Episode 0042 · May 11, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.


[Unedited Transcript]

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] All right, rich, you’re hitting the table. You’re so excited to tell me something. What do you wanna tell me? Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.

Rich Ziade: All right, so here’s the deal, okay? Okay, let’s go back to 2015.

Paul Ford: Boy. Okay.

Rich Ziade: Pandemic’s a thousand years away. Everyone’s thinking about self-driving cars and, uh, cars are gonna drive themselves, right?

Paul Ford: That’s one. When you say self-driving cars, I drew that conclusion.

Rich Ziade: we’re gonna have self-driving cars and we’re gonna get to do things like watch a TV show while we get to the office

the car’s

Paul Ford: Yeah, that was, oh,

Rich Ziade: and here’s the crazy thing that happened. Do you think driving a car requires a massive amount of intelligence?

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: Do you think coding a React application requires more intelligence than driving a car?

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: Yes. Do you think. Writing a business plan requires more knowledge and intelligence than driving a car.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: So then answer me this. We’ve [00:01:00] stalled on driving cars mainly because of Chinatown and New York City and our inability to see people whizzing between parked cars and smashing into us.

Paul Ford: wait for people who don’t understand because let’s just put it out there.

That could have sounded pretty racist if you don’t do New York City, that has nothing to do with it being

Rich Ziade: No, it has to do with

Paul Ford: It

has to do with the Manhattan Bridge ending in Chinatown and just absolute

Rich Ziade: a large bridge ending in a small village is essentially what’s

Paul Ford: that, that’s it is. Chinatown is absolutely, it’s, I used and I bike through the It’s a disaster.


Rich Ziade: But

what happened?

We were gonna have self-driving cars, something pretty straightforward, signal left, turn, left park, the car that’s stalled, and now we’ve got AI all over the place telling me I don’t need. Health insurance. I don’t need to doctor anymore cause I could just ask the AI robot

Paul Ford: suspicious because you’re right.

It couldn’t, we, we, we don’t have self-driving cars, but it’ll draw you a picture of like a cat in a shoe.

Rich Ziade: [00:02:00] I, I, I put in yesterday, um, Lebanese Civil War as a Renaissance painting.

Paul Ford: Hmm. How to do is this mid journey.

Rich Ziade: It was mid journey using Discord, which is re preposterous, but


Paul Ford: In general, it’s hard. Like we, we has software gotten better in the last eight years.

Like what? What, how are we using discord to interact with ai

Rich Ziade: If we can do these incredibly complex why?

What? I don’t think we’re gonna get it. We were, they were predicting, I think 10 years, like 20, 25.

Paul Ford: If you told me it’s not until like 2040 if ever. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Rich Ziade: what happened?

Paul Ford: Well, this is the thing that always happens with AI and has been happening with AI for 50, 60 years.

It’s the right around the corner syndrome. It it’s this [00:03:00] complicated set of interactions where like the people who are true believers are like, you better get ready because the world’s gonna end and the people who aren’t true believers are like o O, okay. And then it’s always pushed out just a little bit.

We’re seeing it with this new wave, right? Which is. It’s gonna write all our songs for us and write our documents and so on. What it is gonna replace is the world’s worst marketing messages that you sent to spam. Anyway, it’s gonna do that.

Rich Ziade: is. Let me throw out a hypothesis and you tell me if I’m right or wrong.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Um,

the, the human brain is vastly complex in its ability to, um, synthesize a decision in real time with like almost instantly. Almost instantly. And what I mean by that is it’s that last mile of logic that I feel like a lot of AI and self-driving cars, it’s the one thing they have in common is they kind of quickly sprinted [00:04:00] the first like 90% of the race.

And then there’s that last 10% where you pretty much have to decide how you’re gonna navigate Chinatown. Are you gonna have to decide? And, and, and that’s why you’re seeing like a lot of the, the chat G P T stuff looks incredibly impressive, but if you really look carefully, that last 10% is, goes off the

Paul Ford: Let me make this easy for you. I can give you one word and then you’ll be able to completely clarify your point. Neurosurgeons.

Rich Ziade: Whoa,


Paul Ford: They go to school for how long?

