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Friday, July 12, 2024

Autonomous Driving Goes Into High Gear

ON THIS WEEK’S episode of Have a Nice Future, Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode talk to Chris Urmson, CEO of the self-driving-truck company Aurora. They discuss new legislation in California that could help or hinder a driverless future, whether self-driving vehicles are actually safer, and the consequences for the transportation industry if (human) truck drivers become unnecessary.

Show Notes

Check our our coverage of self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles, including Aarian Marshall’s story about Aurora and the rise of autonomous trucking.

Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Gideon Lichfield is @glichfield. Bling the main hotline at @WIRED.

How to Listen

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Transcript

Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.

Gideon Lichfield: Hello?

Lauren Goode: Hey, Gideon.

Gideon Lichfield: Lauren, is that you?

Lauren Goode: It's me.

Gideon Lichfield: It's kind of late. Why are you calling me this late?

Lauren Goode: Well, I'm calling you from a self-driving taxi.

Gideon Lichfield: Wait. As in totally driverless, no human?

Lauren Goode: Totally driverless, human-free. I can talk on my phone all I want. It's pretty wild. And I just, I had to call you.

[Music]

Gideon Lichfield: Hi, I'm Gideon Lichfield.

Lauren Goode: And I'm Lauren Goode, coming to you live from a totally driverless car, and this is Have a Nice Future, a podcast about how terrifyingly fast everything is changing.

Gideon Lichfield: Each week we talk to someone with big, audacious, and sometimes unnerving ideas about the future, and we ask them how we can all prepare to live in it.

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Lauren Goode: Our guest this week is Chris Urmson. He was one of the early leaders of Google's self-driving-car project, and he's the current CEO of Aurora, a company that does automated trucking.

Chris Urmson (audio clip): I think it's much less a desire about making things autonomous and much more about improving quality of life.

Gideon Lichfield: So Lauren, is this your first time?

[Laughter]

Lauren Goode: Are you asking me if I've been around the block before?

Gideon Lichfield: Oh, I know you've been around the block before. No, I'm asking, is this your first time in a self-driving car?

Lauren Goode: It's actually my second time, and I have to say I've been blown away by this experience. I'm sitting in this car right now, and I'm in the back seat, but I have a full view of the “driver.” There's just no one in the driver’s seat, but the wheel is turning, I've got navigation open in front of me, I can control the temperature and the radio, I can even play trivia back here, and we just pulled up to a stoplight, and yep, the car knew to stop. It's pretty crazy. Have you been in one of these taxis?

Gideon Lichfield: No. I mean, I've seen self-driving cars all over San Francisco, but I didn't know you could hail one as a taxi.

Lauren Goode: Yes, I think only one or two services right now will actually let beta testers hail them like a taxi, but the rest of them are just cruising all around San Francisco testing. And there's actually been some interesting legislation happening here in California that could affect the broader self-driving industry too, which is what we're gonna get into on today's show.

Gideon Lichfield: Is self-driving even still a thing we're expecting? I mean, I remember a decade ago we were promised full autonomy by this point.

Lauren Goode: Yeah, and flying cars.

Gideon Lichfield: And flying cars, and who knows what else. And then there was that fatal self-driving Uber crash in 2018WIRED profiled the operator of that car last year. And then I keep seeing stories about self-driving companies shuttering, or pivoting, or Teslas on Full Self-Driving mode crashing into things. So I've been starting to think that maybe we're not gonna let go of the steering wheel anytime soon.

Lauren Goode: Well, you make some good points, but that's not what Chris Urmson thinks. OK, it's worth noting that Aurora's big focus isn't on robotaxis. So he didn't really comment much on those. What they do focus on is trucking. But the idea is generally the same, right? Take a vehicle that typically a very distracted human driver would operate, and then for safety reasons, make it automated. And you know, for efficiency reasons too, because always be optimizing.

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Gideon Lichfield: Oh yes, efficiency capitalism, we always seem to come back to that here on this podcast. Anyway, are you now pretty much sold on autonomous cars, like you'd happily quit driving?

Lauren Goode: Well, despite how fun this ride is, I mean, actually, I don't feel the least bit alarmed being in this car right now. Maybe I should. I still have some real concerns. And I think that you're gonna hear some of those in this conversation with Chris.

Gideon Lichfield: And that is coming up right after the break. Get it? The break!

Lauren Goode: [Chuckle] I didn't get it. Could you explain it to me, please?

Gideon Lichfield: I'll talk to you later.

