Josh McManus, Chief Strategy Officer at Civic Entertainment Group, believes ‘“city” is a verb instead of a noun. Hear he and Alex Roy wax poetic on trust, safety, intellectualism, and the legend of Bucky Fuller, plus the folly of zero-sum thinking and why it’s critical you never fall for your own BS. From the Knight Foundation to leading downtown Detroit’s revitalization with Dan Gilbert and bringing Ford Motor Company into the future, McManus has been at the helm of making cities more enjoyable for the folks who actually live and work in them for his entire career.

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Episode Transcript

Alex Roy

On this episode of the No Parking podcast, Bryan Salesky and I will talk to someone….almost indescribably interesting…even though he dresses like that guy in Williamsburg. But he’s really interesting, this McManus guy. What do you say about him?

Bryan Salesky
Yeah, he’s super interesting, somebody who is self-professed—

Alex Roy
Not a change… Every title for consultants that I hate is actually applicable to him in a real way.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah, he talks about how he likes to hack capitalism.

Alex Roy
Yeah. George Hotz says that doesn’t mean anything. McManus is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and he is slow speaking, he is measured in his opinions. He’s one of those people in our sector, transportation, to call him a consultant is an insult to McManus and a misplaced compliment to most of the frauds and empty suits who actually are consultants. McManus actually is one of those people that you’re like, ‘I’m going to bring someone from the outside to bring a fresh opinion.’ and he does. Bryan, am I giving him too many props?

Bryan Salesky
No, I don’t think so. He has a lot of really insightful things to say. Josh said something in particular that I think resonated with both of us, which was that people need to ‘vote for autonomy.’

Alex Roy
Yeah. Crazy, right?

Bryan Salesky
What does that mean? What does that mean? What do you think he meant by that?

Alex Roy
Let’s just dive into the episode and hash it out.

Alex Roy
He’s wearing a blue tee shirt, with red suspenders. He’s got a beard and a shaved head. He could be an intellectual, a historian. He could be any number of things. But on his LinkedIn page he has, in his descriptor, ‘Call me Trim Tab‘. And I asked him recently, when we were talking about this podcast and why he was going to be here, to discuss transportation and mobility, and philosophy, and culture. But I asked him what that meant and he just didn’t answer, and so I looked it up. And I connected some dots because he’d mentioned that one of his favorite authors is Buckminster Fuller. And I knew the name because of the very interesting Dymaxion vehicle. Are you familiar with that vehicle, Bryan?

Bryan Salesky
Yes.

Alex Roy
And then I noticed in a secondary page about Buckminster Fuller that on his tombstone it was a written ‘Call me Trim Tab’. So, would you like to start there?

Josh McManus
Sure, yeah. If you go to Bucky’s grave, it’s in Boston, and the headstone is there. Fuller was a fascinating guy who called himself a deliberate comprehensivist, another title that I’ve adopted. But the Trim Tab thing is really fascinating because he used the metaphor of turning a ship. And so on a ship, on the radar, there are these things called trim tabs, and if you release a trim tab it creates negative pressure behind the tab which basically, from a physics standpoint, gives you the lowest energy way to change the arc of this giant ship. And so his idea was that in the world, the indentation he wanted to leave was to have been a trim tab, to have positively impacted the arc of humanity.

Alex Roy
And that is your own descriptor on your LinkedIn page.

Josh McManus
Yes.

Alex Roy
Let’s connect that to something you said when you first met with Bryan. It’s really a similar moment for me because I’m always talking to people about human-centered design. Generally people don’t know what to do and they want a good catch phrase about how they can improve something. Well, add some more human-centered design and I’m guilty of doing that. And you said what we really need when it comes to AVs (autonomous vehicles), is we need humanity-centered design…because they live in the real world and are part of a real system. Can you talk about the difference between human and humanity-centered design? Because I know that Bryan was struck too, but Bryan, he likes to think before he speaks. That’s where we differ.

Josh McManus
Yeah. I grew up in the friends from back home, and back home I’m referring to North Georgia and South East Tennessee. Guys there have gone on, they are partners and principals at IDEO now, and so I’ve been around the human-centered design (HCD) world for a long time. I’ve had the HCD playing cards, I’ve been to the trainings. And really, if you’re doing product-centered design, the jump from product-centered design to human-centered design is a good and big leap. The shortcoming that I’ve observed with human-centered design over time is that it tends to focus on the singular ego, so the IDEO of folks love to use the example of going and laying in a hospital bed next to somebody. The truth is that’s important, but that analyzes only for that one person that’s in that one hospital bed. If you could imagine 800 people who needed to be in that hospital and only 400 beds, then you get into a humanity-centered design issue, which is what does fairness mean, what does appropriate response mean to conditions where you have supply and demand inequality. It’s really, to me, an extrapolation. It’s taking HCD and pushing it one step further to saying there’s human systems that are beyond the singular human system. And you have to start to design for fairness and other qualities that design for the individual doesn’t start to approach.

Alex Roy
That’s a good answer. And my interpretation of humanity-centered design was every company in the planet could build the world’s greatest car and the world’s greatest user interface, the most comfortable car. Everyone could build the world’s greatest self-driving vehicle. But no matter how well we make them, even if we could make them 100% safe, reliable, perfect, whatever, if you drop a million of them on the city, the city is just basically destroyed.

Josh McManus
Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Roy
The system of the world requires that the objects, machines and humans, live in the world. They live together. And machines are alive in a sense because they are built by people, for people, or we hope they are. So, why are you here exactly? What are you here to talk about precisely? Because I know that almost everyone I respect in the sector who’s working on mobility and transportation, and urban theory says, ‘you got to talk to this Josh McManus guy.’

Josh McManus
Well, it’s interesting because what I want to do is tangentially related. It’s not directly related.

Alex Roy
Like a trim tab?

Josh McManus
Yeah. What I’m fascinated with is a couple of things, hacking capitalism, and I think that nobody’s had a greater impact on capitalism as we understand it today than the OEMs. And so, if this is where the next generation of mobility is happening, then I think hacking capitalism conversation should start right here.

Alex Roy
When you say hacking, then you mean in the good way.

