Alex Davies, journalist at Business Insider and “biographer” of the autonomous vehicle industry, joins Alex and Bryan to talk about his recent book Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car. Davies chronicles the story of the self-driving industry, from the DARPA Grand Challenges to the present, and Bryan offers an insider take on the early days and the toughest questions from back then that the industry still wrestles with today.

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Episode Transcript

Alex Roy

Hey, everyone. This is No Parking, the podcast that cut through the hype around self-driving technology and artificial intelligence. I’m Alex Roy.

One of the funniest things as some people think blogs and short articles can replace actual research and reading books. Even something as popular as self-driving has history that is barely understood. If you go back 20, 30 years, there just aren’t that many books that seriously get into self-driving. And I can only think of a couple where I actually learn something.

But today, we’re going to talk about a book I love so much, I bought it. In addition to the galley copy that was sent to me, I actually bought a copy. So I marked up that galley almost on every other page. The book is Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car. It came out last month and it was awesome. It traces the history of autonomous vehicles back to its more recent roots, and that’s the DARPA Grand Challenge, which started in 2004.

If you’ve never heard of the grand challenge, first of all, you have to read this book. It’s the seminal book on this topic. But if you don’t know much about it, the back story is this. DARPA stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This is the research division of the defense department and they had this competition where they will pay a million bucks to anyone who could build an autonomous vehicle that could get 150 miles across the desert. And some of the biggest names of self-driving today were early competitors including my friend and co-host, Bryan Salesky. 

The author of Driven is Alex Davies. He’s the former transportation editor in Wired magazine. And today, he leads the transportation team at Business Insider. I’ve enjoyed his work for years, and I’m really happy to have him join Bryan and I on the podcast today. Alex, welcome to No Parking Podcast.

Alex Davies

Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Alex Roy

Now, one thing and I know it’s true, I dislike watching media that I’m in or that’s about things I’ve done in the past. And I know that Bryan, he lived the story of your book. And so, this is kind of a big deal. It’s great to have you on to talk about it because perhaps you can tell us some of the stories that shocked you the most as you were researching the history of self-driving cars. What was the most interesting thing you discovered that was not commonly known?

Alex Davies

I wanted to fill in a lot of the narrative that was out there because I traced the history of this technology from its early days through the catalytic events that were the DARPA Challenges to Google’s creation of its team. And then kind of this boom around 2014, 2015, 2016 of all these new companies coming out. And I started reporting on that space at Wired around 2014. So I was covering what was happening then.

A lot of people had written a lot of magazine, newspaper stories, documentaries about the DARPA Challenges, and the thing that I really wanted to do was to fill in that middle space. And I think, for me, if there’s any intellectual coup in the book, it was really trying to do the legwork of connecting those two things and understanding what happened there.

Because, I think, looking at especially the early years of Google’s project, those hadn’t been much written on the project. It was very secretive. And I feel like Google started talking a lot more publicly about the work it was doing around the time of Firefly, or at least that when I started really paying attention to it. And the questions that I wanted to answer really came up in those middle years after the Larry 1K, the big first challenge the Google team took on.

And the thing that really struck me was trying to get inside the heads of people like Bryan and his teammates at Google as they started to tackle the big questions that we still ask today, which is how do you answer questions like, how do you know when this product is done? How do you know when it’s safe? How do you talk about safety? How do you prove safety? What’s the business case for this? How do you actually build that out? And realizing that those questions came up very early in the process, and that I think they proved to be so hard that they were still trying to answer them.

Alex Roy

Of the big names, you can really count them on one had. We’ve got Sebastian Thrun, Chris Urmson, Bryan Salesky, Anthony Levandowski has been on the news recently. Did anyone decline to share the full story on their end? Was there anyone who’s a little cagey or just didn’t want to talk?

Alex Davies

I’m not sure anyone gave me the really full, full story. The goal here was to talk to enough people and get enough stories that I could tell something that I hope has had at least an approximation of the full story. I think there are a lot of people I reached out to outside kind of that main cast who didn’t want to get involved. But I talked to Bryan, I talked to Chris. I spent time with Anthony. I spent time with Sebastian.