[Music]

Lauren Goode: Chris Urmson, thanks so much for joining me on Have a Nice Future.

Chris Urmson: Oh, thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Lauren Goode: Are you having a nice future?

Chris Urmson: Yeah. You know what? There's some things that I wish were a little better around the environment and politics, but you don't get a chance to work on something exciting, get to work on it with amazing people—healthy family, yeah. Things are locally good, globally could use some work.

Lauren Goode: Well, you are working on things that are in the area of solutions around that—electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. So I have to tell you, last night I went for a ride in a totally driverless car around San Francisco. If I can be totally honest, I loved it.

Chris Urmson: Yeah, it's one of these things where, you know, over the last 20 years I've worked in this space and you get people that come in to ride in one of these vehicles and the number of times I've had somebody get into a vehicle and the first five or 10 minutes they're a little bit anxious, they're kind of hyper alert and vigilant. And then 10 minutes in they're like, is this all it does? And 15 minutes they're in the back checking their phone, and their email. And it's amazing how quickly people adapt to it and enjoy it.

Lauren Goode: Before Aurora, you led Google's self-driving car team. How was it that you landed on trucks?

Chris Urmson: We're focused on trucking first because we see that as the right entry application for the technology. That today, we see a real need for safety and improvement of safety on the road. Trucks are involved in a half million accidents a year in the US and we see an opportunity to reduce that dramatically. We just all lived through the supply chain crisis. So that opportunity to improve the quality of a fundamental part of the US ecosystem and economy seems like an incredible opportunity as well. And then we see this real opportunity to build a business here that the value of moving goods through the world is high. And so, as a company trying to build a technology and deploy it and actually see it used and be useful for folks, that's a good place to start.

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Lauren Goode: What were some of the bottlenecks that you experienced at Google that informed the way that you're building Aurora?

Chris Urmson: Things we thought about were, while it's important to be driving out on the road to understand what's happening out there and, to some degree, really, you can't get to enough scale in driving on the road to build confidence in the safety of the system alone. And so we invested in simulation technology, which is the heart of how we develop our system. Similarly, we thought about how, can you see far enough to drive a truck down the road? And when we found the company, there wasn't a lidar technology that could do that. And so that was a technology that we've been investing in for the last five years that is really one of the key enablers for us to be able to drive trucks safely at speed down the road. So those are a couple of the areas where we saw real opportunity.

Lauren Goode: So you're not making the trucks—you have a package of technology software that goes into the trucks that's called Aurora Driver?

Chris Urmson: Yeah. The way to think about it is today, if you're a trucking company, you will go to a manufacturer, say PACCAR, and you'll buy a Peterbilt 579 tractor, alright? That's the truck part of it. And then you'll hire a driver to operate that truck, and then you'll get paid for pulling loads through the world. And what we're building at Aurora is that driver. And so, you know in the future, if you're one of our customers, you'll call up PACCAR or Volvo, the other truck company that we work with today, and you'll say, we wanna buy one of those trucks and we'd like to buy it with the Aurora Driver installed on it, and then you'll pay Aurora as we drive the truck for you, much like you do today.

Lauren Goode: So it seems like safety is really at the core of what you're striving for here, and safety in particular with self-driving semi-trucks. So forgive me if this is sort of a basic question, but I'm guessing other people are wondering too, like how are self-driving cars safer?

Chris Urmson: It's a great question and it's a very nuanced question. How do you figure out that they are safer? One part of it is that they don't get distracted, right? And this is surprisingly important that you or I, when we're driving down the freeway, particularly if it's been a long day or if we didn't get much sleep last night, it's easy for our attention to wander because driving most of the time feels really easy. It's easy to be distracted by those things. And so it's hard to underestimate the value of just, this is its one job, it's driving down the road and it's paying attention to it the whole time. There's other parts of it, which are that when I wanna make a lane change on the freeway, I have a look at the traffic in front of me and say, OK, I've got time to make a look. I look over my shoulder, I check to see if there's a vehicle there. If there isn't, then I start to make my lane change. But if there is, then I have to look back and forward, in front of me. And if that vehicle in front of me is suddenly stopped and I didn't expect it, then it's kinda sketchy. And so the fact that we can look 360 degrees the whole time, as a self-driving vehicle is actually really powerful.

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Lauren Goode: What about the cars or trucks actually making the decision though over how to handle a situation like that? How are you programming Aurora semi-trucks and the self-driving technology?

