Episode 187 - Is Social Media Hindering AV Advancement?

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Today, there is a rush to be the first person to post a video or photo of an autonomous vehicle in a compromising light. But what impact is that having on the advancement of the industry?

Many of us don’t know the history of aviation and the risks that were taken to advance flight. Autonomous vehicles are having their Wright Brothers moment. When new technologies are developed and commercialized, there's always risk. What makes it worth it is the resulting technology that will decrease road fatalities and put an end to distracted driving.

Join Grayson Brulte, Host of SAE Tomorrow Today, as he uses history to explain why society must avoid click-bait coverage of the AV industry to advance autonomy and make our world safer.

Have your own thoughts on this topic? We’d love to hear from you! Share your comments, questions or ideas for future topics with Grayson on Twitter or send them to podcast@sae.org.

Meet Our Host

Innovation Strategist & Co-Founder, Brulte & Company

Grayson Brulte is an autonomous mobility advisor and consultant who provides strategic counsel and political insights to help clients navigate what’s next.

As an SAE strategic partner since 2017, Grayson brings his in-depth industry knowledge to host SAE Tomorrow Today. His unique perspective factors in economics, politics and technology into one-of-kind weekly conversations with innovators changing mobility and its impact on society.

Grayson is a thought-leader who regularly provides insights to publications including Bloomberg, Reuters, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter and Forbes. His written opinions and insights have been featured by organizations including the Consumer Technology Association in presentations to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Grayson Brulte:

Hello and welcome to SAE Unplugged. I'm your host, Grayson Brulte. 

Imagine if there were social media and iPhones in 1908, when a 26-year-old West Point graduate from San Francisco named Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge unfortunately became the first person ever to be killed in a plane crash.

Would the advancements that the Wright brothers were making be put on hold? When they come to a halt, will the industry be shut down by the cyber soldiers of today who aggregate for change without knowing the full facts? Possibly. The pilot that day? None other than Mr. Orville Wright. Did Orville Wright push the boundaries of what was possible? Yes. Did Orville and his brother Wilbur pave the way for the jet age? Yes. When new technologies are developed and commercialized, there's always risk. 

And Orville took a risk that early evening when Lieutenant Selfridge boarded the plane as he weighed 175 pounds. This was the heaviest person that Orville had ever taken up for a flight. There were 2,600 spectators on hand that day as the plane made its way down the makeshift grass runway in Arlington, Virginia under clear, cool skies. Due to weight, the plane took off very. slowly off the grass, slower than normal, hitting 40 miles per hour at an altitude of 125 feet. A piece of the propeller broke off as Orville took control of the aircraft.

The engine began making noises and Orville turned it off to glide back to the ground. Unfortunately, instead of gliding safely to the ground, the plane twisted, then plunged straight down. In the words of Orville, the plane plunged straight down like a bird shot dead in full flight. In other words. It was over.

The plane hit the ground with a terrific force, causing a loud boom and a swirling dust cloud. Orville and Lieutenant Selfridge were pinned beneath the blood-stained wreckage, faces down. Orville was conscious and Lieutenant Selfridge... Both men were rushed to a military hospital, Orville arrived in critical condition with a fractured leg, hip, and four broken ribs. He would survive the crash, but he would never again fly. Lieutenant Selfridge arrived unconscious with a fractured skull and was pronounced dead at 8:10 Eastern Standard Time on September 17th, 1908. 

Lieutenant Selfridge was not supposed to be the passenger on that dreadful day. It was supposed to be none other than sitting U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt had a thirst for adventure as he became the first U.S. president to ride in a submarine diving beneath the waters of Long Island Sound in 1906. This adventure startled the country. Would he startle the country again and become the first U.S. sitting president to fly in an airplane?

That was the rumor at the time circulating around Washington, D.C. and was later reported by the New York Times. When asked about the idea of President Roosevelt flying with him, Orville Wright told the New York Times, and quote, “Of course, if the president asked me to take him on a flight, I cannot refuse.”

After the rumors in startling the country once in 1906, President Roosevelt erred on the side of caution and released the following statement, “I'm sorry, I don't believe the President of the United States should take such chances.”