Josh McManus
In the good way, yeah.

Alex Roy
Let’s make this better.

Josh McManus
Yeah. Yeah. There’s a lot of terms that I’m value-neutral on, where they can be good or bad. Hacking is one of those. Gentrification is another one, another conversation for another day perhaps. But yeah, hacking in the positive way. Another way I could phrase it would be repurposing capitalism. The last couple of years I’ve read no less than 50 books on people from the left, people from the right who are thinking about this idea, so I’m interested in that. I’m interested in what I call the humanity immune system, which is-

Alex Roy
That’s a good one.

Josh McManus
-how do we equip individuals to be the change they want to see in the world. And I think that what’s going on here can have a direct impact on that. And then I think that all of that happens in context and it’s going to happen within the context of urbanity. And so, this necessity of creating cities that work for everyone is where my work started. Those three things give me a deep fascination with what’s going on here and I think that sometimes the philosophical problems can inform the technological solutions.

Alex Roy
What I find really interesting is this notion, every five years someone shows up and says, ‘we’ve got this thing, it’s going to solve everything. If everyone just listens to us and buys it, it’s going to be great. You’re going to love it.’ First, it was AVs, then it was micro-mobility, then now it’s back to trains, next week flying cars. But in reality, all these things must exist in a city of living people. And so, last week I was talking to someone I like who works transportation, who just gave me the whole spiel. AVs? Now what we need is scooters. We need more scooters. And then the train people, that all about the trains. And then, of course, I have some of my friends behind me who are like, human driven cars will always be the most important thing. How do you propose we convince urban planners and regulators to understand that there is no one solution that fits all, that each thing has their place? How do we make these things work? How do you find the equilibrium in the discourse of what the solutions are to solve the problems of transit and transportation, and safety?

Josh McManus
Well, I think we have to open the lens to a discussion about, say, human systems design because the problem of information proliferation, in my opinion, one of the significant problems of information proliferation is the inclination towards specialization. As information is becoming more prolific, people are restricting themselves to limited subject matter area.

Alex Roy
Like one mode that makes them feel good?

Josh McManus
Correct, totally correct. And those folks who I’ve studied and who I’ve met who are the most brilliant and the most successful, are willing to use a wide angle lens on their outlook. I think the first is an overlay of a thought model to say, okay, we are not in the scooter business, we are not in the AV business, we are not in the mini-bike business, the Rickshaw business, whatever those things are going to come. We are in the human transportation business. And I think you can understand that more easily if you reverse it out to the consumer side. There’s an active discussion going on around transportation as a service, mobility as a service. But from a consumer standpoint, it’s going to quickly become an expectation that I’m modal agnostic. I had my first Rideshare ride that moved me to a scooter not too long ago and I was like, ‘okay, I can see it.’ The way I’ve described this, and hanging out with other folks that we both know, is carriage to car to “Clara”. We like to say faster horses, but really it was carriage companies that became the car companies.

Alex Roy
I did not want a faster horse. I didn’t want a horse at all. I want someone else on the horse and I’m in the carriage.

Josh McManus
Right. Right. And so, even if you look at like the Fisher Body Company, that was a carriage company that then moves its way into being the car companies.

Alex Roy
How did they work out?

Josh McManus
You know, the Fisher building? Only three of the six towers in Detroit got built, so I guess there was something left on the table, didn’t come all the way to fruition. I mean, you guys probably remember. Do you remember being the ‘80s kids that there was still a Fisher Body tag on the GM cars? That’s Bryan nodding.

Bryan Salesky
Growing up in Detroit, that was an inevitable thing to see.

Alex Roy
Yeah. But think about it that. You’ve got this relationship that starts in the teens and 20s and then the ‘80s they’re still putting that Fisher Body stamp on it.

Bryan Salesky
It shows you power of a brand, doesn’t it?

Alex Roy
Yeah.

Josh McManus
Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Roy
When you said you were modal agnostic, I love driving but I can’t wait for AV Tech to arrive because there are times I do not want to drive but I am not getting on a scooter. Please build that. Bryan please.

Josh McManus
The UX is sketchy. Have you guys been on it? The UX is super sketchy.

Alex Roy
The scooter UX?

Josh McManus
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
Something’s wrong when it makes 60 Minutes and they do a profile on orthopedic surgeons and the rising scooter accidents, and so on.

Alex Roy
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
It is obviously a problem there, but every city has different needs, has different issues. Pittsburgh as an example has a lot of transportation problems, but a lot of it manifests itself because of how difficult the terrain is here. To build a highway you literally need explosive devices.

Josh McManus
Well, the city is a verb and not a noun, and people don’t understand that. Americans have this notion of cities with a beginning, middle and end. When I moved to Detroit 10 years ago there were people like, ‘Why are you moving there? That place is dead.’ And I’m like, ‘No, cities live on ascending or descending circular life cycles, and the people that live in the city are the mice and the mice always learn the maze.’ You have to be constantly adapting, iterating, moving to whatever the new needs and demands are. And if you think about the city as a noun, that’s where you get into these utopian falsehoods and start building things. How many cities have built mass transit systems and when finally delivered, they don’t at all access the real demand that’s there, either they overbuild or under build significantly?

Bryan Salesky
That’s right. Or politics overcome data that says where this needs to go. Right? I’m going to go deep for a minute then. Since you’re an architecture nerd you’ve probably heard of this three book series that was published a long time ago and has a yellow jacket on the cover. I just cannot remember the name of the author, but it’s basically talking about design patterns, and it was an architecture guy. It was like an experiment in Oregon, if I’m not mistaken.

Josh McManus
I’ve read multiple pattern language books. I sometimes over-consume so much that I lose immediate recall. But I’m tracking with you.

