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What does our self-driving future look like? This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade cover, in Rich’s words, “Bluetooth headsets, my mother, and self-driving cars.” They start with a discussion on the shortcomings of video-conferencing systems; segue with a breakdown of Rich’s mother’s experiences with Uber; and wrap up with speculation about a world of self-driving cars (including a full breakdown of the distribution chain for what will surely come to fruition someday, Uber Baby Lamb).


Paul Ford: Rich, let’s move fast. My name is Paul Ford.

Rich Ziade: Rich Ziade.

Paul: And we are the co-founders of Postlight, which is a —

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Product studio in New York City. We build apps and websites and things and platforms.

Rich: Well we don’t just build.

Paul: No.

Rich: We strategize —

Paul: Conceptualize —

Rich: We design, conceptualize.

Paul: That’s very, no —

Rich: Architect.

Paul: Product manage.

Rich: And then build. We’re an unusual place, because we take it from —

Paul: An enormous number of verbs, really.

Rich: Front to end.

Paul: Absolutely. End to front.

Rich: Soup to nuts.

Paul: All of it. Top to bottom. So we’re gonna talk about, we’re gonna have a big, broad subject today, we’re just gonna see where it goes. You ready? You ready? You ready?

Rich: I’m ready.

Paul: OK.

Rich: Go.

Paul: We’re gonna talk about how to get from one place to another.

Rich: OK. So, there’s gonna be two parts to this show. The first way, and the easiest, most modern way to get from one place to another…another…a-nutter…

Paul: Another. [laughter]

Rich: Is video conferencing.

Paul: That is…remarkable.

Rich: So we’re moving offices, Paul, I don’t know if you’ve heard.

Paul: Ugh, I have heard.

Rich: And one of the things we want to solve, I think the way you put it is, I want the new wifi to burn my skin.

Paul: That is very true.

Rich: Right.

Paul: It is hard to get enough wifi. I want to go to Speed Test and for it to just be the freakin’ infinity symbol.

Rich: Is Speed Test the one where it’s like, old-timey Flash…?

Paul: Very Flash, yeah.

Rich: Like, it goes into space —

Paul: Everything —

Rich: A ball goes into space and comes back down?

Paul: Everything’s 3D. I love that thing, man.

Rich: I’ve run it many times.

Paul: Brought to you by Ookla.

Rich: Sometimes I’m sad.

Paul: I have no idea what Ookla is, but Speed Test is brought to you by Ookla.

Rich: It’s a monster.

Paul: I mean, what are you gonna do?

Rich: I think 50 million a day get run.

Paul: Netflix tried to get in there, and like do it’s own.

Rich: They own or

Paul: Yeah, but it’s not even getting — I mean…

Rich: No, you go to it, it’s actually beautiful. It’s just a number.

Paul: Yeah it’s great. Oh, and I think there’s like a Medium post about how we built, like it’s all very serious.

Rich: Yeah. And it’s just the number. But then I think to myself, I want to go into space and come back.

Paul: It’s not brought to me by Ookla.

Rich: And there’s Ookla.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And so I just went back to the other one.

Paul: No, I…

Rich: It just, it just felt really beautiful.

Paul: I loved, and when people post screenshots of their bandwidth, whether it’s really bad or really good on Twitter, which is something people do…

Rich: OK.

Paul: It’s always Speed Test.

Rich: OK, we’re already off the rails.

Paul: Yeah, OK. So we’re gonna talk about how to get from one place to another. Video conferencing and…self-driving cars.

Rich: And cars.

Paul: Cars.

Rich: Which we’re gonna focus on the future of cars…

Paul: We’ll get there, the future. Yeah.

Rich: So video conferencing, we somehow settled on Google. It’s worth noting. We’re going to a new office. We’re not going to spend. We’re technologists. We just don’t — we can’t stomach spending a quarter of a million dollars for a video-conferencing platform.

Paul: It’s true.

Rich: You know the ones where you walk into the conference room and then there’s like this sort of robot head?

Paul: Those are good.

Rich: At the front of the conference room table? That has a remote, and it’s all…and you just can’t get started.

Paul: Yeah, there’s that rotating…

Rich: It rotates around…

Paul: What’s weird is the brands on those are all like, LifeSize, or like, ViewHold or just…

Rich: They’re —

Paul: They’re terrible companies.

Rich: Well they’re all, like, big corporate sales, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: You can’t go to Best Buy and just pick one up.

Paul: That’s true.

Rich: They’re expensive, they promise the world, and we’re not gonna do that because we —

Paul: A guy named Jack comes to your office.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And he says, “For $160,000 a year — ” but he doesn’t say that…

Rich: No.

Paul: He says, “For $5,000 a month…”

Rich: We’ll take care of everything.

Paul: But it’s a little bit more on top when you wanna get some of the better services.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And then it works out to, like, half your budget for the year, for this crappy robot that spins around.

Rich: Not doin’ that.

Paul: We’re not doin’ that.

Rich: We won’t know how to use it…

Paul: No one will use it.

Rich: We’ll lose the remote. No one will use it.

Paul: We should talk about the robot.