Especially talking about the stories of the DARPA Challenges, I think, was a really helpful way to come into that reporting process because I think for obvious and good reasons, people don’t want to talk too much about proprietary stuff they’re doing now. But they looked pretty happy to talk about those early days.

It’s a full half of the book, and I think, for good reason. One, to me, it’s the most fun stuff to write about. Those kind of heady early days when everyone was pulling more or less in the same direction, and people were pretty happy to talk about that stuff.

Alex Roy

Bryan, I’ve read this book. I also read the prior book called Autonomy. It almost seems like out of date now and it really isn’t as comprehensive as Driven. Reading about what happened during the DARPA Challenges, did you know the time how monumental the event was when you were doing it?

Bryan Salesky

When we first started, no. By the end of it, I think, a real bond had formed between all of us, and just the team work, working seven days a week, what felt like 24/7 with each other. It was a close team. People who have now gone on to found companies and do really big things across a bunch of different industries actually. But I think we knew that this was the beginning of something special whatever we were going to go on to do.

The other thing was by the end of it for its time, the vehicle was really capable. We had done a lot of substantial testing just prior to the actual competition in California. And we ran through diabolical tests, tests that were never thrown at us during the qualifying events and in the actual day of the competition. The finals, I guess, they called it.

Just the performance of what it was able to do was really, really impressive. It really felt more than just a prototype in terms of its ability to reason and deal with certain situations whether it’d be blocked roadways and trying to respond dynamically from a route-planning perspective to its ability to perceive and understand what other vehicles were about to do, non-compliance at intersections, things that we frankly still work on today.

And look, it was an academic project. It’s far from a production solution but for its time, we had pushed an integrated self-driving system forward further than I think anyone else had at that point in time. And when we took a look back at it, I think everyone would say, “Wow, we accomplished a lot.”

Alex Davies

What do you think you would have done career-wise if the urban challenge hadn’t come along and Google’s team hadn’t come along and Argo hadn’t come along?

Bryan Salesky

I’m not sure. It’s a good question. So at that time, we were all still struggling with, what’s the pathway to turn this into a truly scalable consumer product? Is that a possibility? Because we knew the cost of the hardware was really expensive. There are some very exotic components, the supply chain didn’t exist. And who’s going to pay for it? And that was an issue that plagued the early days of the Google team. It’s just like, “What is the business model?”

And there was a lot of back and forth in that, and I’m sure that came across in your interviews, Alex. It was really not until kind of Uber came along and started to prove what was possible in terms of ride-hailing and doing that outside of a traditional taxi context but actually really digitalizing that. It wasn’t until then that we sort of realized, “Wait a second. We don’t need to sell a $100,000 kit to a really wealthy owner of a vehicle. We can sell miles, sell trips and spread the cost of the technology over the lifetime of the asset.” That changes everything on its head and it’s really fueled the self-driving industry.

Prior to that, I think we looked at it as we know we can do some really impressive things. We know we’re pushing the state of the art in robotics. But from a self-driving context, who can afford all these? Up to that point, and in fact, the reason I didn’t join the Google project initially was because of the fact that we had a really interesting set of projects with Caterpillar to build an autonomous mining system there. There actually was a business model and sort of a clear plan because mines … These trucks are incredibly expensive. Adding $50,000 to it is not actually that big of a deal of hardware expense and software and whatever else.

And so it’s kind of like, “All right, there’s a clear safety story. There was a clear need.” Caterpillar at that time was behind a company called Komatsu, and in terms of their autonomous vehicle offering. And now, years later, the teams that have gone on to develop all of that product for Caterpillar … I mean, Caterpillar is now on the lead. They’re number one in autonomous mining.

And some of the IP that we developed on the urban challenge actually was licensed to Caterpillar in order to really supercharge that whole effort. And so, I was attracted to the commercial pathway. I wanted to make sure whatever I was working on, that I didn’t want it to just go on the shelf. I wanted it to really get into a product someday.