Bryan Salesky
I can’t remember exactly the name, we’ll look it up. It’s been a while. But where it was introduced to me was from a fellow who was a bit of a mentor to me in terms of software management. This was when I was going to school. And his name is Denny Desantis, retired in Florida. I’m jealous some days. Denny introduced me to this books and he said, ‘Hey, you should read this.’ I said, ‘Why am I reading this?’ This is a bunch of stuff about architecture and building, like how to design campuses. It was an opportunity to redesign some university campus back in the day, and it was talking about with this opportunity there’s a way to do it in a different way, and it was a very humanity-centered way. But what was interesting about it, the reason he had me reading it, was that it had a lot of parallels to software architecture and design, and it was incredible. And as I was reading the book I was making connections, every page turn, as to how he was thinking about building this living city that was going to exist for a very long time and how it needed to be timeless, and all these attributes, and then how to pull out patterns without being specific about what needed to be built but to provide guidance. And it turns out there’s a lot of connections to that to software design. They tend to be very large monoliths that exist for a really long time. It’s like a city in the virtual world that hundreds of people play out of in order to accomplish a purpose. And there’s a lot of connections between what this person was professing to something completely irrelevant. And that’s when I learned the power, and this is what Denny was ultimately trying to teach me, it was the power of design patterns. What I wish I would have pivoted the conversation to last week was don’t profess a specific solution as to how a city needs to do transportation or needs to reinvent or transform themselves. What’s the guidance? What are the patterns that they should be looking for and how can we cost-effectively roll those things out?

Josh McManus
Yeah. In my work, and I keep a list of lessons learned, one of the things that I’ve crossed paths with in that, and I think right in line, is the idea of spreading principles instead of trying to scale programs. And so, I think you have to look into the truths that you’re seeing across wherever you’re intervening. Actually, this is what I woke up this morning early thinking about from the tasks that stands in front of you guys with programming these autonomous vehicles is on the edge case, it’s almost infinite as to all of the things that can happen.

Bryan Salesky
Almost.

Josh McManus
And so, is it realistic to be able to design for all of those or at some level, do you switch over to a set of principles, probably a smaller set of principles that become if-thens? We’ve seen this work from a humanity standpoint for a long time. I was reading recently trying to look at the great truths across all organized religions. And so, if you look into like what manifests in Christianity is the 10 Commandments, and then you go looking across Buddhism, Islam, you get seven or eight of those that overlay everywhere. And so I wonder about that for autonomy. What are the 8 to 10 principles that are going to define the edge case? There’s the use case that you’re going to have to figure out with a lot of you clear controls but then on the edge case if this happens then we’re going to do one of these eight things.

Bryan Salesky
Again, it’s a great point and I think even after having worked on this for decades, we’re still getting just smart enough to be able to take a step back and ask ourselves, okay, what are these principles? What has guided us this far, and then build upon them. I’ll tell you one thing that is a choice but becomes a principle when you build these systems, is do you want to build something that fits in naturally with the driving environment and acts in a very natural, predictable way or local way, the way other drivers would expect you to act? Or do you program it to be very much answering to a higher power, if you will, as to how you should drive universally?

Josh McManus
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
And then that turns into something that’s very robotic, forgive the word, but extremely cautious, very unnatural in terms of how it drives. But, it will meet exactly the letter of the law and it will not cross that double yellow line and it will stay behind that parked UPS truck for as long as it needs to take. Because, you see, this is what it devolves into.

Josh McManus
Yeah, but that’s a huge puzzle. I don’t think, I have nearly as many miles as Alex but I’m sure I’m a million-miler on the road, getting closer in the air. But I came for this visit from New Orleans, so I did New Orleans to Atlanta, and then yesterday I did Atlanta to here and local driver context is completely different from place to place. The race that is 285 that I was trained to drive on growing up around Atlanta and the place that I decided to wander off on side roads in West Virginia yesterday, the unwritten rules of the road are completely different. And so if you throw the machine out there that says there is one set of rules and only one set of rules, I think that’s going to get pretty squirrelly.

Alex Roy
Have you guys read the book Traffic? Was it Tom Vanderbilt? It was written actually, I think it was 2011 or something like that. It was interesting because it talks about traffic around the world, how do you solve traffic, and basically it says that traffic is a form of speech. It’s created by people controlling machines and therefore it is a form of speech and as people speak different languages, traffic follows and that there was no way to solve traffic anywhere with any one solution. And what was weird about is he wrote it right after the DARPA challenge launched but before AVs penetrated the mediascape, and so he doesn’t address AVs at all. But read it. I think it might be one of the most important books for the general population. It was a New York Times bestseller and I am surprised more people haven’t connected these dots. And this is really for both you guys, but a question I’ve had for Bryan for a long time and I can’t believe I’ve forgotten to ask you this because I see you so much, can you put a percentage number to how much additional development is required for a new city? If Argo Tech works here, city A, and you want to go to city B, how different is the culture, if it is in a different country or different part of the same country?

Bryan Salesky
I don’t have a number for you yet, but I think we are getting to a point where we can start to articulate, at least, the challenges. I call it the playbook. What are the sequence of steps we need to take when we go to a new city in order to discover all of its uniqueness and peculiarities, and different cultures? And there’s a lot of nuts and bolts that goes with the new city. There’s mapping, there’s doing QA on the map and making sure that how people drive the streets is actually how we’ve encoded it and not just what the painted lines say. There’s all sorts of nuances and details under the hood. But, the one that I think is the hardest to uncover and that has the greatest implication from a software engineering standpoint is how do drivers drive differently in that city versus all the other cities we’ve been to. Right? And there’s always strange behaviors and customs and things. As an example, which intersections is it okay to basically loiter in the middle of in order to get through? There’s a tolerance. And it’s intersection by intersection, it’s not even just city by city, right?

Alex Roy
I love it, street by street.

Bryan Salesky
It is street by street.

Alex Roy
Block by block.

Bryan Salesky
It is street by street, block by block. That’s a simple example, I think, that could resonate with everybody but there’s a lot of subtle things as well around streets that may happen to be one way but turn out to be used as two ways on occasion. Because, you know what? That’s the only ability for certain residents in order to get to their house. And it’s just an awkward street, right? This kind of stuff plays out all over the place and the locals figure it out. The people who are not locals, but as human driven traffic or caught by surprise, we need to handle all those things. Anyway, I think we’re getting to a point where we’re learning enough examples as we go from city to city that we are starting to know what the questions are to ask. But to be able to put a percentage or a number on it is really tough.