Chris Urmson: It turns out that the federal government, through the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, they've enumerated all the ways vehicles get into crashes. And so we are going through the process of looking into all those ways, creating simulations off them, and we've built tens of thousands of these simulations and then asking, what would the Aurora Driver do in this situation? And so, in the situations where it's possible to avoid, we wanna make sure that the Aurora Driver can, and where it can't, we wanna make sure it's mitigating and doing the "right thing" to reduce the risk of that event.

Lauren Goode: And truck drivers are actually much more likely to be killed on a job than the average American worker because of increased risks.

Chris Urmson: Yeah, that's right. It turns out that if you're driving a truck in America, you're about 10 times as likely to die on the job as the average American.

Lauren Goode: So how is your data playing out right now in, let's still call it early stages for Aurora, when you compare the accident rates of your truck drivers in autonomous semi-trucks versus those that are totally human operated?

Chris Urmson: Through the course of this year, so far, we've driven 100,000 miles and we've had no events that would've resulted in an accident. We did have one situation we experienced where someone was driving a light vehicle on the road near one of our trucks, and they basically fell asleep at the wheel. And that vehicle drifted over a couple of lanes, and then bumped into the side of our trailer. We, you know, the automated driving system, the Aurora Driver tried to move over to make space for it, but couldn't get far enough away from it. The car bounced off, came to a stop, fortunately everybody walked away. And for a car-truck accident, it was about as good as it can get. But it's a reminder of how challenging driving can be, but we saw the Aurora Driver behave in the way we want. And in fact, we took this a step further and we looked at the accident reports for all of the fatal accidents that had happened on the route that our trucks drive today between Dallas and Houston. And it turns out there was about 30 of them. And of the 29 of them where the Aurora Driver could have been operating, we simulated those and saw that the Aurora Driver would've avoided all of those collisions. That was 29 fatal crashes that would not have occurred if the Aurora Driver had been operating the vehicle that initiated it. Which is kind of incredible, if you think about it. And these are the kind of things where you see a real opportunity to improve the status quo.

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Lauren Goode: Of the semi-trucks that you're currently testing. I think you have 31 trucks on the road in Texas, is that correct?

Chris Urmson: That sounds about right. Yeah.

Lauren Goode: There are still human operators inside of them to ensure everything goes smoothly. When do you anticipate that you might phase the human out of the equation?

Chris Urmson: People will always be part of our business, of course, but we're working to have our trucks operating next year without people on board.

Lauren Goode: So by 2024, without any people.

Chris Urmson: By the end of 2024.

Lauren Goode: By the end of 2024?

Chris Urmson: Yeah.

Lauren Goode: OK.

Chris Urmson: That's what we're working towards. Yeah.

Lauren Goode: So what, I mean, what does that mean for the truck driver shortage? What does that mean for people who are career drivers?

Chris Urmson: Yeah. So, today in the US we're short something like 80,000 drivers. And by the end of this, the end of the decade, we expect that to double. What we expect will happen is that the Aurora Driver will do more of the long haul trips and human drivers will do more local drives. As we look forward, if you are a truck driver today, my expectation is you'll be able to retire a truck driver if you want to. But along the way, there's gonna be all kinds of new and interesting opportunities in logistics, whether it's working in a command center and remotely supervising vehicles or terminal operations, or, you know, in our case we've, we have a number of folks who are vehicle test operators. So there's gonna be a whole proliferation of new jobs, as it becomes more efficient to move goods through the world.

Lauren Goode: So you don't think the job of truck driver will disappear completely.

Chris Urmson: I think over the long term, I think they will. As a society, we can look at this and say, it's really important that we move goods through the world and we really appreciate the people who are doing it, but do we really want them to be doing it?

Lauren Goode: Do you see it as your responsibility to address the displacement of truck drivers? Should self-driving trucks take over completely?

Chris Urmson: Today already we work with colleges in Montana and in Pittsburgh to create new programs, so technician programs for automated technology, technician programs around the things like the optics that go into the lidar. So we're trying to help build the training infrastructure for the jobs in this industry in the future already. And I think I take some inspiration from the banking industry where when the automated teller rolled out it was, geez, we're gonna have fewer people in banking and all these people are gonna lose their jobs. And what happened in practice is because the teller was able to take some of the mundane mechanical parts out of the job, they were able to do that more efficiently, they were to open traumatically more branches and the branch job instead of being this kind of, rote counting money out and signing checks—turn into one that was a higher value job. And actually I think banking employment has increased with the automated teller deployment.

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Lauren Goode: Chris I have to say, I think you're the first person who's ever come on this podcast to say you've been inspired by the banking industry.