Rich Ziade: years and then they watch surgeries for like another 10

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm. And it’s that last, it’s, it’s for those hours that they’re in the room, right?


computers everywhere. There’s robots everywhere. They’re assisted in a million different

Rich Ziade: There

actually are. Yeah, it’s incredible actually. The tools they use now, um, don’t allow them to screw up from a, like motor skills perspective. It’s kind of wild.

Paul Ford: That’s right. So they can’t make a mistake because the robot will keep them [00:05:00] from making a mistake. Correct. Okay. And uh, but could we get rid of the human in the loop?

Rich Ziade: Um, really, really hard because you need that realtime judgment.

Paul Ford: You can’t, right? You can’t, you can’t. And it’s, it’s context and it’s humanity and so on. And so like is it

Rich Ziade: and experience

Paul Ford: is it inconceivable than a robot? Could an expert system of some kind could eventually perform better neurosurgery than most humans? No. I, I, I, you know, I, I think like, I’m sure like it’s, it’s, it’s conceivable, but what I, I think happens, what drives me bananas is that the.

And I think of this as a West coast thing. The West coast vision of humanity is extremely narrow, and that aligns with creating products that millions of you, you know what’s funny? You work to get the humans out of the loop until the point they’re about to.

Once they get their credit cards out, that’s okay. Then you want ’em back in the loop. But up until that, no. I’ll tell you like remember you ever tried to call like Amazon for customer service, early [00:06:00] days of


like they didn’t want humans in there. Everything needs to be as automated as possible cause it’s all of your efficiency and all your margins.

The minute you add humans to the computers, you ruin everything.

And it’s less goes. That is a West coast ideology in the West coast, but the West Coast ideology, God bless it, often doesn’t include things like read, you know, they’re always ready to kill the humanities on the west coast. We’ve talked about this on the podcast before.

They’re always like novels. Nobody reads novels. Yeah. And let me be frank, I haven’t been reading many novels these days. I’m kind of busy, but nonetheless, I’ve read a lot in the past. And there is a,


real thing that happens, and it happens as you get older and it happens, especially if you grow up maybe without a ton of money.

And so, but you realize that humans are unbelievably perverse and slippery and in infinitely creative in the weirdest possible ways, and that you can do anything you want to try to capture that. In fact, some of the greatest minds in the world have done spent their entire lives as philosophers, novelists, whatever, trying to capture every aspect of human [00:07:00] behavior.

And they just can’t get it. It’s not the last five years. It’s the last 5,000 we’ve been working on this problem. Yeah. And computers don’t solve it. Not in this, I mean any more than like guns solve it or like, I don’t know, hammer solve

Rich Ziade: Yeah. And, and, and that is just the creative mind.

Paul Ford: I think so. I think that, so why is this so hard to make a self-driving car?

It’s not cuz of the cars, it’s cuz humans are utterly unpredictable and they make incredibly bad decisions all the time.

Rich Ziade: So what you’re saying is if we. Built a zone around Chinatown and said, only self-driving cars are

Paul Ford: allowed. I’ll fix all that for you. Absolutely. I’ll, if you let me put a one inch metal strip down the middle of the street and then block all the other traffic off, the self-driving cars will work beautifully.

Rich Ziade: So the issue is other humans.

Paul Ford: always

Rich Ziade: interesting

Paul Ford: you can’t create a model of humans. Except in the absolute most aggregate, even then it falls through.

Rich Ziade: Right?


Paul Ford: What’s the way to accelerate this? The way to accelerate this is to work with local governments and create like a self-driving car lane throughout the city.

Rich Ziade: Mm. So you’re negotiating with humanity

Paul Ford: Now? We’re in the, now it’s so, it’s like, I’m like, ah, there’s all this epistemological, philosophical stuff.

All it comes down to ultimately here is like regulatory, right? So go ahead and go to the Adams administration and the Hoku administration and say, Hey, we want to completely change the way traffic works in New York City. And they’ll say, we’re trying to do congestion pricing, and it’s not going well. right.


Rich Ziade: So you’re saying, Technology isn’t the way out. We’re gonna have to negotiate with the humans.