Alex Roy
You said earlier that there were that we should have these principles. It seems like those principles you described which are common, or 80, 90% of the tenets of the major world religions, are shared in the same way that certain foundational things are shared into the driving skill. Humans know how the steering wheel works, how to drive a car. That last bit, they’re not really about edge case because an edge case here is a common thing there.

Bryan Salesky
That’s a great way to put it. Yes.

Alex Roy
But when we talk about trust…because I believe that you can never put a number on what is safety ever. Because the world’s safest car in 1970, a Mercedes S class or whatever the biggest sedan they made was, today is a death trap. And so safety and trust and faith are moving targets.

Bryan Salesky
They are. Or put another way, look at the error rate of a human driver. It varies. Everyone wants to know what the number is. There is no one number. It varies per city.

Alex Roy
Per person.

Bryan Salesky
Per person. Absolutely. But you can see aggregate statistics though and it’s very interesting. There was an article on The Slate a couple of years ago that showed…I can’t recall exactly where the data came from, I think a lot of it was insurance statistics, but it basically showed what the failure rate of a human driver was city by city. DC and Miami were marked among the worse if not the worst.

Alex Roy
What a coincidence.

Bryan Salesky
Right? But there’s other cities where it’s two, three X the rate and they’re more safer. Now, it’d be interesting to ask why and to dive into that but a lot of it I think is correlated to congestion and to aggressiveness. And that’s a culture thing.

Josh McManus
I like to refer back to Einstein on a regular basis. The theory of relativity, I describe it as a universal theory of relativity. You’re exactly right that it’s always going to be a moving target because it’s going to be what is my experience standing as relative to other people’s experience. Let’s say we have the number of traditional auto accidents and loss of life that we have right now per year. Let’s say that’s gotten 50% better 25 years from now. The human instinct is still going to be the judge relative to where we are in that moment not to say, oh, 20 years ago this was twice as bad. And so if that’s going to be an evolving piece, then, we can’t design in ways that just make an assumption that relatively better today is going to be a relatively better in perpetuity. You’re going to have to build in constant adaptation measures.

Alex Roy
I’m always fascinated by Arthur C Clark and some of these people who would seem to have been totally convinced that Clark had faith that there had to be aliens. There had to be. He spent his whole life writing hard science fiction with full faith that there were higher powers, there were powers we could not see. And then he wrote the TV show about how he moved to Sri Lanka. And at the end of his life he basically said, ‘I have spent my whole life looking for evidence that there is something else, but you know something of all the people on Earth who probably would’ve had an opportunity in time and money to find that…I never found it. I never found it.’ But he said he did have faith in people and that faith was the most important power that people in science could have, that they could make things better. I have noticed that when companies do things, any technology. When my phone breaks, my Apple phone breaks because I dropped it, I will never trust Apple ever again. I know that if I don’t get a case from a third party, the Apple screen is going to crack. I just can’t trust Apple to deliver a durable product, a great product…but not a durable strong one. Moving up into cars, and self-driving cars, how do we earn the type of faith that people will need to have to get into an AV? Because people always believe that they are better drivers than the next guy…and probably the same thing of a machine. So, selling safety or trust on a number just doesn’t work. How does one earn that kind of trust, trust in that machine?

Josh McManus
I did a body of research a while back on empathy and it was an organization that wanted to better understand empathy and they wanted to help proliferate the idea of empathy. And we can have a separate conversation on whether that’s a valid pursuit or not. But, it gave me an extended period of time to deeply study this idea. What I learned about empathy is that it’s more caught than taught and that it’s a lot like a muscle, and so if you don’t use it you lose it. And I think that trust is very much the same and so it will be co-created over time. If you think about the evolution, so I mentioned carriage to car to Clara. I didn’t define Clara for you but in my mind, Clara is a personal mobility assistant. I travel all the time and I’m tired of having to have my airplane app, my rideshare app, my scooter app. One day I’m going to be able to just tell Clara where I want to go and she’ll help me do that in the ways that I like to do that. But if we go back to how we’re going to create trust, I think that that is a co-creation game. When we dug into empathy, we tried empathy classes and it was like classes around bias. People are really embarrassed that they have bias and so they don’t like taking a class that says they may have bias. Also, I’ve tried to teach life skill classes when I was in the social services business early in my career, nobody wants to say that they don’t have life skills.

Alex Roy
Skills?

Josh McManus
Yeah, yeah. But then I also teach entrepreneurship classes and in teaching those entrepreneurship classes what I would see happen is a set of people would come into the table and sit down. You’d have a dozen people all backgrounds, genders, races, socioeconomics, and they came in to pursue the same course which is, ‘I want to be a small business person.’ And over the course of nine to 12 weeks, they would leave with a shared identity that supersedes the old identity. They came in as tall, white guy with southern accent and left as a small business person. And so I unpack that to say I think the way we’re ultimately going to create trust, and this is a big, big problem for the traditional OEM models…because the traditional OEM model says we do this behind 12 foot walls with obscured camouflage on the vehicles. We do so in cycles where we unveil it and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is magical.’ And we pull the silk cloth off of it and it’s like, ‘Buy this. It’s going to make your life amazing.’ I think the opposite is going to be the case for what happens with autonomy, which is we’re going to have to co-create together. We’re going to have to take incremental steps together and we’re going to have to build with the community. And the way that we’re going to trust each other is with things like transparency, it’s moving. If you think about the way that the car evolved, it evolved from something simple to complex. If we went back and got a Henry Ford quadricycle right now, interestingly, we could still drive it on the same infrastructure that exists today, 120 years later. That’s fascinating. And it’s really fascinating that it won’t be long before the quadricycle won’t work on the infrastructure, say, after 120 years.

Alex Roy
It’s interesting because that’s a reciprocally robust method of getting from A to B. Both halves survive. You can still also drive the actual vehicles from back then with this technology and keep them running.

