete in the first year, in ’04. Red Whittaker, of the Carnegie Mellon team, had gotten a lot of press.
Alex Roy: Your boy, Red Whittaker.
Bryan Salesky: My boy.
Alex Roy: That’s your boy.
Josh Davis: Yeah. But Sebastian was new to it the second year. And Red came into it that second year, ready to win; Red’s a winner.
Bryan Salesky: He was beating his chest.
Josh Davis: And also, he said to me, “My DNA is all over this race.” Because Sebastian had been at CMU.
Bryan Salesky: That’s a very Red-like statement, absolutely.
Alex Roy: For those who don’t know, Red Whittaker is the father of field robotics, which is the art and science of robots that do stuff.
Bryan Salesky: Correct. He’s the least professorial professor you’re ever going to meet. But his whole thing is he does real work in the real world. You’ve got to respect that. He’s not just writing papers, Alex.
Alex Roy: Not like those cowards in—
Bryan Salesky: He’s doing real shit.
Josh Davis: He’s also running a farm. Got his whole farm out there.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah, he farms. Yeah, that’s right.
Alex Roy: So were you the first person to tell that story in the media?
Josh Davis: No, because in ’05, when the Stanford team won, that was big International spot news. I believe I was the first person to kind of go deep and look at the implications, and spend months writing about it and thinking about it.
Alex Roy: And that led you to Elon Musk.
Josh Davis: I think I had already met Elon. I’m trying to remember the timing. Tesla had already started, Martin Eberhard had already started the company. And I can’t remember if it was ’05 or ’06 that I first wrote about it.
Alex Roy: And you were the first person to drive a Roadster, who is not a customer or employee. Is that true?
Josh Davis: That’s what Martin told me.
Alex Roy: So here’s a question I wanted to ask somebody. At what point did Elon Musk first say that autonomy mattered to Tesla? Because I don’t recall self-driving or autonomy being anywhere part of their business plan, or the master plan until quite late in the game. And yet, all these people, Bryan, Thrun, the whole crew, were working on it for years.
Josh Davis: Years.
Alex Roy: Years because Tesla ever publicly announced, “Oh, self-driving.”
Josh Davis: I don’t remember Elon talking about autonomy in those early days. It’s interesting because at the beginning for Elon, it was a passion, but he wasn’t running the company, it was Martin Eberhard running the company.
Alex Roy: The company?
Josh Davis: Tesla.
Alex Roy: Autonomy was not a passion?
Josh Davis: Correct.
Alex Roy: It was not even part of the equation?
Josh Davis: No, but he had a passion for electric cars.
Bryan Salesky: But he also has a passion for making life better and making the world better. You can sense that, right?
Alex Roy: Yeah.
Bryan Salesky: Absolutely. And he has these moments, which I sort of appreciate, where it’s like his F-it timer goes off and he’s like, “These Bay Area highways suck. I’m in stop-and-go all day,” also LA of course, and like, “Why the hell do I have to sit here with my foot going back and forth between the brake and the pedal every few seconds? It’s maddening.” Right? And so-
Josh Davis: I like that, the F-it meter.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah.
Josh Davis: He has a very sensitive F-it meter.
Bryan Salesky: Exactly. He’s built-
Josh Davis: Now, he’s like, “(beep). Let’s build tunnels.”
Bryan Salesky: Exactly, yes. And this seems to be the path of things. And I appreciate that. The difference between Elon and most people is the F-it timer goes off, you go on a rant, and go get some coffee and move on with your life. He’s like, “No. We’re going to fix it.”
Josh Davis: I mean you think about rich people, and many of them may have the F-it meter, but they’ll be like, “I can’t be bothered. Who wants to figure out how to dig tunnels under Los Angeles?” That’s a massive headache. You could be on a beach in the Bahamas.
Bryan Salesky: You’d probably have to get a permit for that. Start up companies have shut down because someone suggested there might be some regulatory thing that you have time do. Shred it, right? So you got to respect that part of Elon, right?
Alex Roy: Oh, absolutely.
Bryan Salesky: I think that’s how it started Alex. That’s my…
Alex Roy: Hang on a second. So I understand why you are cool with self-driving cars, because you hate traffic and we all hate… Wait. What’s your deal-
Josh Davis: With self-driving cars?
Alex Roy: … adventure journalist guy? You believe in them? You support them?
Josh Davis: I do. Back in ’05, with the DARPA Grand Challenge, one of the things that occurred to me, or not occurred to me, that came out in the reporting, was that as Americans, I don’t necessarily mean the rest of world, but certainly as Americans, we like to drive, it’s part of how we define ourselves-
Bryan Salesky: I love driving.
Josh Davis: The steering wheel, the whole thing.
Bryan Salesky: The sound.
Josh Davis: The sound.
Bryan Salesky: The acceleration.
Josh Davis: And the idea that we are going to come up with an innovation that’s going to take that away, and think that Americans will just sit there willingly and be driven, it’s somehow, un-American.
Bryan Salesky: But we’re not doing that. We are not taking away people’s freedoms.
Alex Roy: But there are some companies who want to.
Bryan Salesky: But the people who are doing this for real in the industry, they are not taking away people’s freedom to drive.