This decision by President Roosevelt paved the way for Lieutenant Selfridge to take that fateful flight. How would a history have judged the Wright brothers if a sitting U.S. president became the first person to perish in a plane crash? Not well. Even after all their accomplishments, the Wright brothers, in my opinion, would have not have been held in the same regard as they are today.

What if in 1908 there were social media and the iPhone and several of those 2,600 spectators that they recorded video and uploaded to X, Instagram, and Facebook? Think about that. What would happen? There would have been congressional hearings and the industry would have come to a grinding halt as there would have been outrage across the country.

Outrage across the country. Headlines, negative headlines all over. It would have been over for an indefinite period of time. The industry would be over. That's the airplane industry. Leading to a long-term negative impact on the U.S. economy and the United States national security. Europe would have moved forward with developing planes while the United States.

He'd be wrapped in partisan politics with no clear path towards progress. Thankfully, in 1908, there wasn't social media, there wasn't the iPhone, there wasn't even the internet. We might not be flying commercial planes today. Very common route, JFK to LAX. It might not have happened. It might not have been there.

The negative impact that social media and jumping to conclusions has on the history and the evolution of transportation It's mind boggling. Everybody wants to be first. No one wants to be right. Just wants to be first. We rush to be the first to post, the first to comment, the first to share a photo or a video.

But why? What good does this serve? It strokes your ego, sure. But does it help society? No. Does it help the economy? No. What if you took all this rushing and put it into thoughtful analysis? We'd be better off as a society. And frankly, you'd be smarter. Okay, I said it. Smarter. The rushing to be first is having a negative impact on the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

Everyone wants to be the first person to post a video or a photo of an autonomous vehicle in a compromising light. Why? Simply, it gets clicks and people think it's cool because they have an agenda. Let's put a cone on Thomas vehicle. We have an agenda. Not nice, but they have an agenda. What if the same amount of effort was put into videotaping bad drivers?

Filming the person blowing dry in their hair while driving down the 10 freeway in Los Angeles? Or the person eating ice cream out of a bowl stuck in traffic on the 405? Or the drunk driver driving over lampposts? They're all real scenarios. I've seen them all in person. My friends in Law Enforcement got it back to bloom. They showed me the video. It was scary. Somebody saw it. Crazy things happen on the roads of the world every day, yet they're not reported. Why? Simple. Because they do not get clicks. They don't drive ad revenue. When the media and social media users rush out with a false narratives and false headlines, they're everywhere.

Some of the worst offenders for this as it relates to autonomous vehicles are, and I'm gonna quote these headlines. They're pretty bad, but I'm gonna quote them here for you. “Self-driving car runs over pedestrian.” Next one. “Self-driving car mows down woman, leaving her trapped underneath vehicle.”

Next one for you here. “Could Chinese self-driving cars go in a program killing spree in America?” Whoa! Why these headlines? Simple. They sell ads and generate a lot of revenue for the media companies that are allowed to publish this nonsense. These headlines are false, they're misleading, and they erode public trust.

What do these media companies do? No fact checking, just rushing. If this were 1908, could you imagine the headlines? They'd be something like this. Airplane kills human. Right Brothers failed. Time to ban airplanes. Airplane almost killed President Roosevelt. The mob would have derailed what we have today.

This behavior is not healthy, and frankly, it's sad. It's time for us to come together to embrace the future, and not look to drive clicks for our own selfish gain. Autonomous vehicles are the same way planes were the future then. Today we are having our Wright Brothers moment. History will be written this decade and vehicles will drive themselves all over the country and all over the globe.

When this happens, the global economy will thank us. Families will thank us as road fatalities will dramatically decrease. The epidemic known as distracted driving will come to an end because of autonomous vehicles. Want to drive clicks for good? Focus on distracted driving. It's an epidemic. Humans do silly things, stupid things, and downright weird things.

This combination of behavior, guess what? It drives clicks. Before you jump and you post, take a moment to think about the impacts of your actions. Let that sit in for a moment. Before you jump and post, take a moment to think about the impacts of your actions. 

What do you think? Let us know by sending an email to podcast@sae.org. That's podcast@sae.org. Today is tomorrow. Tomorrow is today. The future is innovation and progress.


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