Rich: OK.

Paul: So as one of our employees was coming from another company, and as a hazing ritual, we made them go and steal one of those robots.

Rich: It’s…I think it’s called I-Beam.

Paul: Yeah. It’s one of those robots that rolls around and has the iPad on it, and it talks to you.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And we made them bring that down, and then we had to get it repaired.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And we had this idea that we would use it for some kind of telepresence.

Rich: It was a way for a remote employee to roll around the office with their head on the iPad screen and talk to people.

Paul: It’s a $3,000 t-shirt stand.

Rich: There’s a t-shirt hung on it.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And…well, I’m not sure why it doesn’t work. I really don’t know why it doesn’t — look, if we were a different kind of shop, like, we were making, let’s say, leather wallets.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: And you had a manager who was gonna work from home for a week, I think maybe they could look at what’s going on and peer in and maybe make use of it.

Paul: That would be the entire margin of the leather wallet business for six months.

Rich: That was…it didn’t work. It felt too ridiculous.

Paul: We tried it.

Rich: It felt insulting to the person who was driving it.

Paul: It is funny when its little neck extends.

Rich: It is, you can raise the head and lower it…

Paul: Because it’s so bad, like, everything stops, and then it goes [a noise that resembles a robot raising its neck].

Rich: I…I am fascinated by failure, and I’m fascinated by the failure of Bluetooth headsets, which generally have been a failure. I’m fascinated by the failure of Segways.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: I’m fascinated by the failure of Google Glasses. I think there is a strain of…tech hardware that sort of conveys something about the person that’s wearing it that makes them feel stupid and ridiculous, or makes others dislike them.

Paul: You know what does that is those five-toed shoes.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Those are a bad indicator. I mean they’re not —

Rich: You just judge the person. The thing about the Bluetooth headset, they’re not distracting. They’re not obnoxious. I think you quickly make your read about the person.

Paul: Well that’s the problem — actually, I heard someone refer to them as, like, a tag and release program for douchebags. Like you could just see…

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You’d have the little tag in their ear.

Rich: You make an immediate judgment about the person. It’s really actually kind of terrible.

Paul: It’s terrible. I mean, lots of people —

Rich: It’s OK.

Paul: You might need Bluetooth in your ear. You might be…you know, waiting for a call. You might be a doctor.

Rich: You might be, you might be anything! I mean, it’s, I don’t know…

Paul: An osteopath.

Rich: But we…

Paul: Critical bone problems.

Rich: But here we are, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Nice piece of technology pushed aside because of human interaction.

Paul: You ever had a Bluetooth headset?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah?

Rich: I mean, I went through the phase, yeah.

Paul: I never had one.

Rich: I thought it was OK. You never had one?

Paul: No.

Rich: Interesting.

Paul: But you were running an agency, and you were leader of a group of people…

Rich: No, I wasn’t walking around the office with it, that’s the thing. If I’m driving, it felt like it made sense.

Paul: Well, if you’re driving. I mean, nobody can see you. That’s OK.

Rich: Yeah. All right, so that failed, and so you have things like —

Paul: Actually wait, did Bluetooth fail? There are millions and millions of Bluetooth headsets —

Rich: Headsets?

Paul: In the world.

Rich: I’m probably being culturally biased, and I could say for certain that it definitely flattened in the U.S.

Paul: It’s also, as far as I can tell, there’s no, there’s no brand. There are a couple, but there’s nothing where you’re like, oh, that’s the cool wireless headset brand.

Rich: That’s the one to get.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like, it’s always just like something heavy industries…

Rich: Headphones are OK. Even in-ear headphones…

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Are OK, socially. I’m talking socially here, right?

Paul: Yeah, sure.

Rich: These things technically do their job. But socially, those are OK. But a Bluetooth headset, I think it’s because you could, at any given moment, withdraw from the present…the current company you’re in, you may leave at any moment.

Paul: But you know what —

Rich: I think that’s a signal that the current company doesn’t want to see.

Paul: This was entirely true of mobile phones for the longest possible time. And even before smartphones, mobile phones achieved huge penetration. I bought a $2 fake Motorola at a bodega that when you hit it, it made loud beeping noises, because I knew, walking down the street, hitting it while I was out with my friends going for drinks, would be hilarious. And my friend Steve took it from me at one point, because I would yell, “BUY! SELL!” into it, while we were out drinking.

Rich: Mmmmm.

Paul: And Steve took it from me, threw it in a gutter, and smashed it with his feet, while people looked at us and laughed.

Rich: That’s actually pretty funny.

Paul: It is, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s was overall a great experience with the $2 toy, because at that point, those phones were just perceived as being, just complete douchebag ornaments.

Rich: Right, the behavioral norms hadn’t kicked in yet.

Paul: That’s right.

Rich: It hadn’t fully matured into something that just because expected and normal.

Paul: So I think we can say that about all that stuff, right? Like, there’s a threshold that they have to cross into mass adoption, where they become socially acceptable.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: And then what’s interesting there, right, is there’s a brand association that often carries through. So Motorola really had the early days of the cellphone and the mobile phone revolution.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And then Nokia.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: Nokia phones —

Rich: Exploded.