Alex Roy

In one of their occurring themes of the good media coverage, Davies, some of your writing has been like what’s the business? Why are so many of these projects just never seemed to go anywhere? And I think it’s because … Well, why don’t you tell us why you think that’s true?

Alex Davies

One of the more striking thing someone said to me, this came from Dan Ammann, who is the CEO of Cruise and formerly was the president of General Motors. And I was talking to him about this as from the business point of view, and he said to me, he’s like, “You know, I can’t really think of another business where you’ve got to spend who knows how many years. You’ve got to have a thousand engineers and you’ve got to put a couple of billion dollars, and then at the end of that, you might have a product. And then, you’ve got to create the technology and then you’ve got to match it up with a use case that you know your technology can actually execute on and that is also going to produce revenue.”

Bryan Salesky

And you need significant partnerships to actually bring all of it to life. And everyone involved in the ecosystem needs to do something a little bit uneconomical on faith that it will get there so that you can then get to the significant economics that this poses if you’re successful. That’s also extremely unique.

Alex Roy

I remember reading it in 2011, it was 2011? When the big article broke about the Google self-driving project. Prior to that, I’ve always loved future technology. It just didn’t seem feasible that an autonomous vehicle would happen in my lifetime. But from that day forward, there was a sense of inevitability. This is going to happen and I’m going to ride in one somebody. I’m going to be able to pay to be in one.

Predating the events of your book, there were people who had been poking around this in the ’90s.

Bryan Salesky

This was October 9th, 2010.

Alex Roy

Wow.

Bryan Salesky

John Markoff in New York Times and I remember seeing it because I was at CMU at that time. And the headline is Google Cars Drive Themselves in Traffic. And you have to remember at that point in time, no one knew that self-driving cars were actually getting tested in the real world, on public roads. Prior to that and all the work that we did, for example in the DARPA Challenges, was largely off public roads. It was on closed courses. It was on test sites. The challenge itself was on a closed Air Force Space.

The fact that they were … This was quite a scoop for Markoff who basically, I think, called Google and said, “I know what you’re up to. I want to write an article, like it’s going to come out at some point. I’ve seen the cars,” and they sort of then needed to come out. But that was sort of a really big deal because no one really knew what the reception of that was going to be.

Alex Roy

There were some research in Germany in the ’90s and even in the early 2000s. Prior to that, was it not inevitable? Was it not obvious to people that this was going to happen someday?

Alex Davies

It was in the ’80s and ’90s that some of the technology was finally getting to a place where you could actually put it into a car, and do it. I remember someone telling me about early research at CMU with … I think it was Red Whittaker’s Terragator, this big thing that rolled along the sidewalk. And they’re like, “Well, you couldn’t fit all the compute you needed into the thing so it was connected by a cord up to an upper storey computer lab. It was actually tethered to the machines-

Bryan Salesky

That sounds about right.

Alex Davies

… that it needed. And I think it was some of that early work at CMU with the Navlab program where they started getting the computers actually into the vehicles. And sensors came along too, and it was really the advance of things like LIDAR and-

Bryan Salesky

I mean, CMU actually had prototyped their own laser back then. I mean, it’s very exotic instrument for its time for Navlab. There’s no hands across America where they used a neural net to steer the vehicle on highways from coast to coast. There’s the work that was happening in Germany with Professor Dickmanns who had led a research team and had a Mercedes van driving autonomously.

But there’s sort of that work that happened in the ’80s. Then there was this work that happened that sort of took its course through into the ’90s but there’s a long stretch of time where really nothing was happening on public roads. It was trying to figure out how to test this stuff safely off road. And then we came to the realization that, “Hold on, to develop these systems, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem. It really needed real world testing. We need real world events.” That’s just really hard at that time, especially hard to simulate.