Chris Urmson: Yeah. I don't know about inspired by, but look to that as a trajectory for technology.

Lauren Goode: OK. We'll cross that over our bingo card. The Have a Nice Future bingo card.

Chris Urmson: There we go.

Lauren Goode: So in a lot of interviews you've also focused on how much faster goods will be delivered. I think you said before, if it takes a human driver two to three days to go from Dallas to LA by comparison it would take an autonomous truck just one day. What is actually the stronger argument? Is it safety or is it about streamlining production when it comes to deliveries or shipped goods? It's commerce, it's efficiency. What's your strongest pitch there?

Chris Urmson: It's an add. And I think that's one of the things that's exciting about the technology is that you get both. You don't get the efficiency benefits, you don't get the economic benefits without the safety benefits. And so one of the things that I think about with automotive safety is that a lot of the time it's about prohibition. Don't look at your phone while driving. But of course, like people do, in contrast with this technology whether it's in moving goods or moving people, you'll get the benefit of moving through the world of whether it's delivering goods or getting where you're going, but you don't have to have the prohibition at that point because you're not driving of looking at the phone or watching a video or having a nap. And so I think that it's a false choice to ask whether it's one or the other. It's actually the fact that you get both.

Lauren Goode: So we should definitely talk about AB 316, which is a bill in California where we both are, that if passed would require human operators in all trucks within the state. I imagine this is a big concern for you.

Chris Urmson: It would be sad for the state not to benefit from this technology. It's been incubated here and grown here. And it'll be disappointing. As we look at building our business though there's 49 other states. And so my expectation is as we are able to demonstrate that tech, the benefits of the technology, demonstrate the safety, should AB 316 pass out of the congressional process that ultimately California will want this technology and kind of figure it out. But it's certainly disappointing given the role that California has played in incubating and developing this technology to see this moving forward.

Lauren Goode: We were having a conversation on my other podcast, Gadget Lab, just last week with my colleague Aarian Marshall who covers the transportation industry. Maybe you've spoken to her before. And I asked her, it seems like robotaxis are getting a lot of the attention right now, and it seems like people aren't talking as much about trucks. Do you expect that Aurora will ever get into robotaxis or robobikes?

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Chris Urmson: Robobikes? No. On the other one, we work with Uber and Toyota today, and as we've designed the Aurora Driver, we've really thought of it as a common system to work on both trucks and cars. And it's literally the same software, literally the same hardware that is on our trucks and is on our cars. We see that transferability and if you come to Texas, you can see our cars driving around. You can see our big 18 wheelers driving around as well.

Lauren Goode: After my Cruise experience, just earlier this week, I'm feeling like, wow, this is really the future. But the autonomous car market has really ebbed and flowed over the past decade or so, and I think that some people are rightfully concerned with the longevity or success of autonomy as a future business. What are your long-term projections for the future of the autonomous vehicle market?

Chris Urmson: If you look at the trucking landscape today, we look out and see a relatively empty playing field that, again, many of the competitors have passed out of existence or are moving out of existence. And we just raised a significant amount of capital, about $853 million from the public markets. And so what we're doing here seems to be working. That model that we've developed, the team that we've built, the technology we're delivering seems to be working well. And so we anticipate, seeing this come to fruition and growing a heck of a business, and doing a whole lot of good in the world.

Lauren Goode: Why do you think there is such a desire for more parts of our society to become autonomous? What is the incentive or the benefit outside of a more capitalistic driven, positive sort of streamlining efficiency, being more productive? Where does this desire to make things autonomous come from?

Chris Urmson: I think it's much less a desire about making things autonomous and much more about improving quality of life. The freedom and flexibility that's come from technological advance has been profound. And I think that's what we're seeing. And this just happens to be the flavor of technological advance that we're observing right now, but we just live through a transformational period with the internet and then smartphones. It's part of that constant march forward of improving quality of life.

Lauren Goode: Do you have any trepidation?

Chris Urmson: About getting in our trucks?

Lauren Goode: Yeah.

Chris Urmson: No.

Lauren Goode: No. OK.

Chris Urmson: We really take developing it safely, seriously. But then certainly right now, as we're developing it, we have our operators in there, and these are folks that take their job incredibly seriously that we train, that understand their responsibility and just do an amazing job. And so, yeah, I have no trepidation about that at all.

Lauren Goode: What does keep you up at night?