Paul: Owned the world.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: They owned the world for like four, five years.

Rich: Yup.

Paul: Israel. Anywhere. Middle East, wherever you went.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: You would see Nokia phones.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: Global. And then, you know, 2006, the iPhone comes in, and establishes a premiere smartphone category.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That it still dominates.

Rich: Yeah, but I think, I feel like the phone never, to me, became associated with any sort of social stigma.

Paul: Oh, absolutely it did. It was perceived as just a, like, who needs a cellphone? Shut up, dude, why don’t you talk to the people here?

Rich: Yeah. Yeah. But I think by the time the iPhone came out, that had already resolved itself.

Paul: That was totally resolved.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It, the foundation was there for the smartphone…

Rich: Right.

Paul: For this to be a real —

Rich: It still…if you’re at dinner and you’re checking your phone, I consider, I mean, I’m embarrassed when I do it.

Paul: Yeah, me too.

Rich: I don’t like it. I tried not to do it. I get annoyed when others do it, in a social setting. I think it’s obnoxious. I do. I think if you’re with other people, you can take two minutes and not check your phone.

Paul: I feel that this is a huge product conversation that always happens too late. Basically by the time somebody has an idea for a new thing, they’re so far along, and people are like, “I don’t know if that’s gonna work socially.” No one ever wants to hear that.

Rich: That’s a tough test, right?

Paul: Yeah, its…

Rich: Google Glass, I don’t think ever really got out there for the test. I think they just sort of bailed on them…

Paul: Well they did that thing where —

Rich: They never got less than $2 grand, right? They were really expensive…

Paul: You could spend $1,000 bucks and get ’em as like a test program.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And they were slow…

Rich: They never —

Paul: They ran out of battery and just sort of all that stuff.

Rich: OK, so there were other reasons there.

Paul: But they never looked cool.

Rich: No.

Paul: And they actually became actively, like…Gawker and places like that would make fun of people who wore them.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And they were creepy. What were they perceiving…that was an interesting human reaction, right? You get bothered by people who may be perceiving something different than you’re perceiving. Now we don’t mind it with headphones, because we’re presuming they’re just, like, listening to music in their own little world.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But if they’re getting more information or more signal out of the world than you are, and they could be kind of spying, that gets a kind of weird monkey-brain trigger.

Rich: I’d go even further and say, I think the perception is, it’s sort of a tool for gaining further insight and judgement in a weird way.

Paul: Yeah, that’s right.

Rich: Because you could sort of do a search on the thing you’re looking at?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: That was not part of the thing. You could say, Google, find this house, or something, and it would do an overlay of information on something…

Paul: Imagine if we were doing a job interview. Somebody had, like, come in and wanted to work at Postlight.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And was wearing an augmented reality device on their eye. I’d be like, “What the hell are you doing?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Are you trying —

Rich: And no, and he says to you, “Oh Paul, I see you went to, I see you grew up in Pennsylvania. That’s interesting.”

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Like, he does that while he’s looking at you.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: You want the person’s attention, I think you want the person to be focused on you rather than have peripheral display…

Paul: Well information isn’t an identity, right? Like, they can go get all the information they want. But what you’re interested in that moment is their identity and sort of sharing —

Rich: Yeah…we may be overanalyzing, dude — it’s just rude.

Paul: It is just rude.

Rich: It’s just rude. That’s, I think if I came in and talked to you while I was reading a book, it’s rude. Plain and simple.

Paul: I don’t know. You’re married. It’s pretty normal. [laughter]

Rich: All right, but we digress. Yeah, the I-Beam thing doesn’t work well. I think they’re doing OK, but…

Paul: Video conferencing is a really hacky, ugly…

Rich: We use Google Hangouts. It’s not great.

Paul: No.

Rich: We blame it on the wifi a lot. We’ve seen other tools that are out there. There’s BlueJeans…

Paul: BlueJeans is great. We used that for a call from Singapore. Apparently it’s expensive.

Rich: OK. But what is the killer video-conferencing tool?

Paul: God, it’s true. If you could tell us…

Rich: Tell us.

Paul: Tell us the killer…

Rich: And we’ll put it into a Medium post.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: We’ll try them all.

Paul: We’ll sing you a song.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: BlueJeans was interesting: the experience of BlueJeans was very interesting, because what it did was, the video would cut out, but the audio would keep going.

Rich: It kept going.

Paul: Yeah —

Rich: That’s the key.

Paul: It’s a shocking thing, right? But like, it doesn’t feel like Hangouts prioritizes audio.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: Because when one goes, the other one goes.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And so there’s no, like, shaping of the signal.

Rich: And the classic, you cut out just as when you were saying, the most important thing you’ll ever say.

Paul: I think about this a lot, because there used to be the Bell system in America, that shut down in the early 80s.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: Or sorry, split up, it was a monopoly. We had a monopoly telephone system. It’s funny, people don’t know this, but there was one big phone company.

Rich: Yup, and they cut ’em up.