And so, there were sort of no substitute for doing this data collection and then eventually closed-loop testing on public roads that became prevalent starting with the Google project. So I guess I have to amend what I said earlier. Sure, there was public road testing with some of those really early efforts but they weren’t at the sort of scale and with the sort of data-driven kind of mindset that we used today and how we deploy and test.

Alex Davies

What I love was figuring out how each team did their testing for the grand challenges and the urban challenge, and I know the early CMU team in the desert challenge is like, “Oh, yeah, we would like to set off smoke bombs in front of the vehicle to see how it dealt with dust,” like inflatable cars. They had three people pulling on a rope or all these little ad hoc ways of testing that worked well enough for the challenge.

But obviously, when you want a car to work in way more situations than that, you need to beef up your testing a bit.

Bryan Salesky

We tested with real cars on closed courses. GM was a major sponsor for our team so they had lent us a number of Buick somethings, I don’t remember what. We ended driving those all throughout the year leading up to the challenge and we simulated and created our own traffic scenarios the best we could. And then you use the inflatable cars for when you want to do a high-risk test to test emergency stopping or a car that cuts into you too close, can the vehicle respond as best it can?

We still do a lot of that today, but to your point, Alex, there’s no way you could simulate having dozens of vehicles all prepared to potentially do the wrong thing, pedestrian cyclists and it goes on and on. And just the layers that you see in a real urban environment is very different to replicate all of that at a test track.

Alex Roy

Davies, when you did make the decision to write the book and begin research?

Alex Davies

So this goes back to 2017 at which point I’ve been covering the self-driving industry day in and day out for three or four years. And I just kept hearing about the DARPA Challenges, one after another. And then like, I remember one of the triggering events was actually the Waymo-Uber trial because I was talking to people realizing, “Okay, this is all about LIDAR. Let me write the story why is LIDAR so important.” And one of the answers comes back to me, it’s like, “Well, LIDAR really became a fundamental tool in the urban challenge.”

And every time I talked to someone in the space, I’d say, “How did you get into this?” And they’d say, “Oh, well, I was in the grand challenges. I was in the urban challenge.” And I kind of realized there was this seminal event and then while I was at Wired, I pitched an oral history of the first grand challenge, the 2004 Grand Challenge.

And so that’s where I talked to Chris Urmson and Sebastian Thrun and Red Whittaker about it and the DARPA people who had put it together. And every person I talked to, I have a two-hour conversation with. And they were just loading me with up with more stories than I can use, stories of like how they had to deal with the desert tortoise wandering across the desert and the team of biologists went to sweep the sand, and these vehicles that were flipping over and crashing through barbed wire. I just had so much more than I could ever fit into a magazine story, and I had what proved to be a naive idea was like, “Oh, if I wrote a book, I could fit it all in there,” which just turns out the editing process is just the same. It’s just a bigger thing.

As I put it together in my head, I was like, “Well, the story is about the grand challenges are going to be great and if you can tell the story of an industry and of a technology by just following a handful of people, that’s a really great way to do the kind of … I thought about it as an origin story, like a super hero origin story of how do we get to where we are today. And it’s a book that will be future-proof in a sense because it is a history of a thing.

Alex Roy

By omission, you have the almost complete absence of Elon Musk in that history. There is this notion and the media narrative is that Tesla is dominant in self-driving, yet they have … He and the company have virtually no place in the actual history and the majority of stuff that happened up until now.

Alex Davies

I get asked about this a lot. And even when I was writing the book, I tell people I’m writing a book about self-driving cars and then say, “Oh, so it’s about Elon Musk.” I said, “No, he’ll have a place in it.” I just needed to have a restrictive lens on what I was focusing on to actually make this book doable that wouldn’t be some sprawling history trying to write about everything within this space. Musk and Tesla have no connection to the DARPA Challenges, which to me is half of the book and a really fundamental piece of what I was building on.

