Podcasts And Lousy Self Driving Cars

Between podcasts and my newly optimized RSS system 1 2 , my willingness to take public transport has gone through the roof. Two podcast episodes in particular inspired this thought, and if you haven’t listened to them, go figure out a way to free up the time promptly.

First - The Joe Rogan interview with Elon Musk. Here. I know, I know, everyone was talking about it - but from my wildly biased and informal sample, most people have not seen anything more than highlights. That means they missed it, or worse. Don’t bother with the video, the audio alone is fine, and 100% available on the first thing you click that has “pod” or “cast” in the name. As an aside, I’ve been told that Rogan gets tens of millions of listeners per month, which is a mind boggling number. Still, I would need a lot of convincing that listens per download is materially north of 0.5 or even 0.25. The Elon Musk video on youtube is at ~15mm views though, and that is certainly not the preferred medium there so who knows.

Second - A podcast conversation between Chris Dixon and Fred Wilson available here. Both are always worth listening to, and this conversation is particularly good on crypto, cloud computing, and what betting on the future sounds like today. Both have been vocal in their thoughts over the years and looking back on it - they were right in some very big ways in ways I never believed at the time. Which is not to say they were right about everything, not even close, but for the VC business, I imagine that would be embarrassing if anything.

Is this at all relevant to self-driving cars? I think so. I have tended to be a relatively light user of the MTA given my commutes over the years. Instead I have always had a strong preference for bicycles or motorcycles. While the expected commute time is often similar, the ridiculously lower volatility (no train delays, packed cars, construction etc) has made the actual experience less frustrating on top of the benefit of being outside and moving around.

But while podcasts are a maybe on two wheels, being both somewhat dangerous and inconvenient, RSS is out for sure. And increasingly, I’m not willing to lose that screen time. Extrapolated out haphazardly, self-driving cars can end up being much worse than promised, worse than driving yourself even, and still win if the opportunity cost of not being on your phone continues to rise. Based on everything I see people playing with on Github, the future of ignoring your surroundings and staring at your phone looks very bright.

I threw this together from NHTSA data, and it was pretty much as expected. A century of dramatic improvements in safety ended in spite of the safest cars ever made.

I know we shouldn’t say its just cell phones, but like, its 100% not not cell phones at all. It just can’t be. And its such a big deal too, worth getting a new car for as Whitney Tilson would say, that even an inconvenient cramped uber pool is going to look good to parents of teens - teens that will get used to not driving and increasingly not bother with driver’s licenses. The lack of driver bit in the story would be just an occasional cost savings with crappy robots, but with good robots? Well, you know.

  1. The system involves a remotely decent RSS reader - anything but Feedly really, I use FreshRSS - for processing a fair amount of feeds, with the worthwhile stuff being sen to Instapaper for their amazing parsing and cleaning system, and anything really good from there is heart-clicked which gets it archived by pinboard. All-together it’s not 5 bucks a month, and I end up with a pleasant way to stay up on what matters to me, without an algorithm selecting things I agree with automatically, and a searchable full text archive available forever so I can refer to things easily. ↩︎

  2. Don’t ask how much tinkering it took to come up with this, I’m not proud. ↩︎