Paul: And you could call, and you had an incredibly clearly two-way communication.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Up until mobile phones took off. You could just talk to anybody, you could both talk at the same time, and you heard every single world.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: And we can’t get that back. Even landlines, because now most of the ways we communicate are kind of voice over IP, or they’re weirdly, there’s a conference-call system in the middle, or something.

Rich: Yeah, and I think video, you know, video calls on phones is still kind of coming together, but it’s such a big deal, like I have family overseas.

Paul: Right.

Rich: FaceTime has made a fundamental impact on relationships.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: With people that are far away from each other. It’s so…babies being born in other continents, calling grandma.

Paul: FaceTime is good in that there’s two — the signals are pretty clear going back and forth. Like, you can both talk.

Rich: And there’s just not a lot of buttons, man. There’s just not a lot of knobs and levers to mess with.

Paul: No, that’s true.

Rich: Grandma can pick it up and use it again, you know. There are tech-savvy grandmas out there, but often…it’s hard.

Paul: Grandpa too.

Rich: Grandpa too.

Paul: And then there’s always Skype in there, which actually is pretty good, but it’s in that world of Microsoft, so it’s a little hard to mentally pull it out and use it.

Rich: I think the big thing with video conferencing is the prerequisite. If you are inviting Diana to a call, she needs to click a link. She can’t install software. That’s the rub, is if you’re telling her, “We’re gonna have a video conference call.” The reason we go to Google Hangouts is because it’s gonna fire up in the browser, and it’s not gonna ask her to install software. That’s the big hurdle for Skype.

Paul: Also they integrated it into Google Calendar invites, there’s just a link right there to your Hangout.

Rich: It’s just right in there, and so you hope they win, because, because you don’t have to go through, you know, make the other person, like, we talk to prospects all the time. We’re not gonna make them install software to talk to us. Like, it needs to be as simple as possible. And Skype, which is awesome, by the way.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: If everybody’s got Skype on all ends, they’ve pretty much nailed it in terms of how to efficiently use whatever bandwidth is available.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: But I just can’t ask them to install Skype.

Paul: The thing that’s frustrating is, you end up in this bad social situation where your faking a lot of the communication with someone, because you don’t want to be rude and, like, cut it off.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it just, it bums me out. Like I hate going, “Uh huh. OK, I get that. Let’s talk about blah blah blah.” And I don’t know if they’re hearing me.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I don’t know — I could’ve had tons of video conference conversations where, literally, no one has any idea what anyone’s talking about. [laughter]

Rich: Everybody’s like, “That’s a great thought.”

Paul: There was a guy I read about recently who made a bot for conference calls that would, when it heard his name, it used, like, IBM’s Watson, plugged into the API?

Rich: Uh huh.

Paul: And when it would hear his name, it would stay silent for about ten seconds, it would alert him, via email or chat, and then it would go, [throat-clearing noises] “I’m sorry, yeah, I was muted. This is Jim.” [laughter]

Rich: That’s tremendous.

Paul: And then it would give him a few seconds to just get on…

Rich: Do you really need IBM’s Watson for that?

Paul: To listen for your name on the phone call. Because it has to be, like, “Hey Jim, what do you think about that?”

Rich: Wow, that seems like heavy lifting.

Paul: Well…he’s the developer, who probably was supposed to be actually doing some work during that time? [laughter]

Rich: Fair. So OK.

Paul: So what are we going to do about video conferencing, before we move on?

Rich: Uh, you know…work in progress, I guess. I mean, there’s some good stuff out there. There’s also Zoom…I think it’s called Zoom?

Paul: Is it spelled with an X, a Z, a Y…I mean, who knows anymore? Really.

Rich: I’ve had a call on that, and it was very good.

Paul: Our industry has ruined the human language. So I think that what we know is we’ll probably spend some money, either on bandwidth or on a solution.

Rich: Probably not hardware.

Paul: Well, because a third of our staff is remote, so…

Rich: That’s true.

Paul: We really do care about this. It needs to be good. We have to. It has to be, you have to walk into our office, and wonder what is that tingling sensation that I feel all over my chest and back? And for us to be able to say, “That’s our wifi.” [laughter]

Rich: Oh God.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Healthy. Very healthy.

Paul: Yeah. I want people to literally need to hide from the wifi.

Rich: Right.

Paul: Yeah. Because people don’t know that we’re in an angled building, and so depending on cosmic rays, every now and then we just don’t get internet.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So look, that’s one way to communicate with people, is to just say the hell with it, we’re not going to even care about distance, I’m just going to video conference with you.

Rich: Another way is to go to the person…

Paul: In…

Rich: And see them in person. Now I don’t…I live in New York City, and I do not own a car. We made a decision, it was a heavy one.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: To turn in our lease and not get another car.

Paul: We do.

Rich: You do.

Paul: We do. We have a garage in the basement of our building.

Rich: Yeah. I do not have that. I live in a denser part of New York City.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: Where I don’t have a garage, or access to one. So I actually don’t even have the option to say, “I’m going to put it in a paid garage.”

Paul: The closest one is probably three or four blocks away, right?

Rich: It’s like a long avenue away.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Which is, which is not convenient.

Paul: With two, we all have little children here.