And Tesla stands a little bit apart from all of that because it also goes about the technology in a different way. It doesn’t have its roots in the sensor suite and the hardware and software approach that many other places do. And also, they’re not making a fully self-driving car or they have not yet made it. And my response to Tesla with full self-driving is actually show me that you have a fully self-driving car, then maybe we can talk about it.

Alex Roy

I was struck at the end by one line, which was upsetting. In Barstow, there’s this Slash X Cafe which was the location where we’re hosting a party during the DARPA Challenges. And Brian Lynn, who was the owner of that café was killed, struck by a car and killed. And I thought you could almost end the book on that note because it justifies everything that’s happened in the book in the development of self-driving cars. Did you every talk to Lynn regarding that location?

Alex Davies

Lynn died before I started my research on the project. The Slash X is kind of one of the fundamental places of the book. It’s ground zero basically for the 2004 Grand Challenge. It was based out of the Slash X, and people described this is a place where you got a steak and it hangs off both ends of the plate. The owner had died in a car crash.

And it was the kind of car crash that self-driving cars would be so well designed to make a thing of the past because it was another vehicle. It was coming head on and kind of one of those non-divided country roads and the other vehicle just drifted across the center lane. He hit him head on and he was killed. And I just thought it was really poignant and a really good place to talk about just the … We talked about the big numbers of traffic deaths, 40,000 deaths a year or whatever it is, and to be able to talk about an individual person who was killed and who had a connection to this technology.

And it spoke to, I think, a little bit of the forgotten history of the space, that none of the newspaper accounts of this crash mentioned that the Slash X was in a real way the birthplace of an industry that we’re seeing today.

Alex Roy

Of all the people you’ve tracked down, was there anyone that you wished you could have spoken to but didn’t?

Alex Davies

The person I didn’t manage to talk to who I wanted to talk to was Hans Moravec. Hans Moravec was an Austrian-born computer scientist. And I used a lot of his thinking throughout the book to talk about the difficulty of robotics. He has this point he makes called the Moravec’s paradox. It’s called where he talks about how easy it is for a human, or the things that humans think are hardest in many cases are easiest for a robot to do. Or it’s pretty easy to make a computer play chess, easy. Not the kind of thing I can do, the kind of thing a really smart person can do.

But it’s so much harder to make a robot do the things that humans do totally naturally. And I used a line in my book like it may seem more complex to play chess than to snap your fingers. But playing chess is actually just a neural trick. And it’s the kind of motor control that we have built up over billions of years of evolution that is now hard to build into robots. And that’s a lot of the trick of robotics, is recreating a human disability not just to perceive their surroundings but to make decisions about how to move through them safely and efficiently, that’s hard to recreate.

I would have liked to talk to Hans about how he developed that thinking and how it’s evolved over the years but never managed to get to him.

Bryan Salesky

What do you think are the great stories that are not being told right now in the AV space?

Alex Davies

That’s the question I ask people, so I can figure out what I need to be writing.

Bryan Salesky

I know. It’s nice to be able to ask you the question though.

Alex Davies

No. The thing I asked myself a lot about is what is the business case looked like? What do the bean counters in these companies actually sweat about in terms of how you’re going to be able to create a system and where does it go?

Bryan Salesky

The question I find the most maddening is who’s going to win, as if one company is going to automate three trillion miles that are driven every day and the partnerships necessary to conquer the entire space of goods movement and ride-hailing and trucking and so on and so forth, as if there will be one winner. Can you name? There’s very few companies that are the winner. In a space like this in the pure or mostly pure software world, I think it’s a little bit different. But the thing is this is not just software. What’s your take on that, Alex?

Alex Davies

I can easily imagine getting to a point where you don’t just have one winner. But you don’t have that many because the capabilities to make this work are, to your point, you need partnerships. You need a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of talent. I could see it shaping out a little bit like the auto industry looks today where you have a handful of big automakers in the US. You have four, the big three plus Tesla. Maybe some startups come along. You’ve got a few more in Germany and Europe and Korea, and China and Japan, but really not all that many.