Paul Ford: It always ends up that way, and that’s why Google has a, why would Google the most automated organization in the universe have an extremely large lobbying arm in Washington dc Like there’s buildings of Google lobbyists.[00:09:00]

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yep, yep, yep, yep.

Paul Ford: So what, what did they figure out eventually? Because honestly, with AI and all these systems and self-driving, like why would you need to regulate? Why would you need lobbyists? Yeah. You know, no. You. You. That’s not how it works. You’re gonna get in these systems for all the fantasies that we have on either side, that somehow we can shut the platforms down or that the platforms are gonna take over the world or whatever.

Ultimately, you still have these giant regulatory frameworks in the middle, and you can look at them different ways. They could be, you could see ’em as people with their hands out. You could see ’em as people who are protecting our best interests. You can see them as people who are selling out. The working class like we have, but that’s the framework we’re in.

So you drop self-driving cars in as a, as a hypothesis. It works fine. You drop it into an environment with human beings interacting as human beings do in a relatively justice oriented, law oriented society. Yeah, no way. Slow down there, buddy. Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

And, and, and you mentioned Arizona. I mean, there are places where solving the puzzle is a [00:10:00] lot easier than, yeah.

Paul Ford: yeah. I mean, New York City, if we don’t have self-driving cars, we, we can’t, we can’t do

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Yeah.

Paul Ford: We can’t get new subways. We, it’s hard to get your trash picked

Rich Ziade: Right, right, right, right.

Paul Ford: um, yes. Arizona can have self-driving cars cuz the, it’s like the, each street is, you know, you know where you can You ever been to Minneapolis?

It’s like 45 minutes to cross the street. They’re so wide.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Well that’s a sprawl situation of a, of the first order.

Paul Ford: Let’s do it there. Go find one of those like nicely constructed cities with like a 1.2 million population.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. I, I think, I think, I think you’re kind of nailing it here. I also think, you know, self-driving cars are capable of killing people.

AI isn’t yet, maybe down the road,

Paul Ford: God forbid we just have buses too. Sorry, that’s not

Rich Ziade: I worry about this with ai, is that we’re really good at sort of creating this wild machine that then gets out of hand[00:11:00]

and then we gotta reign it back.

Paul Ford: you don’t mean like wacky robots with laser

Rich Ziade: No, I mean social media and it’s like, oh my God, it’s messing. You know, messy kids are, are mess

Paul Ford: I am

Rich Ziade: it and misinformation.

And now crypto and you had a lot of people losing crypto’s, kind of making a, like the, the, the shares are back up, but they’ll, they’ll be another day. And even so, even though they’re back up, there are a lot of people who like got wiped out, like people who put their savings in it and,


Paul Ford: what happened with crypto too is the media’s just done. Like, it can’t take, nobody wants any more press releases. Nobody’s gonna cover it. So like,

Rich Ziade: And now we’re on ai and then we’re gonna be like, uh oh. Um, that drone that was supposed to deliver your Taco Bell smashed into like, you know, a home.

Paul Ford: It’s that. And it’s not just that, just like look.

Do I even have to tell you it’s the 2024 election will be the AI bot election, and we’ll have to like, that story’s coming and, and just it’s, I’m already, I’m, yeah. Yeah. I’m pre exhausted.

Rich Ziade: fake articles that are generated by ai. By


Paul Ford: yeah. Can you imagine? Like, I mean, [00:12:00] who’s gonna, it’s Trump or DeSantis and then their, their team will start using bots and

Rich Ziade: oh, God,

Paul Ford: we’re just, it’s gonna suck.

And then Facebook will be like, well, this is our new policy.

Everything is, look, I think what is different is that even at the giant platform level, everybody leans into a regulatory framework. Even if they have to improvise

Rich Ziade: sometimes later than they need to.

Paul Ford: But even, I don’t think Facebook knows, like, I kind of doubt that 2024 will be a replay of, of like 2016.