Rich: Little children, so…so I’ve been living on Uber.

Paul: OK.

Rich: For…it’s gotta be almost a year and a half, now.

Paul: Not just you. Your mother…

Rich: My mother.

Paul: Your family, your kids.

Rich: We’ll get to my mother in a second.

Paul: Let’s talk about that in a moment.

Rich: So I live on Uber, and it works. I mean, there’s a lot of flavors of it, so if it’s a large group, there’s Uber X, which is larger. There’s Uber Car Seat.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: I think they used to call it, like, Uber Baby, but then, I don’t know, something happened.

Paul: Uber…well sometimes adults need car — they didn’t want to show any bias against, just, any…

Rich: Small people.

Paul: Adult babies.

Rich: Fine. [laughter] Anyway, so they would have a carseat, and usually it’s just a regular Uber. The guy will come out, he’ll pull it out of the trunk, and install a car seat.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: And…it’s going good. It’s honestly, it’s really great. I don’t think about a car, I’m probably saving a ton of money, even though I’m paying for Uber.

Paul: You’re not also, you’re not a guy who misses a car. I’m not either. I don’t want a car. My license is expired right now, which is a little bit of a point of contention between my wife and I.

Rich: Wow.

Paul: Well, because she’s doing all the driving.

Rich: She does all the driving?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I mean, look, we live in a walking neighborhood. I don’t have to get in a car to get toilet paper. I mean, it’s New York City, right?

Paul: You can just skip toilet paper.

Rich: There’s restaurants all over — [laughter] There’s restaurants all around. So it works out beautifully, right?

Paul: Sure. Wait a minute. Is it more expensive or less expensive than owning a car?

Rich: I’m definitely paying less money using Uber.

Paul: I mean this is the tricky thing.

Rich: I commute by train.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: We go to the market and we get our stuff walking. School, walking for the kids. It’s actually special cases when we need the Uber. So we just don’t need that car. And the money we’re spending, we’re still way ahead of a lease. And insurance.

Paul: So we bought a used car. It’s 10, 11 years old now. We needed it when we had twins. It was hard to move kids around, getting them to the doctor. And also you live very close to your pediatrician, but we didn’t at the time. Now they’ve expanded to our neighborhood.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: If our pediatrician had lived in our neighborhood, or had an office in our neighborhood, when our kids were born, I bet we wouldn’t have a car.

Rich: And that’s a good feeling.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I also don’t — by the way, worth noting, there are probably people who love cars.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I just don’t care.

Paul: The vast majority of Americans really love cars.

Rich: Like, I got the new rims on my whatever.

Paul: You grew up in Bay Ridge…

Rich: I just don’t care about cars.

Paul: I grew up in a small town, I walked everywhere when I was a kid. I just never got into cars. My brother loves cars. Got a big pickup.

Rich: OK. And I can respect that. I mean…

Paul: Your brother loves cars.

Rich: My brother loves cars.

Paul: Your brother has a Maserati.

Rich: He does.

Paul: My brother has a big red pickup.

Rich: He does.

Paul: Different worlds.

Rich: Yes. So really quickly, it’s worth noting that my mom uses Uber.

Paul: This is not a really quick, we should just take a breath —

Rich: [takes a breath]

Paul: And share this story.

Rich: I wanted to get into being a futurist here and talk about self-driving cars, but we’ll talk about my mom for a minute. Fine.

Paul: But this is an amazing usage pattern.

Rich: Fine.

Paul: Which is, let me set the scene.

Rich: All right.

Paul: You’re in a meeting with a client.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Rich has his laptop open.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: And his laptop is connected to his phone, like all things are connected. So suddenly five things start ringing at once. Rich hangs up. About 30 seconds later, five things — and literally, we’re talking to somebody at this moment, and they’re going, like, how much do you think this 18-month engagement would run us…

Rich: I’m processing like, a high six-figure bill…

Paul: Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring. And you finally are like, “Excuse me for a minute.”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: “It’s my mother.”

Rich: Right.

Paul: And it’s not even your mom.

Rich: It’s my mom.

Paul: Oh.

Rich: It is my mom.

Paul: Or is it the Uber driver.

Rich: Well sometimes it’s that.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: I get the Uber car for my mom.

Paul: So she, she doesn’t use the app.

Rich: She could.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: She does not want to. She’s found it deeply insulting that I’ve asked her to use it herself, and wants me to be the person that gets her the car.

Paul: On your account.

Rich: On my account. That’s not the issue — I’d give her my account on her phone.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: The issue is she can’t process and is very insulted by the idea that I don’t have time to get her the car.

Paul: So your job, you are the —

Rich: I get her the car.

Paul: Co-founder of a mid-sized company in Manhattan.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That is…[laughter] building, it’s one of the most forward-looking companies possible, we are deeply embedded in the technology scene, we’re across the street from venture capitalists, we are as close as we can be. You need to call your mom a car.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: An Uber.

Rich: An Uber. And then there’s this habit from Uber drivers, right. The minute they get to the location, they call you.

Paul: If they don’t see you there, yeah, they call.

