Elon Musk's Crash Course in Self-Driving Technology | FX and Hulu

Elon Musk's Crash Course in Self-Driving Technology | FX and Hulu

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Hi, my name is Emma Schwartz, and I'm the producer  and director for Elon Musk's Crash Course. Elon Musk wanted to  revolutionize the auto industry. He created Tesla's brand around Autopilot. People are gonna assume the  car does more than it can. There were crashes taking place  while Autopilot was in use.

Is Tesla an example of scientific integrity  and public responsibility? It is not. How much do you push the edge of the envelope? This is Factual America. We're brought to you  by Alamo Pictures, an Austin and London based   production company making documentaries about  America for international audiences. I'm your   host, Matthew Sherwood. Each week, I watch a hit  documentary and then talk with the filmmakers and  

their subjects. This week, it is my pleasure to  welcome Emmy winning journalist and filmmaker Emma   Schwartz. Emma is the director and producer of  Elon Musk's Crash Course, the latest in a series   of films from The New York Times Presents. Based  on reporting by New York Times journalists, Cade  

Metz and Neil Boudette, the film zeroes in on Elon  Musk, the world's richest person and CEO of Tesla,   and his claims about self-driving cars. A New York  Times investigation reveals the quixotic nature of   Musk's pursuit of self-driving technology and  the tragic results. Elon Musk made his name,   and fortune, taking bold risks and betting on the  impossible. But Musk's pursuit of self-driving   cars has put him on a crash course with business  realities and the limits of technology. Stay tuned   as we find out more about what many former Tesla  employees have to say about Musk's claims. And the   culture he has created at the self-described tech  company. Is Silicon Valley's era of 'move fast  

and break things' really over? Emma, welcome  to Factual America. How are things with you? ... and how are you? Thanks for having me. Yeah, it's our pleasure. No, things  are great. And congratulations. Let's,   well, our listeners should have already heard it  in the intro, but we're talking about the film   is Elon Musk's Crash Course. The latest from  The New York Times Presents series premiered   on FX and Hulu on May 20. And in terms of our  international audience, I think just google it,   I'm sure it will be coming to you sometime in the  near future. But congratulations. I imagine you,   The New York Times journalists, and others,  you've had a busy couple of weeks, haven't you? Yeah, you know, it was a good experience.  Very much. And, you know, good to see it out.

Yeah, and how's the reaction been? Well, it seems like it's gotten a  lot of attention, which is always   good and interesting. And, you know, for  the most part, I think, fairly positive. Well, I've seen - I mean, even before  we knew we were going to get you on,   I certainly was coming across it on my  perusal of social media and elsewhere. So,   thanks again for coming on to the podcast. I mean,  why don't you tell - for those who haven't seen it  

yet - what is Elon Musk's Crash Course  all about; maybe give us a synopsis. Alright, so the film is about, obviously Elon  Musk, but it's about Elon Musk and Tesla's   attempt to create a self-driving car, right. This  has been a dream in the sort of technology world   for a long time. And, you know, this effort  comes up against - literally crashes with the,   you know, assisted driver system. And so, we  peel back what we can learn from the first   fatal Autopilot crash in the United States that  killed a man named Josh Brown. And what does that  

tell us about the promises that Silicon Valley and  Elon Musk have sold us. And, you know, ultimately,   how safe are these systems that  are starting to come onto the road? Yeah, I think, I mean, and we'll be talking  more about this over the next few minutes,   but like you said, I'm not a big car enthusiast  or not even a big Musk follower, but it seems to   me I've been hearing for ages now that we're just  a year or two away from all being in self-driving   cars, somehow. So, it's - no, I think it's  very interesting. And this is building on   New York Times investigations that have been  done over the last few years. Is that right? Well, you know, there's been reporters of The  Times, obviously, who followed Elon Musk and   followed Tesla over the years and, you know, when  I started with the group, we were talking about,   you know, what should we look into, and there's  a lot of interest in, you know, Elon Musk,   right. He's in the headlines every day. Some  people think he's, you know, sort of going to save   humanity and other people think he's, you  know, a con man and trying to figure out, okay,   what can we add to this conversation? What  can we help people understand about one of the   richest and ultimately, in many ways, most  influential people on the planet today, right. And   I think we didn't really want to look at  just a straight biography. And we started  