I think that’s

Rich Ziade: right. And it could be other bad actors that are leveraging tech, but

Paul Ford: Yeah. I just like, yeah. But where else? There’s only like a few platforms. Where are they gonna go? Like, here we are. So I, I like that, that part, it’s hard to get

Because it feels like the excitement is so manufactured, and if you look at it, it, it kind of all ends up rolling back to a few incredibly wealthy individuals who sort of keep raising the stakes and raising the stakes and, and, uh, or very, very wealthy companies.[00:13:00]

And so

My pleasure and excitement about technology is typically an inverse relationship to that. Cuz I like seeing people mess stuff up or frankly, like, this goes back to the product you and I are building. I like seeing people clean stuff up, like, you know, make sense of the world for themselves.

Rich Ziade: Well, I mean, you’re making an important distinction here and I think this is a good sort of closer, which is distinguish technology that tries to automate people away. Versus technology that actually empowers people and amplifies our, ourselves

Paul Ford: Yeah, but I’m gonna make one, I’ve been thinking about this a lot cuz our, our, the product we’re about to launch has a lot to, like our particular culture, our culture of like internet nerds who believe the computers are incredibly empowering and make smarter, better human beings.

Mm-hmm. What do people actually do on the web all day?

Rich Ziade: shop for stuff?

Paul Ford: for stuff, they watch videos, and often they’re watching videos about [00:14:00] shopping for stuff. If the web has taught me anything, it’s that we are extremely economic humans, like things that you think are incredibly meaningful and deep, like your book club tie back to a product called the book or things like, I’m gonna, I’m gonna buy a beautiful home and decorate it with my, my wife that I love.

You know, that involves a large transaction and a mortgage, right? Yeah. There’s this infrastructure, the web is infrastructure around those transactions just as much as

Rich Ziade: around life decisions,

Paul Ford: distribution and document creation and so on and so forth. And I, I feel like. There’s a product manager ethos of the greater human being that I’m just increasingly suspicious of as well.

Right? Like, I feel like if you’re gonna help people, you want to help ’em. And that’s what we’re trying to do. Like, we’re gonna like pat me on the back before our product launches and everybody looks at us from blinks. Um, but, but what we are consciously trying to do in this very room is look at people where they are and say, how can I make that better for you?

Not just buying, also creating documents, also doing all that

Rich Ziade: Very east [00:15:00] coast

Paul Ford: very east coast, humans are gonna be in the loop.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Humans are gonna be in the loop.

Paul Ford: Put lots of humans in the loop and, and hope and, but not too many at once. That’s the other aspect.

Rich Ziade: Well that’s not, that’s a different podcast, but that is a very different take from why are humans doing that?

We can make machines do it. Right. And

Paul Ford: funny, the West coast ideology is like, don’t let humans in the loop. But if you do. Let ’em all in. Yeah, let,

Rich Ziade: yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: just assume they’ll be fine. Which is another

Rich Ziade: It’ll work out the details

Paul Ford: Yeah. You kind of learn when you’re walking around New York City that you don’t want to be in a room with everybody.

Rich Ziade: So what you’re saying, Paul, is that the best self-driving car is the one that uses a human

Paul Ford: That’s a, that’s an Uber rich,

Rich Ziade: and a gas pedal

Paul Ford: that’s a

Rich Ziade: and a brake.

Paul Ford: No one would love self-driving cars more than me.

No one is more ready.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: uh, I have one though. It’s called a bus. It’s not quite [00:16:00] self-driving. There’s a human in the loop, but it’s solving

well, but it’s, it’s one to 50 ratio, so it’s pretty good.

Rich Ziade: pretty good. It’s pretty good.

Paul Ford: my bus. I love my bus driver.

Rich Ziade: this, this podcast has been sponsored by a board.com. We talked about this, uh, throughout this podcast. Um, it’s a new tool that we’re making available real soon.

Sign up to get in line. We’re gonna let wave a ton of people in very shortly. Um, it’s a, it’s this really, really cool platform that helps you organize your passions.

Paul Ford: Can’t say any better than that.

Check us out at, uh, hello. It’s yai ford.com at Ford on Twitter, but also add a board on Twitter. Follow us. We’re gonna start tweeting soon. Tweeting. Um, and, uh, yeah, can’t wait to show it to you. Anyway, all Rich. Let’s, uh, let’s get back to work

Rich Ziade: Have a good week.

Paul Ford: Bye.

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