Rich: They call you immediately, right? So I get calls, “I’m outside.” And I’ll answer the phone and say, “Be right there,” even though I’m 20 miles away from where he is.

Paul: OK, so your mom calls. That’s call one.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: “Can you get me an Uber,” and she gives you the address.

Rich: Yes. Yes. And then I’ll get another call, “Where is he?”

Paul: OK, so you enter it into the Uber system, and it says he’s on his way.

Rich: Yes. To where she is.

Paul: Then she calls and says…

Rich: “Where is he?”

Paul: “Where is he?”

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Then he calls. It’s usually a man.

Rich: “I can’t find her.” Right.

Paul: Can’t find her. Then what happens.

Rich: I make it happen. We bring it together. And then she’ll get out of the car…[laughter] and she’ll say, “Rich, he was nasty. Give him three.”

Paul: [sigh]

Rich: Three stars.

Paul: Yeah, so she’s a tough…she’s a tough ride.

Rich: Well no, she’s actually very sweet, but if you’re not gonna talk to her, and have a long conversation, you’re not going to do well…

Paul: Oh, so she requires interaction.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I give five stars when no one talks to me.

Rich: [laughter] Exactly. So that’s my, that’s my world, a little bit. Uber’s a big part of my life. Now, Uber just recently announced that they’re gonna put in place self-driving cars.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: The driver will be there. He just won’t be driving.

Paul: Yeah, because we’re not quite ready for fully autonomous vehicles.

Rich: It’s a phased approach, and they’re doing this in Pittsburgh.

Paul: OK.

Rich: Where I guess, it’s roomier. [laughter]

Paul: It is and it isn’t, I mean, it’s actually —

Rich: I don’t know Pittsburgh.

Paul: No, it’s a real city, it’s got big hills, it’s, it’s…

Rich: OK.

Paul: There’s a lot going on in Pittsburgh.

Rich: OK.

Paul: It’s not an easy city…it’s easier than, like, Boston.

Rich: Right.

Paul: But it, like, it’s a city.

Rich: Uber is an incredibly paranoid company. I respect that about them.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: They are just thinking to themselves, somebody’s gonna eat our lunch if we don’t get on this. We’re gonna be the first. There’s no way we’re gonna be catching up to somebody else.

Paul: Oh yeah, they’re sitting there with those little sticky notes, reading The Fountainhead.

Rich: Oh —

Paul: Every day.

Rich: They’re losing their minds about this, right? So they’re gonna do this to Pittsburgh.

Paul: OK.

Rich: And Ford Motor…

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: Announced recently…what did they announce?

Paul: They’re gonna do a…

Rich: Put a fleet…

Paul: Yeah, a fleet of, like, hail-able self-driving cars around.

Rich: Correct.

Paul: I don’t —

Rich: So this is it.

Paul: I don’t know if that’s gonna have drivers…

Rich: The notion — I’m fairly convinced that years from now, I’m gonna be a futurist for a second.

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: Wanted to say that word. Owning a car will be something for collectors.

Paul: Can I tell you something straight-up about self-driving cars?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: It’s probably the technology I’m the most excited about in the entire world.

Rich: Really?

Paul: I love media, I love platforms, I love distribution, and I love apps, but the reality is that that ability to spatialize and optimize around transportation and logistics…

Rich: Mmmm.

Paul: That will be as big a foundational change — I actually think that the internet is a tremendous foundational change in our culture, but compared to things like rural electrification and the fundamental, like, setting up the phone system, where I can call a person and say, “Hey, I’m gonna come over, and we’re gonna have pie.”

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: And they were like, 12 miles away?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: That took people from essentially, like, kind of a latter-day Middle Ages into today.

Rich: Sure. Sure.

Paul: That was the dawn of the modern era.

Rich: Yeah. And this is next. This is the next phase.

Paul: Well this is just, this is almost like catching that up, but physically.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like it’s that virtual connection between the individuals. You’re gonna get in the car and you’re gonna be able to do whatever you want while you travel.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it will be safer, almost absolutely, statistically, it will be safer.

Rich: 100%.

Paul: I, as a person who has little kids, I find drivers, and also, I used to bike a lot.

Rich: Stressful.

Paul: I used to bike everywhere. I would do 50-mile bike rides around New York City.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: I miss it, very, very much. I’d go up to the Bronx. I’d come back. And drivers are incredibly selfish. Bicyclists are as well, but there’s…just, they have less…

Rich: And combative, in many cases.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: A lot of times it’s an outlet for whatever the hell’s going on in their lives.

Paul: That’s exactly right. And they’re basically, they have a large robot around them, like one of those Japanese mechas, that they can use to kill.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And I’m sitting there with my three-year-olds, trying to keep them out of the street.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: And also, I live in a different neighborhood than you do. I live, my neighborhood is still, like, kind of caught between different worlds.

Rich: Mmmm hmmm.

Paul: There’s a gas station across the street. There’s a couple auto-repair places. Neighborhoods like that, people just pop right up on the street.

Rich: That’s the scariest thing, right?

Paul: Mmmm hmmm.

Rich: I mean…

Paul: And they’re not looking.

Rich: No.