looking at, you know, all of the different  endeavors that he's taken on. And really,   the self-driving effort is one of the ones  that's gotten so much attention, and had so   many questions that seem to both, you know, affect  the public good, but also look at how does this   man operate, right. And as I started to hone in on  that, one of the reporters at the time, Cade Metz,   he'd started writing about, you know, this full  self-driving, and we started to collaborate   on developing sources and pushing that story  forward. And really, you know, taking a long   view at, you know, what we had seen as sort of  dribs and drabs over the years, to understand,   well, what's happened to those promises we  were all hearing, you know, 5-10 years ago,   that self-driving cars were going to  be on the road, and that Elon Musk is,   you know, even to this day, still saying  are happening, you know, in the next year. Yeah. And so, that says a lot - something maybe  I'll raise later - about the sort of collaborative  

approach between what you do, and then the  actual New York Times journalists, which I find   very interesting, even personally, but  what were you - what have - I mean,   I don't want to give away, you know, do spoiler  alerts, people should watch the film, but what   are the main findings of, you know, in terms of  the investigations you've done looking at this? So, you know, I think there's findings, and then  there's still questions, right. And I think,   you know, one of the things that we learn is,  you know, clearly Elon Musk and Tesla have been   over-promising the capabilities of the system. And  that, you know, even as Elon is saying, you know,   we're just gonna have, you know, self-driving  cars around the corner, there are people   inside the Autopilot unit who had a lot of  questions, both about what was being sold,   but even about the basic technology  that was being put into these systems,   right. And that has been a pattern over many,  many years. We also, you know, showed the ways in  

which government investigators have highlighted  some pretty key deficiencies in the way that   this system has been put together. It allows  cars to be used on roads that the technology   isn't designed for, without restrictions, or at  least, with very few restrictions at first, and   even the restrictions that have been put in since  haven't met the, you know, the recommendations of   the government investigators. And there's a very  weak system of keeping a driver engaged, right. We   get into technology, right; when we start  using automated systems, we kind of zone out,   right, we forget they're there, we almost  think they're better than they can be. And   this, you know, when you combine that with a  big vehicle, driving on a road at a very fast   pace can be a really dangerous thing. And, you  know, there's decades of research that says,   you got to keep the people involved, you can't  lull them into thinking it's better than it is.   And the system, you know, didn't keep drivers  very active, and even to this day, hasn't met   the recommendations of the government, right. And  it also tells you well, the government hasn't even  

wanted to force them to do anything, either.  But that certainly raises a lot of questions   about what are the values and the principles of  a company that doesn't even respond to government   investigators, when they're saying, Hey, guys,  like, we've got literally dead bodies here. Yeah. I mean, I think, maybe  the first - well, there's   a lot to unpack there. But I guess,  maybe one of the first things is that   the driver's assistance system is  called Autopilot, isn't that right? Right.

So, we... So, what is it? What is that, you know; I mean, we have this  concept of autopilot that - I guess, literally,   planes aren't literally flying themselves,  there's obviously two pilots in the cockpit.   But that in of itself tells you, at least  gives the impression that it's more than just,   you know, that you don't need to have your  hands on the wheel and this sort of thing. Yes, so the name is sort of almost, like,  the first question, right. And, you know,   some people will say, look, the reason why  Tesla and Elon wanted to use the name Autopilot,   is because technically, in a plane, a  pilot is supposed to be engaged, right.   Which is technically true, but you have very  trained pilots who have to go through training   to do this. There's two of them, right.  It's not just you and me jumping in a car.  

And, in fact, when this autopilot technology in  planes was introduced, there were crashes. And   there were problems for exactly the same kinds  of reasons that, you know, we're seeing problems   with the advanced driver assistance, because  the pilots that well, oh, yeah, the plane can,   you know, move so it can handle itself. But I  think when you and me hear the term autopilot,   we think like automatic, right; that's how our  brains work. And that has been something that,   you know, people have criticized for many years,  but Tesla and Elon have stood behind saying, Well,   okay, that's not what we mean. But I think we  all know language is really important because   it affects how we perceive things and especially  because most people, you know, don't go into the   fine print. And it's not just the initial package  Autopilot. Since 2017, they've been selling a   software called Full Self-Driving, right. Like,  

that, to me says, Okay, this car can drive  by itself, right, pretty much anywhere. I   think that's what anyone who doesn't know about  the technology would think. And by everyone's   admission, it's not full self-driving. And so,  it's not just sort of okay, there was Autopilot,   there was a misunderstanding. They made yet  another package that says it's something it's not. Yeah. I don't want to make light of this, either,  actually, but one thing that struck me was that   this sounds like, I mean, because it's  what $10,000 extra to get this full...