I could probably name most of the big automakers in the world on two hands. I could easily see this technology getting to place like that where there are a bunch of players and everyone kind of has their own slice of the market that they go after. But a lot of the startups … I mean, we’ve already seen a lot of startups in the space get acquired or go bust or just kind of dissolved. And I think that will keep happening. It will get trimmed down. We’ll have a group that will be like an oligopoly.

Alex Roy

Are you going to write a sequel to this?

Alex Davies

I don’t think so. And probably because it would be so much harder because I’d have to follow so many more companies. This was the thing that killed me in figuring out the structure of the book, was the first half was very easy. It’s just history laid it out for me, one, two, three challenges. We’ve got it like there’s a nice natural rhythm there. And then figuring out how to chart the back half of the book which really zooms in on Google and Uber and a little bit about the automakers and then some pages about what I call like the self-driving diaspora people, who sprouted off from that early Google team and created all these different efforts.

I don’t know how I’d even go about trying to track every company or what that book would be. That would be-

Bryan Salesky

You’re going to need more than a couple of years to write it. That’s for sure.

Alex Roy

Alex, do you have any additional question you’d like to ask Bryan?

Alex Davies

Bryan, how much of your energy goes into thinking about making this a business versus making this technology?

Bryan Salesky

I spend most of my time on the business front these days certainly. We’ve got a very capable technology team.

Alex Davies

How does that feel? I mean that’s not your background, right? So, what was that shift like?

Bryan Salesky

I think that’s the fallacy. I mean all of us to a degree had to be business people. When you come out of the group that we did at Carnegie Mellon, we weren’t the type of crew that wrote papers and made our living as academics, which has its place but it isn’t what we did. I don’t have a PhD. My job was to get business and help commercialize the great technology that came out of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute.

So, I was always actively involved in business, always in pursuit of what would that business model be that would catalyze the industry in a way that really what we’ve seen in the last five, eight years is just incredible. There was no guarantee that was going to happen as I mentioned earlier. And we were obsessed with how can we take this technology and wrap it into a consumer product that was both of practical use and affordable but also would have the safety benefits that we knew it could have.

I think all of us had to be business people to a certain extent, or else we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Alex Davies

What do you tell people when they ask you when will the self-driving car be ready?

Bryan Salesky

The answer I always give is that the data is going to tell us. And I think the challenge is that no company today releases the data that we look at internally. We’re looking at some very, very technical information that is a little bit difficult to parse out unless you kind of work and live it day to day. And that’s the challenge. I think we’re all trying to figure out how can we summarize this information in a way that’s kind of more useful than what’s out there today which is next to nothing.

So, the stuff that we’re looking at though, I mean we’re looking a very detailed reports and analysis of the system performance way under the hood. People talk about sensor fusion and all of the algorithms that can see and detect the world. Under the hood, there’s a lot of moving pieces that makes that work. We’re looking at metrics and data around the performance of each of those constituent subsystems. It would take about 30 seconds as I start giving you an explanation, and your eyes will just glaze over.

So, I think that’s a little bit of the challenge. But it really is a data-driven decision and there are objectives around how good we believe those specific systems need to work where it becomes clear that the performance of it is far beyond what a human is able to do. The narrative at a high level is the system is always learning. It doesn’t regress in performance and it doesn’t get distracted and is able to contemplate and make decisions far faster than a human. You add all that together, that’s already a pretty good start. But there’s real data that goes behind everything I just said, that we’re all proving to ourselves that where are we along that curve.

Alex Davies

You’ve got better data than the California Disengagement Reports that just came out.

Bryan Salesky

Yes, much better. That report is useless, and I saw a city report come out yesterday around that that was talking about x-fold increase in performance with one of the players in the industry. And I just looked at it and just say, “Okay, I mean compared to what?” We don’t have a big presence in California. We’ve chosen to do our launch in other cities. So, we have very small number of miles in California, which means that the sample size is a lot smaller, which means that you really can’t compare the performance in any meaningful way.