Paul: They’re not paying attention, they’re thinking about their own stuff.

Rich: Oh yeah.

Paul: And I just feel that, like, getting all of that toxic thinking and selfishness out of the world.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it’s gonna be replaced with a whole new kind of selfishness…

Rich: It’ll be replaced by car viruses of some sort.

Paul: Exactly. Uber will be taking its cut, and Ford Motor will be taking its cut.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But I’m ready.

Rich: Oh, I’m on — I think it’ll be great. And I’m gonna share another thing, people are like, oh my God, what about all the jobs. That’s another thing they bring up, what are all these people gonna do. I think it’s gonna be amazing, because I think the front of the car is gonna be a counter. It’s gonna be like a…let me throw some names out. Uber Smoothie.

Paul: Oh, you get in the car, and somebody, like…

Rich: You get in the car, and there’s a menu, there’s a chalkboard menu, OK?

Paul: Oh my God.

Rich: And there’s some fruit, and there’s a blender, and the guy is just there to make you a smoothie.

Paul: No, you know what it’s gonna be? Uber Chop’t.

Rich: Uber Chop’t. [laughter] Uber Chop’t.

Paul: You’re gonna get in there, and you’re gonna be like, “Hey.”

Rich: Yup. Hold on, let’s keep going. Uber Crepe, which will be delicious.

Paul: Someone will come, someone will come to your house, and you’ll get in the car.

Rich: Yep.

Paul: And they’ll be there, and they’ll make you a salad.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And it’ll be as fresh as can be.

Rich: Exactly. Uber Salad.

Paul: Mmmm.

Rich: Let’s go even further. Uber Stand-Up. You get a stand-up comic.

Paul: That sounds great.

Rich: For like 10 minutes, somebody’s trying to break through. He just has to be in an Uber, because they’re not, you don’t have to drive it, they’re just going to tell jokes.

Paul: Captive audience! It’s great.

Rich: Captive audience.

Paul: Do you pay less or more for Uber Stand-Up?

Rich: I think there are different tiers. I think you have different options.

Paul: I think sometimes you get a discount.

Rich: I think so, too.

Paul: The worst part —

Rich: I think you’ve got to introduce these things.

Paul: You know what’s gonna suck is the rating system.

Rich: Yeah. Um…

Paul: I didn’t like that salad from Chop’t in my car.

Rich: Uber Blackjack.

Paul: That sounds great.

Rich: You just get in and there’s just a blackjack table facing you. And the driver’s not a driver, he’s a dealer. He’s just dealing.

Paul: Well that works better with Uber Pool.

Rich: That will work fine with Uber Pool. I’m convinced that they’re gonna do things —

Paul: I also think.

Rich: First off, Uber is out of its mind. If Uber could ship you a small baby lamb, they would do that.

Paul: They would do that.

Rich: It would be Uber Lamb.

Paul: Well you know what I think about it —

Rich: They will sell anything.

Paul: What I think also is like, the actual, the change in distribution points throughout the city, like, point to point, Baby Lamb might be efficient, but Baby Lamb distribution, you gotta get the baby lambs off the back of the truck, and then you send Uber to the baby lamb distribution center, but you might want to send, like, milk there, too, because there’s gonna be like, milk —

Rich: Whatever needs arise, yes.

Paul: Yeah. And so like, someone loads up that car with milk, and then it goes to baby lamb distribution center, exchanges the milk with a robot for a baby lamb, sends it to the place. OK, great, that’s all working real well. Now what needs to happen is that the cars need to, like, autonomously arrange — you may not even need the distribution center. You might just need something that’s like, hey, I got milk, and the car goes, I got a baby lamb, and they’re like, let’s meet at this corner.

Rich: Oh! It’s —

Paul: And do an exchange.

Rich: A network.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’s just this network of supplies that flies — absolutely.

Paul: So you get rid of the distribution center, and just have this autonomous set of cars just exchanging goods and services through their holes.

Rich: I…can’t…how is that not gonna happen is the question.

Paul: It will happen.

Rich: Brick oven will not be created at a brick oven place and then sent to you in a car.

Paul: They’ll actually bring the brick oven to you.

Rich: The brick oven will be coming to you, and it will come right out of the oven, into your house. This is happening —

Paul: Not only that, when you’re in the car moving around, first of all, as this gets better and better, children will have tremendous autonomy. You’ll just send them to birthday parties.

Rich: No no, there’s no “sending” them.

Paul: The car will be the birthday party.

Rich: The car is the birthday party. The driver’s just making animal balloons up front.

Paul: And you get in the car and there’s a pony. [laughter]

Rich: In the car?

Paul: In the car.

Rich: All right, we might be pushing this a little bit.

Paul: OK, but wait, hold on.

Rich: We could see the possibilities here. I’m not worried about the jobs, is really what I’m trying to get across here.

Paul: I’m very, very —

Rich: As long as you can make a crepe…

Paul: I’m very worried about the jobs, but I’m OK with tens of thousands of people not dying, too. It’s a lot of balances, here.

Rich: It’s a cost-benefit.