Unless you buy it on sale, but, yes. Yeah. So, it's $10,000 extra, and you get  the hardware, knowing that the software isn't   up to speed yet. So, it's the promise  that this will eventually work? Exactly, exactly. I think that's what, you know,  Cade sort of says in the film, which I thought   really encapsulated the idea well, is that you're  buying a promise. And look, there's a pattern and  

a history that, you know, Tesla had sold ideas;  it had sold Roadsters before they even built   Roadsters, right; they only had a prototype. And  so, there's some conceit that in Silicon Valley,   these things happen. But, you know, you're selling  a little bit - I mean, you're selling a promise,   that's a long way off. And, you know, I think  the conceit was okay, the cars have all the   technology, the hard technology that we need. But,  as we've seen, they didn't, right. Because the   technology, the cameras, the computer that were  in the car at the time that Elon promised that,   had been changed, which, you know, some  could say, Hey, that's a good thing, right.  

They're putting in better technology. But it also  means that the words that he said at that time,   ultimately weren't true, you know, whether he knew  that would be the case or not, at that time is   certainly a question, but clearly there were some  people at the time who didn't think it would be. I mean, it does sort of remind me of something  that was said about one of our presidents, but,   it's almost like he's a Teflon CEO. I mean,  these things don't stick. I mean, obviously,   there're investigations, you've  well documented, and government - as   you said the NTSB and others have taken  him to task, but it doesn't seem - there's   something about the Tesla culture, the  fan base, maybe is the best way to put it,   or not, that really just - they see what they want  to see. Is that fair enough way of describing it?

I mean, I don't think you can say every single fan  doesn't see limits and challenges, right. When you   start talking to people, there is some diversity  there. But yes, there is a group of very, very   rabid fans who essentially believe what Elon says,  right. And I think it would be hard to imagine   a company and a technology that came about in this  way, without somebody like Elon, without somebody   with this cult of personality and power to get his  message across, you know, directly through social   media. And, you know, it is pretty remarkable  that basic facts seem to be in dispute, right. But  

that's part and parcel of our world today, right.  He's not the only one who is out there with a   major following in this world that can just sort  of say things and people believe them, whether   or not they're based in fact. You see this right  now with, like, the Twitter debate, right? Or the   attempted acquisition of Twitter, where Elon is  saying, Well, we just need to sort of do a quick   sample to see how many bots there are, because  I'm worried about the number of bots and then,   you know, you look, is that really a  statistical sample? Is that even the reason why   he really is questioning pulling out, right,  but for some people, that's just true, right. Yeah, yeah. It's an interesting point. I mean,  your film touches - and rightly so, zeroes in   on this whole - these claims about self-driving  technology, and the unfortunate crashes and deaths   that have occurred, but it says a lot about so  many other things, which - I mean, there's been   other films about Silicon Valley and these sorts  of things that you mention them in the film, but   this whole - combined with the social media  element, I think, is interesting - probably   in that way, very unique. I mean, as you say,  it's not just - I mean, it's not just you and  

working with New York Times journalists,  but you do have these former employees who,   you've got quite a few, actually, in the film, who  are all in that self - almost all of them were in   the self-driving division. I know, you also  get John McNeill, the former Tesla president,   too, on camera as well. You get the  engineers, the designers. I mean,   is this almost career suicide to come out and  say some of the things they're saying? And also,   there's no, how to put it, they're very typical,  they're very typical engineers and designers,   aren't they? I mean, they're very 'this the way  it should be'. And, you know, they're not the type   to throw their hands up and start screaming and  shouting about how things have been done. But they   do recognize that they've been uncomfortable with  how this has all been rolled out, aren't they? Look, I think by nature, like, engineers  tend to be careful and precise and meticulous   personalities, right? They're putting things  together, and they have to be really careful.   And you sort of see that concern arise when  they see a system that doesn't have that logic   that they would expect, as the sort of rational,  you know, types, right. But you mentioned, okay,  

was it sort of career suicide? I mean, look, there  was many, many more people that I reached out to,   that Cade reached out to, that we spoke with,  right, who were not in a position where they   felt like they could speak publicly. And I think,  you know, having those kinds of conversations   with, you know, far more than unfortunately, we  could get into in the film, I think gave us the   confidence to understand that this wasn't just  sort of, like, one bad apple who used to work   there who's upset, right? There's a lot of people,  and there's still some people who have some belief   and got a lot out of being at Tesla, even if they  have concerns, right. It's a company that's known   for hiring lots of young people. And so, there  is a great benefit, when you're coming into,   you know, an industry to be able to move up  the career ladder much faster to have someone   who can motivate you to try to achieve something  you couldn't, right. They'd still learn things,   sometimes, but, you know, some of them got  really, really concerned, as you can see with   Raven or Oxshott. You know, I think  the people who were willing to talk,   were at a place, you know, sort of  personally and professionally, where they   both felt like it was the right thing to do. And  in the case of several of them, you know, they  