Josh McManus
Yeah. Yeah. That was the way that the trust got built with the user base. They started with a very simple version of that machine, something you could understand work on, that had limited uses. So, my core design principles are simplicity, durability, and beauty and so I think about that in the same way for what we have to do here. That if we jump from the fully endowed car, the full realization so let’s take a Lincoln navigator with every option that it could have on it, and we just flip over to the autonomous Lincoln navigator with every option that it could possibly have on it, to me, that would not bring the audience along for the ride. And that’s going to be a larger barrier to trust than if we work together in a user experience that is more simple, feels more durable, and to my opinion does need to be aesthetically pleasing.

Alex Roy
So an ETA, a vehicle that shows up on time every time is more important than the seat quality?

Josh McManus
I think so. I look at the things that people get most frustrated with in my experience. You know, this million-miler guy, I travel all the time. The superfluous bells and whistles, I’m interested in those after you’ve gone to minimum viable expectations and showing up within a time range that is within my expectations. I actually think that most of the world moves on expectations and embarrassment and so that one will stick with you. The more I look at that one in the world, on expectations it’s like where are my personal relationships messed up? Well, it’s the places where I mismanage expectations.

Josh McManus
Like if I said I was going to be home at one time and I got home 30 minutes later, that doesn’t do well at home, same thing with my AV showing up to pick me up. If it said it was going to be here in three minutes and it shows up in 15 minutes, and I stood outside waiting the whole time for that, I’m not very happy with that experience. The embarrassment one is more fun, but we’ll do it later.

Alex Roy
That’s too bad. That’s where I want to go. That’s exactly what I want to hear.

Josh McManus
No, no, no. Well, okay, so you want to do embarrassment?

Alex Roy
Yeah.

Josh McManus
Yeah. The people who act the worst are the ones that are the most embarrassed. When you see Elliot Spitzer and he’s like, ‘We must convict high end Johns and it turns out that he’s a high end John.’

Alex Roy
Yeah.

Josh McManus
I find that about the people who are out there most adamantly railing against things—

Alex Roy
Anything.

Josh McManus
Most things.

Alex Roy
Yeah, most things. Well, we can extrapolate but we don’t have to. Just going back for a second, you said earlier about expectations. You’ve been through this. You’ve ordered an Uber, you’ve ordered a Lyft, and it gives you an ETA and yellow cabs drive right by you.

Josh McManus
Ubers and Lyfts drive by you.

Alex Roy
Yeah. But you’re totally cool waiting for the one you asked for on your app because an expectation was set and therefore your paradigm for the next eight minutes moves into that, even though better options may go right by.

Josh McManus
And then when that car starts driving in the opposite direction from you, that’s when my meltdown happens.

Alex Roy
It’s like gambling. There are people who will put more money on the table after losing and you’re still waiting there. And then he cancels. You just orders another one instead of hailing the yellow one that goes right by. That’s why I, of all people who should loathe AVs and all this stuff, I love the idea because I want predictability.

Bryan Salesky
But it’s interesting when you started the conversation on trust and the conversation has found itself on things related to ETA and pick-up/drop-off.

Alex Roy
To me, that’s trust. I completely buy the notion, and this coming from me this is crazy. I totally have faith that AV tech will arrive, inside a fence, L4 will arrive, from several companies and that it’s going to work. It’s going to be better than me because I’ve seen my driving skills decline. I’ve seen it. I used to commute all the time by car and then I moved into trains for many years, and now I drive to Pittsburgh every week or so. And I’ve seen my skills get worse in spite every effort, I’m 47 years old. And I can’t fix that alone, but I can fix it with tech. I’ve been adding tech to my portfolio of choices and that’s why I’m really rooting for AV tech to be deployed the right way.

Josh McManus
Yeah. I’m rooting for it because I’m an avid bicyclist and my trust would come from knowing that there is, at least, some sensors paying attention to the fact that I exist on the road.

Bryan Salesky
Mm-Hmm (Affirmative). Because it’s not texting.

Josh McManus
Yeah, it’s not. You’re right. The sensor is not texting.

Alex Roy
Sensors don’t text.

Bryan Salesky
Well, yeah, it’s right. And it isn’t having an argument on the phone with someone.

Josh McManus
Right. And it’s not playing with whatever it wants to listen to on Spotify next. My partner is an avid cyclist, was an avid cyclist. She was hit. I’ve been near nicked many, many times. We’re at a 30 year high on bike ped accidents right now. And so, as we mentioned, the system is always evolving. The city is a verb. Well, the way that the city is a verb works right now has a ton of distracted drivers so I would much prefer interacting with something that I had a higher belief was, at least, going to recognize that I was present.

Alex Roy
It’s funny because I would be satisfied if an AV was even slightly marginally better than humans because almost any improvement is of value to me and my child.

Josh McManus
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Roy
Did you say, Josh, that you take your child to school on a bicycle?

Josh McManus
Yeah. Every day.

Alex Roy
And how far do you ride?

Josh McManus
We go about a mile each way.

Alex Roy
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen somebody do in a car? And you know where I’m going with that.

Josh McManus
Yeah. I’m super defensive with him and I’m in a European cargo bike so I’ve got him front and center with me.

Alex Roy
Is it a hipster bike, like a cool brand?

Josh McManus
It did come from Denmark, if that’s hipster.

Alex Roy
Do you want to tell us what brand it was?

Josh McManus
It’s Bakfiets. That’s the box and I think it’s the Amsterdam cycle company.

Alex Roy
Of course, it is.

Josh McManus
Yes, of course it is. But the craziest things that I’ve seen, there’s no use anymore to keep a running list because of how many times that I’ve been cut off, near clipped. Actually, there’s an outbreak right now of people that either don’t know or don’t care that a cyclist should be treated as an equivalent vehicle and that a pedestrian in a crosswalk has right of way. We recently relocated to New Orleans and I’ve been honked at and screamed at multiple times in crosswalks with a clear passage, with a light that’s lit, that says pedestrian should cross right now. We’re in a devolving bike pad crisis, in my opinion, and so that’s yet another reason that I’m inclined to see this autonomous revolution arrive.

Alex Roy
Earlier you said that you don’t read science fiction and you talk a lot about human systems. Do you remember back in, I think it was the 90s, Newt Gingrich was elected?

Josh McManus
Yeah, I’m from Georgia. Of course.