Josh Davis: I recall an announcement from Ford a couple years ago, where the CEO said that they were going to be removing the steering wheel, accelerator, and brake-
Bryan Salesky: In one car, which is purpose built to take you around city traffic, right? Where you don’t want to be driving, Josh. You don’t want to be driving. Who wants to be in these congested cities? Traffic everywhere, pedestrians flying out in front of you. Taxi cabs with push bars, pushing you literally, physically, out of the way. Who wants to drive in that? Nobody. That’s what those cars are built for. You will still be able to get a Mustang and take it into the hills and have a freaking amazing time, blaring-
Josh Davis: And be a real American.
Bryan Salesky: … blaring Springsteen and whatever else-
Alex Roy: Are you guys making fun of me?
Bryan Salesky: Whatever you want. America. You will be able to do that.
Josh Davis: Will you be able to drive from New York to Los Angeles in 32 hours?
Bryan Salesky: Yes. Always. This is one of the most misunderstood things about self-driving. I’m so glad we that we’ve gotten onto this topic.
Alex Roy: The only reason I’m here is because someday Bryan, you’re going to build a vehicle that can go highway speeds plus 50%, and I’m going to get one of your guys to remove the limiter-
Bryan Salesky: Sure. And it’s going to go seven miles an hour in Bay Area traffic.
Alex Roy: But then I’m going to get some… Maybe I’m going to get you in off-hours, to remove the speed limiter from that self-driving vehicle, and I’m going to sit there, and I’m going to be the fastest autonomous cannonball guy.
Bryan Salesky: I’ve forgotten how to write code. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it.
Alex Roy: That’s crazy.
Josh Davis: Do you even need to be in the car-
Alex Roy: Yes.
Josh Davis: … if you’re setting an autonomous record?
Alex Roy: To claim the record, you have to be in the car.
Josh Davis: Well, you could just put in an inflatable Alex doll in there, so what’s the difference?
Alex Roy: One could, but you have to have a measure of risk, there has to be, in order to claim anything.
Bryan Salesky: Freedom to move is a fundamental right and you should be able to do it however you want, okay?
Alex Roy: I have to support that.
Bryan Salesky: Absolutely. And we just want to provide an option for people who don’t want to be driving when they’re commuting. Maybe you want to help your kid with their homework on the way from school, and you’re sitting in traffic. That’s a really important fundamental human right and we believe in that. And I think most players that are really serious about self-driving cars, also believe that.
Alex Roy: Did you basically just say that private ownership of self-driving vehicles is inevitable? Is that part of freedom?
Bryan Salesky: If you want it, yes. What I just said is that you will not be forced to give up driving.
Alex Roy: I think you’re the first CEO of a self-driving car company to say that.
Bryan Salesky: Well, I’m saying it dang it.
Alex Roy: I like that. Good.
Josh Davis: It seems to me that the evolution… there was this sense, or there has been the sense that it’s just going to be kind of night and day. All of a sudden, one day, all the steering wheels will disappear and that’s it. And I don’t think that that is actually the evolution. Going back to ’05 even, we had adaptive cruise control then.
Bryan Salesky: It’s not the evolution at all. We completely agree.
Josh Davis: It’s just like I think it’s already happening. It’s already these Trojan horse devices in these cars, where it’s just a button on your steering wheel, and you press the button and it’s adaptive cruise control, right?
Bryan Salesky: That’s right. You’re going to have a choice in the future. You’re going to have a car that allows you to drive and have a really good time, but that also prevents you from making mistakes, right? The deadly sort of mistakes. And then you’re also going to have the ability to say, “You know what? I’d rather check email, take a phone call, have a nap.” And that’s what this is about. That’s what self-driving is about Josh.
Alex Roy: Bryan, have you ever hung out with Sebastian Thrun? Isn’t he your boy?
Bryan Salesky: I worked for Sebastian once.
Alex Roy: Okay. And you know him quite well, right Davis? All right. So if he’s so smart, why is he out there shilling for a flying car?
Josh Davis: I don’t want to put words in his mouth.
Alex Roy: Speculate.
Josh Davis: I think it’s just almost an F-it sort of meter thing.
Bryan Salesky: See.
Josh Davis: Right?
Alex Roy: Things are coming full circle here.
Josh Davis: It’s like a dream. It’s been a dream forever, of every science-fiction nerd from the beginning of time.
Alex Roy: The world is 3D. Why are we only using-
Josh Davis: Why are we stuck?
Bryan Salesky: Why are we stuck?
Alex Roy: Well, I grant you that but on any near or midterm timeline, the power density of batteries, and also the technology, like blade technology-
Josh Davis: Let me put it this way. Larry Page comes up to you and he says, “Blank check, flying car”-
Alex Roy: I got this.
Josh Davis: Alex is like, “No!”
Alex Roy: No problem.
Josh Davis: “No, I’m not interested-”
Bryan Salesky: And not just that. I’m going to have two companies because I don’t know which concept will actually work.
Alex Roy: Yep, I’ve got-
Josh Davis: Two blank checks.
Bryan Salesky: Two blank checks.
Josh Davis: So you don’t say no to that.
Bryan Salesky: You take the check Alex.
Josh Davis: You take the check Alex.
Alex Roy: When do we start?
Josh Davis: Yeah, you take the check. So that was a pretty easy one. What else you got?
Alex Roy: That was my best shot.
Bryan Salesky: But have you noticed, some of the greatest inventions come about from people’s F-it timers? You’re just like, “I’m fed up. I want to be able to just fly above all this mess.” Who wouldn’t want that?
Alex Roy: Your whole shtick, and it’s a great one, is that you find the craziest stories in the world and you write about them, and they become movies. So what’s the craziest thing you’ve discovered that has not yet been made into a film? What would Bryan and I want to watch that we have not yet been able to, that you’ve found?
