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Opinion

Why a Cannonball Racer and Self-Driving Tech CEO Started a Podcast

Sign with text: "No Parking, autonomous vehicles only."

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Ford's self-driving vehicle service platform will be a far-reaching ecosystem that allows a variety of companies — from large to small — to tap into it to enhance their business.

When I started covering self-driving as a journalist five years ago, it was hard to discern valuable information from the mountain of press releases filling my inbox, and my skepticism grew daily. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to cover the dawn of flight, electricity, or cars 100 years ago, when hundreds of companies claimed their technology was the best and every leader was supposedly a visionary.

Until early 2018, when Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky joined me for an interview. I knew little about Argo, and even less about him, which is why we hit it off. Bryan wasn’t interested in self-promotion or bragging about how a relatively unknown startup had raised $1 billion from Ford.

He didn’t say “AI is going to change everything” or that “self-driving is going to happen overnight.” Most importantly, he didn’t try to convince me that my kids wouldn’t need driver’s licenses.

He said exactly what I was thinking: why should anyone trust an industry so full of hype? So many platforms are just insiders talking to each other. Where were the conversations about AI and self-driving for everyone else?

Why a podcast?

Six months later, I found myself in Bryan’s Pittsburgh office, and he asked me what if we launch that platform ourselves? We spitballed for hours. What is AI? What is safety? Should we talk about policy? How far do we go into AI? How do we make it fun? Do we mention Argo? Will we get along? Who can we get to join us? Who can’t we get? What medium do we use to tell these stories???

I felt really strongly that we needed to talk about trust — directly or indirectly — as much as possible. Talking means listening, and I’m a big fan of podcasts as a way to bring people together.

Because ultimately, trust is emotional and personal. Trust isn’t just given, it’s earned. People don’t trust numbers or a black box—people trust people. How do you convince someone to trust a self-driving vehicle, and why should they? We wanted to cut through the noise and talk about these things.

Our answer was Season 1 of No Parking, which launched last year. Bryan and I are the hosts—he’s the expert, I’m the skeptic—and for six months we stood firm on our promise to cut through the hype around AI and self-driving cars. Then the pandemic hit, and we took a break to focus on our families and daily lives while working on Season 2.

What’s it about?

No Parking is about more than self-driving cars and AI, in the same way that a podcast about electricity in 1900 would have been about a lot more than generator design. A hundred episodes about AC versus DC power would have missed the big picture of how electricity changed our lives for the better, from where we live, to what we do, and how far we can go. Today we take these changes for granted, but electricity didn’t arrive everywhere all at once. It started in parts of cities where demand was highest, and access expanded street-by-street, block-by-block, city-by-city. Nothing happens overnight.

That’s been true for every world-changing invention, from the wheel to shipping, elevators, trains, aviation and computers, and that’s exactly how AI and self-driving has been unfolding for years.

I like to say that technology is only as good as we choose to make it. Bryan takes it further in his blog “How Self-Driving Vehicles Benefit Cities Is Up To Us.” But despite all the hype, the age of autonomy in transportation—which is just another word for freedom—has barely begun. That means we have a chance to learn from the past and channel development as it’s happening toward good, and that starts with honesty, and following topics wherever they take us.

Why call it No Parking?

Many podcasts out there have titles that include AI or autonomy, but like the podcast itself, we wanted our title to be as relatable as possible.

I’ve traveled all around the world, and if there’s one thing everyone can relate to it’s trying to find parking. In a perfect world, there would be enough parking in busy cities for those who want to drive, but also so many better transportation options that people would choose not to. Today we’ve got trains, buses, bikes, and scooters. Eventually we’ll be able to add self-driving vehicles to the list. It’s a worthy dream, and the perfect name for a podcast about what we share, and where we all want to go.

What’s coming next? 

In Season 1, we experimented with a variety of formats and guests—all of them entertaining—and every one of them shared an important and interesting lesson. Check out my favorites here.

In Season 2, we’re headed even further out-of-the-box as we talk about the pandemic, how life in cities has changed, the development of air traffic control, the accuracy of AI and robots in science fiction, skyscrapers without elevators, Indycar vs. robot racing, and what human driving and car ownership might look like in the future.

Bryan loves cars and driving as much as I do, and we’re both really interested in what freedom means as more things are automated. Some say freedom and the automation of safety can’t co-exist, but I think they can, and I know I’m not alone.

Look for us in your feeds every Tuesday. I’m excited to get started again. I hope you are, too.

If you would like to join us on the show — or know someone who should — please email us. Don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list on the No Parking site, follow us on Twitter, and let us know what you love. We’d love to hear from you.

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