Alex Roy
I always pay close attention when any political figure cites a science fiction author as inspirational and Newt Gingrich said he was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov and Foundation. Bryan, did you read that? Are you a fan of psychohistory?

Bryan Salesky
Sure, I did master all that, but yes.

Alex Roy
Oh, come on. Well, because psychohistory is really rooted in systems theory and like Rand corporation thinking. And so I’m amazed at how many people that are on a city planning level taking strong positions, pro or anti AV, or any positions at al based on these models that are coming out. Like McKinsey and these companies that all, in my opinion very clearly, are just repeating this systems approach and just trusting data and forgetting the adage of garbage in, garbage out. When the Rand Corporation comes out with these numbers, says autonomous vehicles have to do X hundreds of millions of miles before we can trust them, Vietnam War proved that you guys are wrong. That’s all wrong. Am I crazy?

Josh McManus
No. I think that a couple of Achilles Heels that I’ve seen in big business and in my roles in big business, one is confusion of movement and progress. And so you could achieve a billion miles and have completely confused movement and progress. You could have accomplished those miles and learned nothing from them, had no adaptive capacity come from them, so that’s ridiculous. And then the real tyranny of intellectualism, in my opinion, is the predisposition of believing your own bullshit. If you set these arbitrary gates that say, ‘once we’ve accomplished that many miles then we will have achieved what we need to achieve and then we can set these things totally free,’ that’s when I see the most adverse consequences come out.

Josh McManus
It’s when the human ego gets in the way of the human intuition to say, ‘Well, because we arbitrarily achieved this that means we’re ready.’ I was reading this morning, I wanted to ask Bryan, about this series versus parallel processing and that the human brain has this advantage on parallel versus series as to the computer. And so I have no basis to ask this question from a computing standpoint, but are there ways that that can be overcome with time? Can there be more parallel processing approaches that will positively impact the pursuit of AVs?

Bryan Salesky
From a compute standpoint the system is, by its design, a distributed parallel processing system. Right? The brain in the vehicle itself is doing millions of things at once. Right? It’s simultaneously sensing around the world as it’s also figuring out what the best route is to take as it’s figuring out how to avoid the thing in front of it and not get into a bind with the thing ahead of it. Right? The thing that computing is today is unbelievably good at doing is not only processing a huge amount of information and pulling out subtle things but doing it in parallel, as long as the architecture is set up correctly. Where were you going with the question though?

Josh McManus
Well, so once you have the ability to parallel process then I’m curious as to how you and I…we may be swaying in a proprietary technology, and if we are…just steer me back off of it. But I’m interested at, so my brain is parallel processing right now, but at some point it’s going to start to factor way inputs to say, ‘Well, though I feel a little warm in here I’m not going to pass out and so I’m going to just de-factor that.’ But then it’s going to put another input that says, ‘Okay, we’re almost out of time and I am going to factor that one.’ How do you get to that discounting of factors as to what’s actionable versus not actionable?

Bryan Salesky
That is, in its very definition, the hardest part of the problem. Right? What you’re asking in some ways is how do you separate out the signal from the noise? That is the hardest part of this whole problem. And the way we’ve learned to do it is through a whole bunch of techniques but what’s talked about quite a bit in literature, in the press these days, is deep neural nets. And really what that’s about is coming up with a methodology to sort out the important and relevant things from the unimportant and to put some context behind all that information that we can make actionable decisions on. Right? And we could go into this in a deeper way in another episode but I think where you’re going with it is that it takes that level of intelligence and understanding context to actually be able to meaningfully navigate the road or do any number of other tasks.

Josh McManus
It makes me wonder to your early point about pattern language and architecture as to what other fields exist, where separation of signal and noise has happened, where we may find some of these principles or lessons that we’re looking for.

Alex Roy
Well, in aviation there was a time when people felt that the Zeppelin was going to be it and then it wasn’t.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah, man. Look, I think this happens in just about every field and every software application really. It’s there’s always the potential for noisy inputs and you have to find a way forward. Or put another way, the sensors used in the most broadest way, how do you know if a sensor is lying to you or not? It’s a really hard thing to do and this is why you need multiple sensors and as many modes as possible to sort out what is false from what is true and accurate and correct, and then building and putting together that picture. This is why that’s a fundamentally difficult problem. And this is why, for autonomous vehicles, I think those that are doing it right understand that you need multiple modes. You can’t just be fixated on one thing like, ‘I’m only going to use cameras.’

Alex Roy
That’s such a backhand. Last night I was watching a rough cut of my Cannonball documentary with some friends and I saw some footage that I hadn’t seen in many years where I was debating with one of my co-drivers what we should do if the radar detector goes off. Should we break or accelerate?

Bryan Salesky
And you would’ve loved more information to make that decision, wouldn’t you?

Alex Roy
Yeah. And then I remember I created a spreadsheet of all the police frequencies of every police department cross country, and we programmed them into the police radio scanner, and it would light up if it detected any communications. We couldn’t always hear the communications but it would still light up. And so if we had hit the brakes every time, we would have lost an hour getting cross-country. This is completely irrelevant to the progress of the world and mankind. But it does track back to AVs because if an AV brakes for every single thing, if one sensor input leads to breaking, we’ll never get anywhere. And if you have a quorum of three sensors, two out of three vote, then we start making progress.

Bryan Salesky
That’s right. You only need a fairly core screen view of the world to be safe, but you wouldn’t go anywhere. It would look like something’s coming at it all the time.

Josh McManus
Feel safe at all times would be ‘don’t leave home.’

Alex Roy
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Roy
Like, the angelic mother of my divine angel baby doesn’t want her to leave the house and go on the subway because she thinks she’ll get measles. Statistically that is not very likely.

Josh McManus
True. Right.

Alex Roy
We got to wrap this up.

Bryan Salesky
Can we take another direction?

Alex Roy
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
Because I wanted to change conversation.

Alex Roy
Yeah, do it.

Bryan Salesky
I’m fascinated by cities as a living organism. It’s very much what it is. I’m fascinated by what you had your hand in with city of Detroit. You were part of Dan Gilbert‘s administration.