Josh Davis: Wow.
Alex Roy: It’s perfectly transportation-related.
Josh Davis: It’s happening right now, in this room.
Alex Roy: That’s good. You’re good. Come on.
Josh Davis: It’s called Argo, Part 2.
Bryan Salesky: That feels so nice.
Alex Roy: This guy’s good.
Bryan Salesky: It is good.
Alex Roy: Is that the answer?
Josh Davis: Well, Argo was a pretty good hit for us.
Alex Roy: Coincidentally, right, Bryan, you didn’t name the company after the movie, right?
Josh Davis: Or did you?
Bryan Salesky: No, we didn’t actually. We just sort of made it up, but we really did.
Alex Roy: But had you seen the movie?
Bryan Salesky: Of course I had, yeah.
Alex Roy: But you literally were like, “I will name it Argo but is has nothing to do with that movie.”
Bryan Salesky: The movie was not in our… After we’d settled on it we said, “Oh, gee. There is also the movie.” And there’s a quote in the movie, but we’re not going to go there.”
Josh Davis: I think we already did. “Argo (beep) yourself.”
Alex Roy: [REDACTED] I don’t know why [REDACTED]
Bryan Salesky: Exactly.
Alex Roy: I literally don’t know why that isn’t the company shirt.
Josh Davis: That should be the sub-title of the company.
Alex Roy: Why isn’t it the company shirt?
Bryan Salesky: That was the one demerit on the idea, but we were like—
Alex Roy: Demerit? That movie’s awesome.
Josh Davis: What are you talking about?
Bryan Salesky: No. The quote. But we were like, “Come on, everything’s got to probably… Let’s just roll with it.”
Alex Roy: All right. So what’s the next project? What are you working on?
Josh Davis: We have a TV show coming out on Apple’s new streaming service in January. It’s a eight-part series about immigrants in America, produced between Epic, me and the other Josh, and Kumail Nanjiani, Alan Yang, Lee Eisenberg who just did Good Boys, came out last weekend. We’ll see. It’s interesting to see how Apple’s TV service will be received.
Alex Roy: Aren’t they making everyone shoot 8K or –
Bryan Salesky: That would be such an Apple thing to do.
Alex Roy: Is that true?
Josh Davis: We did not have to use an Apple camera.
Alex Roy: Wow.
Josh Davis: No.
Alex Roy: What I’m trying to bait you into talking about here is the thing that no one wants to talk about but you and I.
Bryan Salesky: Stories?
Alex Roy: The big one. So you’re a fan of Michael Crichton, right?
Josh Davis: Yeah.
Alex Roy: And every book he writes is like a theoretical, worst case scenario. DNA; let’s build some dinosaurs. So what’s the self-driving one you’re working on?
Josh Davis: Oh yeah.
Alex Roy: What’s the worst thing that could happen in self-driving cars?
Josh Davis: I wrote a script with Walter Korshak about imagining what would happen if a self-driving car were to kill somebody, which is something that obviously, is a big topic. I’m not the only one to think about it. But in this case, I was interested in the idea of this stage play that got turned into a movie in the 50s, called 12 Angry Men. And 12 Angry Men basically, takes place in one room and it’s a jury trial. The 12 people have to decide the guilt or innocence of a murderer. In the script that Walter and I wrote, we imagine the CEO of a self-driving car company on trial for manslaughter. And the jurors have to decide who’s responsible.
Alex Roy: And when did you begin work on this?
Josh Davis: I had the idea about four years ago and we started working on it two years ago.
Alex Roy: Had you finished it before or after the incident?
Josh Davis: We actually set it in Phoenix, perhaps for obvious reasons, because Phoenix was a hotbed of testing. And we finished the script, and about a month-and-a-half later, the fateful incident happened.
Josh Davis: It’s not based on anybody, for the record. It is a character that is an invention. In part because we wanted to look at different elements of tech culture. What drives tech culture? As we’re talking about earlier, this F-it meter. You want to create something good. We’re in this midst of this broader conversation nationally, internationally, “Is tech a good thing or has tech gone off the rails and is there to control our minds?” And I think that’s part of what this film looks at, right? Who makes these decisions that end up impacting us, though that’s one of the powers of tech; a small group of people make a series of decisions that have global implications.
Bryan Salesky: Is the CEO kind of like a good guy that you-
Josh Davis: We don’t know. That’s the whole point.
Alex Roy: Oh, you don’t want to give up the plot.
Josh Davis: We don’t know. That’s what the jury has to decide.
Bryan Salesky: Got you.
Alex Roy: So-
Josh Davis: You, over the course of the jury trial, there’s-
Bryan Salesky: You find out.
Josh Davis: Well, it goes back and forth. Because they start looking at the code, at the problem tickets that have come up over time, because all of this has been entered into evidence. And so you can start to see when things were flagged, and how people reacted to them.
Alex Roy: So you’re a fan of movie, Rashomon?
Josh Davis: Yes.
Alex Roy: So what’s your take on the Boeing crashes recently? That seems to be an interesting situation because there’s no one person decided to do something, “I’m going to do something.” It’s a cascading series of errors-
Josh Davis: That’s an interesting question. What I’m imagining in this script will happen at some point, right? There will be lots of legal cases around self-driving cars. And one question is, is it even realistic to think that it’ll boil down to one person being charged? Because thousands of people are involved, right? It’s maybe a bit reductive. But then if there are thousands of people involved, who bears responsibility? It goes back to what we’re saying a little bit earlier, it’s very American for us to want to drive and be in control, and yet, that has led to 48,000 deaths a year.