And furthermore, all the different companies that are reporting, you have to really understand under the hood, again under the hood, what are they really looking at and defining as a disengagement because the way the regulation is written, it gives a very high level description. It has to do with sort of the safety and performance of the system. But everybody is left to sort of interpret this event by event, disengagement by disengagement as to what counts. And someone noted yesterday that Tesla, despite claiming to have a full self-driving system, reported zero.

So, my head spins when I look at this report, and my head spins when I see analyst reports that attempt to extract some sort of competitive information out of it. It’s beyond me.

Alex Davies

I think I got to point of frustration where every year, these reports would come out and I’d have to write the same article that was like, “Here’s why I think these reports aren’t any good. But maybe here’s the few things that we can actually learn from them.”

Bryan Salesky

And then a competitor, of course, last year wrote that it’s all garbage and then this year, they’re talking about how great their performance was compared to last year. And I asked myself, how is that possible? I think that we need to start to move the conversation forward as an industry around how do we actually want to speak to this. And I think that no level setting has really occurred to this day.

Alex Roy

Media in general caused a lot of grief for not doing its job. But there is a real shortage of just writers who understand technology sufficiently well that are not looking to hire them and have them do good journalism. How did you get started in journalism? What have you done? What’s worked for you in terms of recruitment and training of writers to do the kind of job we need to cover sectors like this?

Alex Davies

I completely stumbled into journalism. I did not know what I wanted to do. I went to a liberal arts college where you basically major in getting smarter, but really like not having any idea of what to do with yourself. I came out and I had done an internship with the Discovery Channel, like a web marketing internship because I guess maybe that’s the thing I’ll do. And they happened to put me with a website they owned at the time called TreeHugger. This was like 2009, 2010. And my boss at TreeHugger liked me.

And at the end of my internship, he said, “Do you want to write for us, like become a blogger basically?” I said, “All right.” And then from there, I kept … After school, I moved to France for a year to teach English because I don’t really know what to do with myself but economy was destroyed. And because I worked through a French government program, I worked very little and I made very little money. So, I kept going back to my bosses at Discovery and saying, “Let me write more. Let me write more.”

And by the time I moved back to New York where I’m from after a year in France, I was like, “Oh, maybe I’m a journalist now? I’m a blogger, at least.” And then I managed to get a job at Business Insider, did a couple of years there. That’s been a good while at Wired and really picked up my professional training on the job.

In terms of hiring and recruiting writers, it’s tough. I am trying to hire an autos reporter at this moment and the really good people are hard to find. I always say, I’ve been covering the transportation space for 10 years now professionally, and it’s not a space I really expected to get into. But I think certainly as a young person coming in, you just want to be smart, be a good writer and just be willing to talk to people over and over again until you get some understanding through your head.

I remember like occasionally I’d write something about a car at Business Insider in my early years and I would get rightfully dragged by readers. And I read some of my earliest reporting on self-driving vehicles, I’m like, “Who is this idiot writing this stuff? He has no understanding of the bigger picture.” So, I don’t know, I think it takes … There are a few skills in there but the main thing you have to look for is time and experience just long enough to get to know the space and to understand, and to find the people who will help you understand it.

Alex Roy

Well, the book is Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car by Alex Davies. I think it’s the seminal book that everyone should read if they want to familiarize themselves with the sector. And I’m sorry you won’t be writing a sequel, but we’ll see about that. Alex, thanks so much for joining us.

Alex Davies

Thank you. This is fun.

Alex Roy

Folks, if you enjoyed today’s episode, please connect with us on social media. We’re on Twitter, @NoParkingPod. And of course, I’m on all platforms, @AlexRoy144. That’s the numbers, 144. Please share No Parking with a friend. Like us, subscribe. Give us a good review wherever you listen to podcasts. This show is managed by the Civic Entertainment Group. And of course my awesome friend, the incredible Megan Harris is our producer. Bryan Salesky is the CEO and founder of Argo AI. 

Until next time, I’m Alex Roy, and this is the No Parking Podcast.