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Chris Urmson: I worry about climate change, frankly. I have two college-aged kids at this point and want them to enjoy the quality of life and experiences that I've had and hopefully better. And they need to have a healthy planet to be able to do that.

Lauren Goode: Yeah. That's a whole other podcast, Chris.

Chris Urmson: Yes, indeed.

Lauren Goode: One of the premises of our show is that we talk to people with big, audacious, exciting ideas. We even say this in the beginning of every episode, but sometimes these ideas are also unnerving, And so how often is it that you get to talk to people who are unnerved by your technology, and what do you share with them to try to assuage them?

Chris Urmson: We're making trucks that drive around the road 70,000 pounds with nobody in them.

Lauren Goode: Right. [Chuckle]

Chris Urmson: It is a very natural thing to have questions. It's a very natural thing to be concerned about that. And so the opportunity to talk to people and, one, demonstrate the care that we put into doing it. How much thought we've put into, how do we know it's driving well? How do we know it's gonna fail when things fail, that it's gonna do so in a way that mitigates the risk from that. Talking about those concrete points, really, I think helps.

Lauren Goode: Chris Urmson, thank you so much for joining me on, Have a Nice Future.

Chris Urmson: Thanks so much for having me. It was great.

Lauren Goode: I hope you have a nice future, a nice self-driving future.

Chris Urmson: You too.

[Music]

Gideon Lichfield: So Lauren, you made it out of the robotaxi alive?

Lauren Goode: I did. I'm here. I'm back in studio podcasting with you in my comfy chair, which I don't think is going to autonomously roll across the room anytime soon.

Gideon Lichfield: Great.

Lauren Goode: So I'm curious. After listening to my conversation with Chris, are you feeling more or less confident in the future of autonomous vehicles?

Gideon Lichfield: I wanna get something straight first. You mentioned this bill in California, AB 316 that would require human operators in trucks. So are you telling me that right now in California you can have a truck go down the freeway with nobody at the wheel?

Lauren Goode: No, we are not that lawless. If it's a vehicle that weighs under 10,000 pounds, which is basically no bigger than a minivan, you can test and operate without a human behind the wheel in California. But autonomous vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds are banned altogether. So what AB 316 would do is it would let autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds operate, but only with a human behind the wheel.

Gideon Lichfield: OK. And a typical truck is how big?

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Lauren Goode: Well, a medium duty truck would be between 10,000 and 25,000 pounds. A semi-truck, more than that. The US does have a federal limit though, of 80,000 pounds.

Gideon Lichfield: OK. So the autonomous vehicle industry like Aurora is opposing AB 316 because they want fully autonomous trucks without humans behind the wheel. They want a more liberal form of the law. So where do things stand with this bill right now?

Lauren Goode: I mean, they're opposing it because the California Department of Motor Vehicles has been looking to introduce a regulatory framework as soon as next year that would allow for more autonomous testing. And the industry then sees this as something that would be a roadblock because it would require that human element. So on the regulatory front, things in California heated up right after we taped this conversation with Chris. California Governor, Gavin Newsom, sided with the robots. He said in late August that he opposes AB 316, which would slow out the rollout of autonomous vehicles across the state.

Gideon Lichfield: In other words, he wants a more liberal law.

Lauren Goode: He wants a more liberal law. Yeah. And this really upset the teamsters, the union folks who are in support of the bill, as well as the Democrats who first presented the bill. People who really want to slow down the autonomous vehicle industry, point to some of San Francisco's larger issues or past examples of regulatory bodies just not doing enough to govern big tech or labor unrest as reasons why this should not just be unleashed onto the world. But then representatives for the autonomous car industry will say, basically, isn't California supposed to be this place of innovation? Everyone's gonna move to Texas, which is what Chris Urmson has done.

Gideon Lichfield: Well, I remember that Arizona was also a state that made very, very liberal laws for testing autonomous vehicles. That was why a lot of the companies moved to Phoenix, and that was why the fatal Uber crash that we wrote about happened in Tempe.

Lauren Goode: That's right. And you'll notice that we're talking about red states and blue states, but folks on the Teamster side will say, this should be bipartisan. Basically, safety and regulatory issues should not be partisan issues. We should really consider, first of all, safety and second of all, jobs.

Gideon Lichfield: Yeah. What do you think about the safety thing? Chris seemed very convinced that self-driving trucks will be safer and maybe he's right. All you need to do is look around when you're driving. Everyone's on their phone all the time, and the one accident that he described was somebody in a car falling asleep at the wheel and hitting one of their autonomous trucks.