Alex Roy: Yeah, 40. Now it’s 40.
Josh Davis: A lot. A lot of deaths every year because we want to be in control. And if there is a solution that will radically reduce the number of those deaths, we believe; self-driving cars have that potential to reduce the number of deaths, would we throw the baby out with the bathwater because the car killed somebody and we don’t know who to blame?
Alex Roy: Well, it’s also very American to say, “Someone must be at fault. There has to be one guy who’s going to take the hit,” as opposed to saying, “Maybe this is a cultural problem, so we need a cultural solution. By making culture good we can resolve this, as apposed to blaming someone.”
Bryan Salesky: Yeah, it’s incredible how people have become numb to the numbers when it relates to deaths-
Josh Davis: Yeah, 40,000 deaths. You don’t see headlines about that.
Bryan Salesky: You don’t see headlines about it. Very rarely do-
Josh Davis: But then one self-driving car, and I get why it’s a headline, but I’m not sure that the dialogue is taking into consideration the 40,000 people whose lives are… not just 40,000 people who do die, but all the families. And then who’s to blame there, right? Maybe we’re okay with it. I think there’s a little bit of psychology they are saying, “Okay, these 40,000 people, they were drunk,” or, “It was their fault. They made a mistake.” Or, “They swerved,” or, “They’re bad drivers.” And a little bit of. “They deserve to die.” Like we maybe somehow process it that way. And it allows us not to really think about it.
Alex Roy: So Uber, Uber settled with the family of Elaine Herzberg. And I want to say we’ve moved on, but the march of technology is moving on. These cars are coming, they’re coming. And when I ask you what’s the worst that could happen, the answer I thought you were going to give was that companies, or the whole sector, are set back as a result of a company being a bad actor. That the good actors are set back and slowed down. And the solution, the cultural change technology is delayed 10 years.
Alex Roy: And according to Rand corporation it will cost hundreds of thousands of more lives if the technology that the good actors want to provide, does not deploy because a bad actor has caused the whole sector to suffer. I thought that was going to be the answer, but it’s not the answer.
Josh Davis: I think that’s accurate. I agree with that except with one small change, which is I don’t view it as being a good actor, bad actor thing. I think it’s inevitable that the cars will end up hurting people, it just has to happen; whether you’re a good actor or a bad actor. You could be the best actor in the world and-
Bryan Salesky: Because of mistakes are flaws? Is that what you’re thinking?
Josh Davis: Not necessarily because of mistakes or flaws. If somebody suddenly runs in front of a car, and there’s nothing the car can do.
Bryan Salesky: That happens today.
Josh Davis: Correct. So that’s not a good actor, bad actor thing. In other words, the cars will inevitably kill somebody and we will be faced with the reality of that.
Alex Roy: I agree. I would take it a step further because we tolerate… The self-driving car companies, I actually think there’s a good actor, bad actor delineation, because the good actors are acting in good faith, and developing in good faith, and making a best-effort to do it one way, and some other companies don’t feel that way. Where as in human driving on the road today, hardly anyone is making a good-faith effort to be a good driver; even the very best drivers probably have-
Josh Davis: Not even you?
Alex Roy: Most of the time. I’m not going to lie. For a long time I was taking a lot of risks that I wouldn’t take today.
Bryan Salesky: He drives really cautiously now.
Alex Roy: I do.
Bryan Salesky: He does.
Josh Davis: Yeah?
Bryan Salesky: He took our driver training, and now he’s even more cautious.
Alex Roy: Well, I had a baby, and also, I’m trying to be part of the solution of safety, and not just an outsider, heckling.
Bryan Salesky: That’s so thoughtful.
Josh Davis: Yeah. The new Alex; Alex 2.0.
Alex Roy: I leave 10 days on another-
Bryan Salesky: 53.0
Josh Davis: 53.0
Bryan Salesky: He’s like a-
Josh Davis: 18.6
Bryan Salesky: Correct.
Alex Roy: Davis, on September 15th, I’m going cross-country again in a vintage Cannonball, you should come along.
Josh Davis: Okay.
Alex Roy: Bryan…
Bryan Salesky: I’ve been waiting for the invite. He keeps talking about it around me-
Josh Davis: Look, it’s only 32 hours.
Alex Roy: Well, to be clear, this one is not my car. I was asked to be a passenger and I will be. But next year, if you want to prep a vehicle, it’s pre ’79 vehicles, under $3,000. But that’s a whole other episode.
Bryan Salesky: It really is.
Josh Davis: You should do the episode from the car.
Bryan Salesky: Well-
Alex Roy: I think that the great… I’m really shocked that there has not been… The NTSB looks at Tesla autopilot crashes, and they look at trains, they look at planes, but where is the script about a human driver caused a crash and that trial? Like deconstructing that level, because it happens. In Arizona, when Elaine Herzberg was killed, and nine other people were killed that night by human drivers, and there’s not a single news story about it.
Bryan Salesky: Well, they’re also limited resource, right? They work on behalf of the public. They have to go where the public interest is, right? Which means that they’re responding to things that start to gain traction and have headlines around it. And this is the sad truth is that most human-caused accidents never get reported on…
Josh Davis: We’re somehow not scared of it. We’re scared of these cars. It taps into all sorts of narratives. It taps into the narrative, like the Terminator narrative. Taps into the machines taking over narrative. It makes us feel like we’re going to be replaced as a species.