Paul: I would like to see it not entirely go to Uber. But maybe it’ll all go to Apple, so that’ll be great, too.

Rich: Apple’s, right, aren’t they experimenting?

Paul: And Google, and everybody. Look.

Rich: Everybody’s gonna get in the game.

Paul: Here’s the thing with the self-driving cars that is…I mean, to me, if I’m really excited about self-driving cars, suddenly Netflix becomes a much more valuable company.

Rich: Hmmm.

Paul: Because I’m gonna get in my self-driving car, and I’m gonna go, boy, do I want to watch that eight-hour “Stranger Things” marathon.

Rich: In the car…

Paul: In the car.

Rich: As you’re traveling.

Paul: You know what’s an amazing screen? Like, if you’re sitting there in a chair? You know what’s going to be an amazing, wraparound 3D virtual-reality environment?

Rich: The windshield.

Paul: Yeah. Your car. You’re gonna put on your seatbelt, and you’re just gonna be surrounded by entertainment.

Rich: I mean, it frees up thinking, right? It frees up time. I think it’s great. I’m all for it. I think it needs to hurry up and get here.

Paul: So let’s hit pause for a second, and think about the ways that it will destroy our culture and our economy.

Rich: OK.

Paul: So an unbelievable number of baseline economic entry jobs in our country are about driving goods from one place to another.

Rich: Yes. Wait, can I just bring up one more case that I think is gonna get broken?

Paul: OK.

Rich: The angry break-up argument where you’re hollering at each other, and then you grab the keys and you slam the door, and you get in your car, and then it just coasts off at like seven miles an hour. [laughter]

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Without you doing anything.

Paul: You just wait. And it’s like — because remember…

Rich: “We’re done!”

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And it just sort of coasts out…

Paul: And then like the window goes up — [automatic window noise] — and then…

Rich: The dramatic exit is gone.

Paul: “It’s over, baby!” And instead of a squeal, you get, like, “Initiating drive-time sequence. What is your destination?”

Rich: It’s just not impressive.

Paul: Well not only that, you have to come up with a destination.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like you can’t just be like, “JUST DRIVE.” It’s gonna be, like…

Rich: There’s no “break-up drive” button.

Paul: No, yeah, that’s what you need. That’s the first product we’ll build on top of car API. No, you’re gonna need to get in there and be like, “Take me to…Dairy Queen.” Like, you’re not going to have any idea.

Rich: Right.

Paul: OK, so…

Rich: To your point, back to your point.

Paul: I mean, let’s not, let’s, we’re being a little bit…

Rich: It’s gonna have a dramatic impact on, sort of, the economics…

Paul: I think it’s gonna come fast, too.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: I think once this gets going.

Rich: Job climate.

Paul: Because the money in it, the money in the autonomous network of cars, even if it required, like, wiring the roads, or creating special lanes, I think once this thing comes out of the gate, it’s just gonna take over the American economy.

Rich: It is, and there’s gonna be such resistance, and there’s gonna be policy changes, and laws…

Paul: Except that this is an old-school classic lobbying-style industry. Like, Google and Apple are still deep-down figuring it out.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: But Ford Motor Company and GM are almost, like, wings of the government at this point.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: So if they want this…

Rich: Yeah, it’s gonna happen.

Paul: They’ll do a special briefing for Congress.

Rich: True.

Paul: It’ll happen.

Rich: Right.

Paul: And it’s also, transportation money is one of those things that can kind of flow efficiently. You know, like, the government loves to mess with highways. So I think that there will be an enormous amount of money and energy on re-architecting our entire economy around self-driving automobiles.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And there probably are going to be a lot of jobs in that. Not just, like IT jobs, but like, you’re gonna have to run millions of miles of sensors.

Rich: Right. It’s a huge infrastructure change.

Paul: That’s what’s gonna happen, every street’s gonna need a little something.

Rich: Wow. What an episode, Paul. We covered Bluetooth headsets, my mother, and self-driving cars in one show.

Paul: Yeah. I think we really solved all the economic problems that self-driving automobiles are gonna produce.

Rich: And we were incredibly forward-looking today.

Paul: Yeah, no, that’s exactly right.

Rich: Which is important.

Paul: I’m sure the consequences will be something that our culture can handle.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah, that’s great.

Rich: It’s gonna just take time to sink in.

Paul: I can’t wait to see what President Trump has to say about it.

Rich: Oooooh.

Paul: All right.

Rich: All right.

Paul: Well Rich, what should people do if they want to get in touch with us?


Paul: That’s an email address.

Rich: It sure is.

Paul: If you’re in the generation Z.

Rich: Questions, thoughts, comments, bring ’em on.

Paul: This is Track Changes, the podcast of the Postlight product studio in New York City. My name is Paul Ford.

Rich: Rich Ziade.

Paul: Go ahead and give us a good rating on iTunes if it moves you to do so.

Rich: Five. The five star.

Paul: We love our listeners. We love hearing from them. Anything you need, you just let us know.

Rich: Have a lovely week, Paul.

Paul: Let’s get back to the office and…

Rich: Let’s go.

Paul: Get it.

Rich: Bye.

Paul: Bye.