Lauren Goode: I also felt pretty convinced by his argument that this could be safer. It doesn't mean we're there yet, though. I mean, technologically, it doesn't seem like we're there yet, because a week after San Francisco opened up its rules, so a company like Cruise and Waymo could operate their robotaxis 24/7 in San Francisco, they ended up scaling back because there was an accident involving a Cruise car and an emergency vehicle, and it wasn't the Cruise car's fault. The Cruise reportedly turned into a lane on a green light and then a firetruck was cruising through, no pun intended on the cruising through, but the San Francisco Fire Department says there have been, at least, I'm going to get the data here, 66 incidents with firetrucks and Cruise cars since May of 2022. And the California DMV just reported that Zoox's cars, which are owned by Amazon, have crashed 39 times in San Francisco since early 2022. Across the state of California, Waymo's collisions make up the majority of crashes, 110 crashes, and Cruise has recorded 64. I wouldn't attempt to do any back of the envelope math to try to figure out how this compares to our everyday car crashes because these are really serious numbers to consider, but these crashes with self-driving cars are not nothing, and they tend to get a lot of attention because it's a totally driver-free car cruising around your city.

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Gideon Lichfield: Well, that is the big problem. I mean, you have to feel a little bit of sympathy for the self-driving car companies because even if indeed they are safer, every single accident is going to get poured over in extremely fine detail. And maybe it's just a matter of time before people get more comfortable with self-driving cars and accept that there is going to be an accident rate, albeit a lower one than with human operated cars because we've become obviously very blase about the fact that thousands of people die on the road every single month in cars driven by humans. I think maybe part of what makes autonomous vehicles scary is that there is still that element of mystery. We can't quite know why they did what they did, why they crashed when they crashed, and we kid ourselves that if it's a human behind the wheel, we can know somehow what might've gone wrong or we can imagine how we might've avoided that situation if we were driving ourselves. And it's that illusion of agency I think that allows us to feel safer. Whereas with a robot vehicle, we don't quite know what's going on in its robot brain.

Lauren Goode: I have to say that where I land, despite finding the driver free rides quite fun and thrilling, I'm still in favor of all of this slowing down a bit.

Gideon Lichfield: What would make you feel safer then?

Lauren Goode: That's a really good question, and I'm not totally sure because I'm not sure that it's a specific element of the technology that I could name right now or any kind of number of vehicles on the road here in San Francisco where I see them every single day now. I don't know if that would necessarily make me feel better about it as much as it is the idea that our governing bodies really are looking out for the best interests of citizens and not necessarily being swayed by big tech. There is incredible innovation here in California. There's incredible innovation in Silicon Valley. This is what we cover. I mean, this stuff is literally going to change the world, I think, but I don't necessarily know if that has to happen as quickly as it's happening until we've considered all of the implications and really carefully considered the regulatory framework for this.

Gideon Lichfield: Yeah, I think I agree with you and not because I think self-driving cars are necessarily more dangerous than we're being told. I suspect they're probably safer in the end. I think the problem again is knowing what went wrong when it went wrong and who's liable, and the problem of liability and responsibility is still really fuzzy when it's a robot driver. That was clear in the case of the fatal Uber self-driving crash that we wrote about, and right now there doesn't seem to be a clear framework for deciding who is in the wrong if a crash happens between a human-driven car and a self-driving car where the self-driving car seems to have made a mistake. So until those issues are resolved, I think the rollout of self-driving cars is going to continue to be pretty slow.

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Lauren Goode: So what you're saying is the next time you're in San Francisco, you'd rather have a human Lauren giving you a lift somewhere, checking my slack all along the way, every red light.

Gideon Lichfield: I mean, you might be a bigger risk to my life than a self-driving car, but you're a better conversationalist.

Lauren Goode: Not the first time I've heard that line.

Gideon Lichfield: [Laughter] That's our show for today. Thank you for listening. Have a Nice Future is hosted by me, Gideon Lichfield.

Lauren Goode: And me, Lauren Goode. If you like the show, you should tell us, leave us a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts, and don't forget to subscribe so you can get new episodes each week.

Gideon Lichfield: You can also email us on nicefuture@wired.com. Tell us what you're worried about, what excites you, any questions you have about the future, and we'll try to answer them with our guests.

Lauren Goode: Have a Nice Future is a production of Condé Nast Entertainment. Danielle Hewitt from Prologue Projects produces the show. Our assistant producer is Arlene Revelo.

Gideon Lichfield: See you back here next Wednesday and until then, have a nice future.

[Music]

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