Bryan Salesky: Even some automation stuff doesn’t really get a lot of reporting. So an example is, just last week I was watching CBS Morning News, and they showed a Tesla with somebody sitting back, arms folded, fast asleep. And here’s the reporting, it wasn’t outrage. The reporting was, it’s kind of funny, and after talking about it the conclusion was, “Well we’re glad no one got hurt.” And they moved on to the next segment.
Alex Roy: By the way, that particular example. And it’s-
Bryan Salesky: Does that mean that we’re getting numb to this as well? That reporting would maybe suggest it.
Alex Roy: One could actually do a whole class just about that video and their interpretation of it.
Bryan Salesky: And for those who don’t know, autopilot is not autopilot.
Alex Roy: Right.
Josh Davis: There’s this-
Bryan Salesky: It’s an assist feature.
Josh Davis: … great, slash-
Bryan Salesky: You should not be asleep. Sorry.
Josh Davis: … infamous story here on 280, of this guy who was passed out drunk I believe, and flying down 280, and the cops come up alongside and honk at him. He’s out. The car is going, I don’t know, 60, 65. The only way the cops can think to get him to pull over, is pull in front… They shut the freeway down, and then they pull in front of him and slow their car down-
Bryan Salesky: They slowed the car. They slowed it down to a stop.
Josh Davis: Slowed it down to a stop.
Bryan Salesky: Which is pretty clever. I give the-
Josh Davis: Very clever.
Bryan Salesky: … cops a lot of credit.
Josh Davis: Very, on-the-fly thinking.
Bryan Salesky: Totally. No, it’s good.
Josh Davis: But, what I will say about that is, if the guy indeed, was passed out drunk, at least he wasn’t driving.
Alex Roy: Ish, yeah. The funny thing about Tesla autopilot is it is a form of autopilot, but that the word has been conflated with self-driving autonomy, which it is not.
Bryan Salesky: It’s a terrible word. We actually have a real terminology and definitions issue now in this industry as a result. Then when we go to explain it, we talk about SAE levels.
Josh Davis: Right. Level 1. Yeah. And then you’ve got GM saying, “Super drive.”
Alex Roy: Super Cruise.
Josh Davis: I’m sorry, super cruise, right.
Bryan Salesky: If you’re making a movie about this, super drive would be a great name-
Josh Davis: That’d be a good title, Super Cruise.
Bryan Salesky: No, it’s a total nightmare. Think about it. I have to actually remind myself on occasion that, “Oh, this doesn’t have adaptive cruise control. I actually need to control speed manually,” when I get a rental car sometime. I have to remember that.
Alex Roy: I drive down from SF to Palo Alto, Argo office sometimes, and if I’m not in a Tesla, because I drive Tesla, my skills are terribly degraded.
Josh Davis: That’s why you’re becoming more cautious, because you’re forgetting how to drive.
Alex Roy: That’s also true.
Bryan Salesky: Could be.
Alex Roy: No, it’s true. When I drive a car, when I actually want to drive, I make sure to drive a car that has no automation. So I’m scared into paying attention.
Bryan Salesky: So now, let’s really start to add this together. So now the next generation of drivers are coming up. Drivers’ education is not really a thing anymore. They don’t really do it in most schools. It’s increasingly hard to find a company that will train. There’s a real skills sort of deficit now happening, right? I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but I get so annoyed when people don’t understand that the left lane, you’re not supposed to be going less than the speed limit-
Alex Roy: I think that’s an American thing.
Bryan Salesky: But is it though? I wonder if it’s actually generational.
Josh Davis: That’s the fast lane man.
Alex Roy: Who’s the oldest person in the room? Me?
Bryan Salesky: I think it’s because there’s no driver education. Of course you’re the oldest guy in the room. Sorry.
Alex Roy: I don’t remember anyone ever treating the left lane in this country the way they treat it in Germany. And I think it’s cultural. I think it’s because Americans have a sense of exceptionalism-
Bryan Salesky: That is cultural.
Josh Davis: Except in Montana, right? Well, they used to not have a speed limit in Montana. I think they now do.
Bryan Salesky: But my point is there’s not even-
Josh Davis: In certain areas.
Bryan Salesky: They’re not even in a classroom where they’re told. So how do they know?
Josh Davis: So you did drivers’ ed, right?
Bryan Salesky: I did, yes.
Josh Davis: You did driver’s ed? Both of you.
Alex Roy: I did. I did.
Josh Davis: Yeah, I did too.
Bryan Salesky: Only because I was in New Jersey at the time. When I first got my license they forced you to.
Josh Davis: I still have this image in my mind of the fact that the instructor had a brake on the passenger side. I loved that.
Alex Roy: Mine too, yeah.
Bryan Salesky: Oh, yeah, it was like a-
Alex Roy: I actually thought that was cool, yeah. It was a single bar, right?
Bryan Salesky: It was mechanical, absolutely.
Josh Davis: But they talk now, I’ve heard people say that this is the last generation to get a driver’s license.
Bryan Salesky: See, yeah. I honestly don’t think that.
Alex Roy: You know who said that? I’ll say it.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah, who said it?
Alex Roy: Chris Urmson said it, and-
Bryan Salesky: No, he didn’t say that. No. He didn’t say that. What he said was that… He was talking about his kid, “Hopefully, my kid won’t need to get a driver’s license.” But what he meant was if he doesn’t want to drive. Implied there, was a choice. He wants him to not have to get a license-
Alex Roy: You’re defending Chris Urmson.