Josh McManus
Yeah.

Bryan Salesky
Can you put that in context for me? What was the timeframe? What was the state of things at the time?

Josh McManus
Yeah, absolutely. And let’s see, that’s going to be…we’re in 2019 now so that was ‘15, ‘16, ‘17. I worked in Detroit from about 2010 and I still do stuff there now. I had met Dan a long time ago and in ‘15 he calls and says, ‘Hey, I’d like for you to come work for me.’ And I went. And if you’re not familiar with what’s going on, in his world it’s fascinating. A single entrepreneur who has dedicated the bulk of their wealth to the enhancement of their hometown. And so to give you a sense of scale, Dan has over 30,000 employees system wide, over 20,000 in Detroit, over 150 companies, the largest of which is Quicken Loans. Now you’ve got a company called Stock X, it’s growing really fast. You’ve got over 100 properties, over 14 million square feet, and it’s all within this, probably, four square mile downtown. And what’s really fascinating from an urban standpoint is it was not like that. It was being utilized and owned by one person and exchanged hands to another person. Most of these buildings were under-utilized or not utilized at all.

Bryan Salesky
Why is that?

Josh McManus
Well, so there’s a really fun conversation to be had but I will say that because of the automobile the hottest burning economic fire that ever happened on the face of the universe happened in Detroit, Michigan. And it was the automobile and Arsenal of Democracy two times. So between World War One, World War Two and the world on four wheels, by about 1950 you had, with transient population, over 2 million people. Once you get to the end of World War II and the quick pop afterwards of the baby boomers buying station wagons and all that good stuff, you now didn’t need all of that heavy industrial capacity for the war efforts. And you also needed to decentralize some of your industrial capacity because of the A Bomb.

Bryan Salesky
I mean, no city in America possibly has gone through as many swings and cycles as Detroit and it’s because of this constant rush to capacitize. And then it’s this boom-and-bust cycle that occurs and they just get whip lashed and so it’s created huge periods of economic stability and productivity and building, building, building, building….

Josh McManus
The creation of the middle-class…like a whole host of things.

Bryan Salesky
And then followed by…

Josh McManus
Yeah. Yeah. I believe, to my study, the hottest burning economic fire that ever happened on the face of the earth because of those three things going on within a, really, 30 year period. And so you have these 2 million people there and when you’ve got an economic fire burning that hot your inputs are raw materials. So we’re sitting in Pittsburgh, right? Pittsburgh, Akron, Toledo. Like some icing in the glass, some icing in the steel, some icing in the rubber. And so all these cities mirror Detroit but they didn’t have the heat of that same fire.

Josh McManus
They had their own fires and they still face some of the same headwinds today. But then after that you start this long decline. And so Detroit today, some 700,000 people, 80 plus percent of those people, live in poverty conditions. It’s a 140 square miles that used to hold over 2 million people, it now holds that probably 650 or so thousand people.

Alex Roy
Is it true that the population levels have shrunk to pre-industrial revolution level?

Josh McManus
Yeah, you’re back down. I’d have to go back and look at it, but I think you’re back at your 1900 and 1910 numbers at this point.

Bryan Salesky
That’s incredible. Right?

Josh McManus
Yeah.

Alex Roy
There’s a huge problem in that people were leaving the city.

Josh McManus
Oh yeah and they’re still. I just looked at the numbers the other day. I think last year lost about another 1,700 people. They’re at the tail end of the loss.

Alex Roy
People don’t understand we’re still at the tail end but there’s some incredible renaissance stuff going on in the city right now. I interrupted you. You were talking about you were part of Dan Gilbert’s enterprise, right?

Josh McManus
Yeah.

Alex Roy
And you were talking about this few square mile area where buildings were sitting empty. Tell us about kind of what happened.

Josh McManus
It’s an amazing story. Dan and team were in the suburbs and they had this mortgage company, Quicken Loans, and they were growing and they had to make a decision about consolidating buildings. And so they could have built a suburban campus or they could choose to invest in downtown Detroit. And they chose to invest in downtown Detroit and essentially make downtown Detroit their campus. And there are so many things we could talk about on the ways that are innovative, like the buildings that they’ve purchased are much more dense now. A lot of those were like bank buildings and you remember how old banks were, one person per every 300 square feet. They were big and empty, cavernous, not very inviting. Now those buildings are packed with energy.

Josh McManus
And from that, putting all those people in those buildings, the team there has also said, ‘Well, let’s activate the public realms.’ They put a lot of money into parks, public places, ground floor amenities, really innovative approaches to the way that you get ground floor retail. And so downtown Detroit right now is night and day difference to what it was 10 years ago and that’s thanks to a private enterprise. I think there’s a couple of ways that it really impacts this conversation. The most important way that it impacts this conversation is that is a company that, because of it controls one of largest privately held enterprises in the United States, they’re not as consumed by the predatory powers of short-termism. When I say I’m interested in hacking capitalism, that’s one of the biggest problems with our publicly traded companies right now.

Alex Roy
Yeah, this part is fascinating. This is fascinating.

Josh McManus
And so what has happened at Rock Ventures, which is Dan’s holding company, is they’ve found the intersection of moral imperative and market imperative. And the way that I described it when I was there, for the mortgage company they wanted to be the largest residential lender in America, a goal that they’ve now hit I believe. And their moral imperative was to stop the population loss and stabilize their hometown of Detroit.

Bryan Salesky
Yes. This is an example of where folks talk too much about, you hear in the news all the time, about companies doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decisions, the wrong choices.

Alex Roy
Sacrificing their own best people?

Bryan Salesky
Exactly. Now, here’s an example where because he’s a private enterprise he’s able to think long-term, he’s able to take some risks but they were very calculated in following his values and putting them in action, by having a willingness to do good things for the community and also having a need to make his business more efficient and to run better and to provide better workplaces for his people and to get everybody into a more condensed area. Right? If I’m following this, it sounds like he singlehandedly made his company function better, change the change of the face of the city, help to redevelop and stop that population loss and then, in the process, constructed parks and other areas of recreation that now are helpful to building, and continue to rebuild, the community. It’s incredible.