Bryan Salesky: I’m just interpreting what he said.
Alex Roy: That’s very magnanimous of you.
Bryan Salesky: Chris is a good guy, that’s not what he meant.
Alex Roy: All right. And I’m saying he may be a good guy, and we’ve met, and he’s always gracious and kind to me.
Josh Davis: Well, whether he said it or not, the point being that-
Alex Roy: But what he said, in the role he is in, his words mattered like your words matter. And his words set off my career into laying waste to BS in this sector, because I’m terrified of the people who are not like you Bryan. The people who will say, “You don’t need a license. In fact, you don’t even want to drive.” No one’s going to drive. No one’s going to own a car, it’s over.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah, I have a real issue with that.
Alex Roy: We live in warrens. It’s over.
Josh Davis: I do think that as these cars come online, and obviously it’s going to happen, whether it happens in one year, or five years, 10 years, 20 years, it’s going to happen, and in a certain point, why go through the pain in the ass of doing driver’s ed, which totally sucks, right? I don’t know what your experience was but it was very boring and a pain in the ass-
Bryan Salesky: My dad let me steer his truck when I was five. I grew up in Detroit, so that’s just what happens there. So I kind of enjoyed it, but yeah.
Josh Davis: Well, but having your dad teach you how to drive, great.
Bryan Salesky: It’s true.
Josh Davis: But sitting in the classroom, doing driver’s ed-
Bryan Salesky: Yeah. Having some dude in the passenger seat, twitchy on the brake-
Josh Davis: Over the summer. Having to do a week of driver’s ed in summertime is not a good use for summertime.
Alex Roy: Davis, do you have kids?
Josh Davis: I do, yeah.
Alex Roy: How old are they?
Josh Davis: 12 and nine.
Alex Roy: Okay. So you know some of the most important people in the self-driving sector, what would it take for you to feel comfortable to put your kids in a self-driving vehicle? Why should we trust these things? How do we get there? They’re going to work eventually.
Josh Davis: I’m already there.
Alex Roy: How’d you get there?
Josh Davis: I just think that humans are not very good drivers. We have 40,000 deaths. So-
Bryan Salesky: We have a lot of statistics that suggest this.
Alex Roy: So that’s it?
Josh Davis: I’ve been in a number of self-driving cars. They have not completely impressed me.
Bryan Salesky: You have not been in Argo car.
Josh Davis: I have not.
Bryan Salesky: Yes. We will get you in an Argo car.
Josh Davis: Okay. I’d like to see.
Bryan Salesky: You’re going to enjoy it.
Josh Davis: I’ve driven around Palo Alto in other self-driving cars.
Bryan Salesky: No. Let’s take you into a city where there’s city driving.
Josh Davis: Okay.
Bryan Salesky: We’ll take you to Miami.
Alex Roy: You say you’re already there, but you’re-
Josh Davis: Bryan says he’s going to take me to Miami. That sounds like a party.
Bryan Salesky: Do you like Miami?
Josh Davis: I do like Miami.
Bryan Salesky: Miami’s awesome, right?
Josh Davis: I love Miami.
Bryan Salesky: Dude, we’re going to take a ride in an Argo car in Miami. You’re going to love it.
Josh Davis: But I just think that in all the hype, and a sense of panic and fear, we’re losing sight of the fact that humans are not that good either, and that the cars are probably at the same level, if not better. And so I would be pretty comfortable with my kids in a self-driving car.
Bryan Salesky: I’m pleased to hear you say that. Given all the other adventure and stuff you’ve done in your life-
Alex Roy: Hold on.
Josh Davis: The kids tend to travel with me on my journeys, so they’ve had a lot of… My son said recently, “Papa, he knows how to have fun up until the point of getting us killed.”
Alex Roy: That’s where you and most drivers differ.
Bryan Salesky: That’s good. It’s actually a compliment.
Alex Roy: But here’s the thing. People get into vehicles, taxis, all the time with human drivers that they don’t know, and “Yeah, it’s totally cool.”
Josh Davis: How many sketchy taxi drivers have you had?
Alex Roy: Many.
Bryan Salesky: Plenty.
Alex Roy: And we could rate them, but that doesn’t make a difference if you need a ride, you’re already in the car. How many people would stop the car and get out? And yet, there’s this huge Chasm to get people to trust a self-driving vehicle. The only reason I trust them, I don’t trust them all, is because I’ve met some of the folks building them, and I trust the people building them, therefore I trust them, based on the people. I have the privilege of having met a lot of the people. You’ve met some of them too. And even you said, “You don’t trust them all.” So-
Josh Davis: I didn’t say that.
Alex Roy: Okay. Well then, how do we get the mass of people who are never going to sit in a room with some of the folks we’re talking about, to trust them?
Josh Davis: I think it’s-
Alex Roy: It can’t just be fear.
Josh Davis: I think it’s eventually, just going to be a numbers game. It’s going to be a very stark presentation of 40,000 deaths versus-
Alex Roy: Less than 40,000.
Josh Davis: An error rate. And it’s just going to be overwhelmingly convincing.
Bryan Salesky: To add some color to that-
Josh Davis: And it’s not about the people really, to me.
Alex Roy: Interesting.
Josh Davis: I don’t need to know Bryan-
Bryan Salesky: You just want the numbers.
Josh Davis: I want the numbers.
Bryan Salesky: To add some color to it, right? The vast number of crashes are actually unreported. They don’t have police reports associated with them. I got rear-ended recently in Pittsburgh, and a state patrolman rolled on the median on his PA and said, “Everybody good?” I gave him a thumbs up and he carried on. So there’s no police report. Those things don’t come about.
Josh Davis: Yeah, because all we’re talking about right now is 40,000 deaths. We’re not talking about the fender benders and all those. And the injuries.
Bryan Salesky: That’s right. And I was rear-ended, and I had severe whiplash; my neck hurt for two months after that, right? And that’s never gets reported. So we actually see, through our test miles, with people in the car, we report out. Internally, we keep track of all of the crazy stuff we see. So we’ll see red light run-
Josh Davis: From a human driver.
Bryan Salesky: From another human driver, not the autonomous vehicle. And we actually have started to generate kind of heat maps of where the most dangerous intersections are in the cities that we operate because we see that these red light runs happen frequently in specific areas, right? And we actually are at a point now where we’ll even start to route around those intersections; just avoid them if you can. You can’t do that in all cases. You can’t avoid human drivers obviously, so there’s some residual risk. But the point is that a lot of the crashes that happen, they don’t get reported. There aren’t good statistics about it. We generate our own and then compare it to the performance of our car.
Josh Davis: I think we need proselytizers. I think we need people to explain the reality of these numbers, of the technology, but I think it’s also a little bit dangerous to overly associate a technology with a person.
Alex Roy: Like Elon Musk, who is the de-facto spokesperson; right or wrong?
Josh Davis: Think about computers. A computer’s a computer, right? And there’s lots of people responsible for computers. We don’t say, “Oh, Bill Gates.” Right? He had a big role to play. But your analysis of the value of a computer is not based on how you feel about Bill Gates.
Bryan Salesky: That exactly… Absolutely not-
Josh Davis: Right? And I think this whole sector of self-driving cars should have a similar trajectory, where it shouldn’t be about one person. It’s not about one person. It’s about a technology that’s going to make things better for everybody. And to the extent that it gets tied up with somebody and then our hopes and fears and that person (beep) up in some way, right? Which is inevitable. Humans are fallible. It’s the wrong direction.
Alex Roy: But hasn’t every sector had its ambassadors who ward publicly? I know with Westinghouse and Edison, and Tesla and Ford, all these guys, and then over time, they retire, they fade away, and then it’s just assumed to be ubiquitous. Doesn’t every technology need its public ambassadors and characters?
Josh Davis: Yeah, yes. You’re right. We understand things based on stories and humans tell stories. And somebody needs to tell the story. So we are tied to that but it is a risk because if you end up loving the storyteller and lose sight of the broader picture, you have a problem. So that’s the burden of the storyteller.
Bryan Salesky: And the storytelling needs to be authentic, and it needs to be in a way that it reaches people at a fundamental level, to where they can really understand. I think there’s a lot that’s happening right now, and one reasons we have this podcast is to try to, in somewhat of an entertaining way, we want to let people know what autonomous vehicles are all about. And-
Alex Roy: Or not about.
Bryan Salesky: Or not about. That’s right. And we’re trying to do some of our own storytelling Josh. But what do you think are some of the most effective ways to get the word out there and sort of de-myth the whole subject for people? People who are in communities stay that seen self-driving cars day-in and day-out. What’s the way to—
Josh Davis: Yeah. Right now, I don’t think people fully understand it. They haven’t seen a lot of it, practically outside of certain neighborhoods, areas. If you’re in Oklahoma, what exposure do you have to self-driving cars? If you’re in Montana? There are places obviously, like Miami, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, obviously San Francisco, where people have some more exposure to it. But even then… I grew up and live in San Francisco, and I see the cars all the time, driving around, and know many of the people who were responsible for them, and it still seems like a slightly foreign object in my city. This thing with these weird spinning things rolling around, they look a little different. As somebody who’s perhaps, more knowledgeable than the average person, and it still feel a little sense of fear when I see these things. So I don’t know. I think that’s Alex’s job.
Bryan Salesky: That’s funny because-
Josh Davis: I think Alex has got to figure this out.
Alex Roy: I do get a lot of hate mail from people who’re saying that I betrayed human drivers because I’m trying to help Bryan solve this. But my argument would be everyone wins by Bryan solving this.
Bryan Salesky: But what this says is solving what and who cares? For it to be less fearful means that people need to have some idea of how it works and why it’s better than a human driver, and we’re not telling that story yet, probably.
Josh Davis: And what you’re up against is a massive narrative, a number of massive narratives that have billions of dollars behind them. I’m talking about the Terminator franchise, like everything Hollywood has ever done. How do you counteract all of that storytelling?
Bryan Salesky: So we need to make our own movie. That’s it!
Josh Davis: It’s going to be a great movie. A car drives down the road and nothing happens.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah, well, that’s the thing. This is the thing, right?
Josh Davis: Not very dramatic.
Bryan Salesky: Yeah. It’s boring but it works.
Alex Roy: Because eventually, in the future, science-fiction is going to invert because science-fiction, since science-fiction film… going back to literature from the 19th century, has been about fear of change, fear of automation, fear of new. Eventually, when automation, or autonomous automation, because they’re not the same thing, is ubiquitous, a science-fiction file of the future is going to be a person has decided to take a vintage car out of the garage and drive it on a road, without any external… and just drive. They’re going to kill people. That’s going to be a horror movie.