Josh McManus
Yeah. It’s an exercise in applied abundance. And so what I saw when I was there is a company that, during part of the time I was there, was finishing growing 10X in five years. I went to B School twice. I read the HBR on regular basis, you find next to no companies that can 10X in five years. And most of them pull themselves apart at the seams, frankly, on culture more than anything else. And so the culture of the place, the values of the place and then this mission that’s about more than making money actually becomes a positive flywheel that reinforces it. I think the company’s been, by all accounts, very profitable during the term but they’ve also done all of this good at the same time. Another book list book would be The Firms of Endearment which is a more in-depth study of companies like this that get on a parallel, moral imperative and market imperative, and actually it’s not a martyrs’ mission. And how that translates in very real terms is employees that know that they’re working on something that’s more important than just making money, they work smarter, they work harder, they work longer.

Alex Roy
But it also makes money.

Josh McManus
It does. It does.

Alex Roy
Because we’re in this weird binary thing in the media where socially-conscious like funds have to make compromises, but that’s not necessarily true.

Josh McManus
I am not a subscriber to that because that is a zero sum game philosophy that says, okay, well you can either make money or you can make a difference. And I find an objective body of evidence that says you can do both and that’s actually a better, more sustainable, way of doing business. You look at Patagonia, it’s another privately held example, they just shifted their mission. They had a socially-conscious mission for a long time and now they’ve just said…Yvonne Chouinard got to be 80 years old and was like, ‘Look, Fuck it. Our mission is to save our home planet. A clothing company’s mission is to save our home planet.’ Think about that as a secondary overlay for all decisions that you make because you have a lot of cost-neutral decisions that you’re going to make over time. When I was there in Detroit with Dan and team, if your primary mission, or your market mission, is world or country’s largest residential lender and then you want to stop Detroit’s population loss…we had a lot of employee perks and amenities common in the technology businesses, right? So you’re going to buy a million dollars a year of slushies, snacks, peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, all that sort of stuff. If you could buy that from a company that’s completely set up in the city limits, it’s owned and operated by people in the city limits, versus outside the city limits that is a zero cost basis decision, that then impacts your moral mission. Now, there’s cost-informed decisions you make as well but having that secondary lens…and you see companies that are publicly traded do this as well. I have had the good fortune of meeting Warren Buffet a couple of times and this is what value investing is. In fact, I’ve extrapolated off of Warren, same thing from human-centered to humanity-center design. With Warren, he’s called it value investing, I see it as values investing, investing in companies that share a set of values that are aimed at the long-term and aim towards both positively returning to shareholders and positively impacting the world.

Alex Roy
And those are the companies that you would trust to build products you can trust?

Josh McManus
Yeah. And I think you can objectively prove that.

Alex Roy
Well, Bryan, we are running out of time here.

Bryan Salesky
I know we could talk forever.

Alex Roy
Well, thanks so much, Josh. If we want to learn more about you or follow you outside of this podcast, what would be the most efficient method of doing so? It’s not Twitter or LinkedIn, obviously.

Josh McManus
Yeah, I’m an enigma.

Alex Roy
Your opacity of your world is incredible.

Josh McManus
I intentionally do not have a digital footprint.

Alex Roy
Yes. Someone who doesn’t follow my example. Oh, this is beautiful.

Josh McManus
My personal email is joshmcmanus@mac.com.

Alex Roy
Are you sure you want to put that in the podcast?

Josh McManus
Put it out there because I usually give out to my physical because I love snail mailing people and I’m not a Luddite. But I think that if you have real questions for a real person, then you can take the time to send them a real letter.

Alex Roy
Do you have any enemies who might show up to that snail email address?

Josh McManus
Well, bring them on.

Alex Roy
Wow, all right. Bryan, I know where we can learn more about you.

Bryan Salesky
I subscribe to the same theory, social media is oppressive.

Alex Roy
All right. May I suggest that everyone follow Argo AI at LinkedIn and Twitter, and you can follow me @AlexRoy144 on all platforms. Even unknown platforms, you will find me there. Thanks guys.

Josh McManus
Thank you.

Alex Roy
Well, that was quite a conversation. It’s funny, McManus. When you bring an outsider into a conversation or a company and ask them to look at a problem, people always are expecting them to come in with the answer and then they just say their bullet points. But McManus is interesting because he doesn’t always have the answer, but he does give a clear fresh angle on how to attack a problem. The whole notion that autonomy is not a regulatory problem, but that it’s a cultural problem on a community level, that people have to opt into it, they have to believe in it, is totally fresh.

Bryan Salesky
Yeah. Josh comes from a background where he calls himself a community builder. Right? And I think some people would scratch their head a little bit like, “What does that exactly does that mean? Well, what it means is I feel like he’s really in touch with what it means to bring a disruptive technology to the real world. He understands what it means to revitalize cities as he helped do as part of Dan Gilbert’s companies in Detroit. When he said that people need to vote for autonomy, it really is a great way to articulate a pretty simple concept that that yet isn’t talked about a whole lot, which is, you know what, the way this stuff’s going to get deployed in the real world is it’s going to be done city by city, street by street. And it’s going to be done in a way where we have a heavy lift to get our customers to understand it and to be okay with it and to be excited about it. And really no company has-

Alex Roy
Nailed it.

Bryan Salesky
-nailed this yet. Right? But that’s what’s before us.

Alex Roy
They may also be as simple as they might have to vote for the candidate who wants to bring autonomy in the right way. Their guide might not even get it.

Bryan Salesky
That’s very true.

Alex Roy
All right. If you want to learn more about Josh McManus, he’s almost impossible to find online much like you Bryan.

Bryan Salesky
Well, we’ve talked about that.

Alex Roy
All right. If you want to learn more about a No Parking Podcast, check us out online at noparkingpodcast.com. You can follow us on Twitter, and you should, and that our handle is @noparkingpod. If you want to be a guest on our show or you know someone who might want to be a guest on our show, you should email me directly at alex@noparkingpodcast.com. See you next week. You want to be a guest on our show? You should email me directly at guests@noparkingpodcast.com. See you next week.