Josh Davis: One of my instincts is tied to what Alex has done. I think there has to be more kind of adventures where the car, it plays a role in the adventure, and I don’t quite know what it is, but is it like a journey from here to Tierra del Fuego in a self-driving car, right?
Bryan Salesky: It’s a story.
Josh Davis: It’s a story. And the car gets you there. That’s the promise of the all of this. The whole point is that you get to go somewhere.
Bryan Salesky: And you’re talking about the experience and, “Oh, by the way, here’s all the things that didn’t happen,” right? We didn’t get into an accident, and it was actually—
Josh Davis: You made it to Tierra del Fuego. How do you get across the Darien Gap in a self-driving car with no roads? That’s a story.
Bryan Salesky: Good idea.
Alex Roy: I guess the point of selling anything, or selling anything new is sell people something they’ve never seen before, or they couldn’t have before, better than they’ve ever experienced before. And the joy of trains has larger been lost, certainly in this country. But the Orient Express, these long-distance trains, that spectacle, that magic can be recreated, reborn in a new way when self-driving cars’ operational domain expands. And then there is an entirely new category of travel, of education, of experience, where you can take your family and say, “I just want to see these things,” and they’ll be all these routes, and they’ll all be packaged. That’s something you cannot buy today for any amount of money. There isn’t a chauffeur you can hire, who’s also an historian, who’s also a great storyteller, who could take you through that.
Alex Roy: But 15 years ago, I had a friend who knew the guys from Blue Man Group. And they had a startup… I forget what it was called. The technology was this glass. It was a German glass. They were going to put in this bus, which could project different things exterior and interior. And we were brainstorming like, “Well, what could we use that for?” And one of the guys said, “Well, we’ll have a bus drive through Manhattan and the exterior we’ll sell ads, on the interior we’ll project characters onto New York city streets, and it’ll be like a musical.” And I’m like, “That’s not big enough for me. I would want… and Saving Private Ryan just come out. I’d want to get into a vehicle that took me from one end of Normandy to the other, and started today and went back in time, and then I could actually drive through the invasion, and I could also tell it to turn around. I’d want to drive right through Gettysburg. I’d want to drive through a major American city and I’d want to see the history of that city over 60 minutes. And today I have a baby, I want to see that with my kids. And if I can put four people in there, I don’t need a driver. All boxes are ticked for me. And that’s what I think the future of tourism is going to look like.
Bryan Salesky: That would be a pretty incredible experience, wouldn’t it?
Josh Davis: As you look at the early history of driving, and I think there’s some useful lessons from how in the early 1900s, people got used to the idea of driving. I’m thinking of the story of Henry Ford and Edison, going on their camping trip, the Vagabonds, where they traveled all over the US and car camped. And I think there may be some equivalent here, where a group of people go on an autonomous journey, and some sort of event like that. That event captured the public’s imagination. It was documented by the newspapers all across the United States, each town they rolled into. There’s something like that.
Bryan Salesky: It’s about experiences. That’s what it is.
Alex Roy: I’d love to have a randomized journey that’s guaranteed to take me to interesting places that I don’t know. And-
Bryan Salesky: It’s the new form of the American road trip.
Josh Davis: I love it that you could get in a car, right? Now, Uber, you type in where you want to go. I’ve thought about this before. You could have one button that’s kind of like destination unknown.
Bryan Salesky: My dad and I, every summer when I would visit, he would say, “Hey, let’s go take a road trip.” That’s like an American thing to me. It’s like a thing. It’s cool. This would be a whole new way to do this—
Alex Roy: Speaking of extra features to add to that, I’d want that destination unknown to guarantee that I’ll go somewhere I’ve never been, and I want it to also guarantee that I don’t run into anyone I know. That’s the use of data for me.
Josh Davis: Right. That’s what AI does.
Alex Roy: All right. Josh. If we want to learn more about you, where do we find you online?
Alex Roy: And are you on Twitter?
Josh Davis: Yep. JoshuaDavisnow.
Alex Roy: That’s good. This Davis guy’s good.
Bryan Salesky: He’s a real pro.
Alex Roy: The thing about Davis that that I thought was interesting was he’s one of these people that in another life, is one of these talking heads in television who finds something bad in everything. You know what I mean?
Bryan Salesky: Absolutely.
Alex Roy: And I’m really glad he’s not one of them because then we’d be like Online FOX News, or CNBC—
Bryan Salesky: He’s not one of those type of people, no.
Alex Roy: Also, what was really interesting is he looks a lot younger than he is.
Bryan Salesky: He does have young looks.
Alex Roy: Yeah, which is interesting. It’s weird for someone who’s done so many dangerous things.
Bryan Salesky: He’s definitely an adventurer. And if he has the scars to prove it, it’s not obvious.
Alex Roy: It’s funny, because you also look a lot younger than you are.
Bryan Salesky: I still think I’m…
Alex Roy: What? But you are. But you look even younger. You ever find that when you walk into a room and you sit down, and you’re the first person in the room, and other people arrive, that they look at you, they say, “Oh, do you know where Bryan is?”
Bryan Salesky: That does happen on occasion.
Alex Roy: How often has that happened?
Bryan Salesky: It happens frequently, sure. Yeah. I keep a low profile, so…
Alex Roy: All right, let’s roll this up. If you want to learn more about the No Parking podcast, please check us out online at Noparkingpodcast.com. You can also please follow us on Twitter @noparkingpod. If you would like to be a guest on our show or know someone who would like to be a guest, please email me at Alex at Noparkingpodcast.com. Have a great week. We’ll see you next week.