started their own companies. And so, they're kind  of risk-taking entrepreneur types themselves, who   were in more of a position to be open and candid  than people who went to work for a competitor,   right? Because even if some of the competitors  have concerns about the level of the technology,   and you obviously, you take that, you  know, with some level of skepticism,   they didn't want to be out there publicly bashing  Elon or Tesla, either, right? There's sort of this   quiet murmuring rather than, you know, there's  an occasional burst, right, but it's not, like,   you know, they're happy to have their ex-Tesla  employees on staff go and speak publicly. I think this brings us, or at least for me, brings  us to a point where you've already mentioned the   US government's response to this, but I must have  to admit, I'm a bit confused. Because, you know,   we've got the former NTSB officials, former  head of the NTSB, saying all the right things   and, you know, publicly taking Tesla to  task for being the one automotive company,   at least in the US, who's not following  the recommendations about self-drive,   but yet, we've got this 2020 NHTSA  report that seemed to exonerate   Tesla. So, it's kind of this where, you  know, how does that all fit together? You know, part of the challenge here is you have  this alphabet soup of government agencies that   are involved here, right. Before getting into  details, like - NHTSA, the National Highway,  

Transportation, Safety Administration, they're  the regulators; like, these are the guys that   have power to actually change things. But in  order to change things, they need a lot of   evidence and a lot of data. And also, I guess,  I would say a little bit of sort of confidence,   right, and someone who's got the will to push  something. And, on the other hand you have the   NTSB, which are these investigators, whose primary  mission is to figure out, Okay, what's the safest   thing that you can do; what really happened? But  they have no power, right, they can just suggest   things. Now, you know, most companies and,  you know, most of the time, what they suggest   is picked up by companies and by government  officials. And, you know, part of what regulators   have publicly looked into this was the first time  of the Josh Brown investigation. And at the time,  

there was two things. One, it was the first known  fatal crash in the United States. And there was   some additional data showing that there were  other crashes, right, those 38 other crashes, but   there wasn't tons and tons of data that would  meet the high bar, at least according to the   government officials; and also, they were rushing  to get this done because this is the end of the   Obama administration. And I think there was  a fear that, you know, when Trump came in,   things wouldn't happen and nothing might have  come out at all about the Josh Brown crash. Alright. I think that takes us to a good point  here to give our listeners a little break. So,   we'll be right back with Emma Schwartz, director  and producer of Elon Musk's Crash Course,   latest in New York Times Presents series  premiered on FX and Hulu on May 20.

You're listening to Factual America. Subscribe  to our mailing list or follow us on Facebook,   Instagram, or Twitter at Alamo Pictures to keep  up-to-date with new releases or upcoming shows.   Check out the show notes to learn  more about the program, our guests   and the team behind the production.  Now back to Factual America. In terms of taking your eyes off the  road, thirty seconds is an eternity. I really feel like we've struck a great  balance between improving the safety,   and improved the usefulness.

I remember Elon talked about how  it was going to be the radar that   was sort of first rank or priority one. We're making much more effective use of radar. I just thought radar's been around for  75 years. If they could do this now,   why didn't they do it before? I think the timing  was significant. I mean, it was right after   this tragic accident. And they were trying to  make it sound like we got this under control. Obvious question I have to  ask. Would the improvements  

have mitigated or saved Josh Brown's life? We believe it would have. And so, the truck would have been seen by the  radar only and braking would have been engaged? It cannot be said with absolute certainty. But we  believe it is very likely that yes, it would have. Welcome back to Factual America. I'm  here with award winning journalist and  

filmmaker Emma Schwartz, director and  producer of Elon Musk's Crash Course,   latest in the New York Times Presents series. It's  premiered on FX and Hulu on May 20. It's already   made quite a splash. I'm sure you've - if you've  been paying attention to the news, you would have   certainly come across this. I mean, we've been  talking about the self-drive technology, and what   Elon Musk has said and not said - well, not so  much what he's not said, but what he said and   the promises he's made. And, you know, how much  of this is Musk? And how much of this is Silicon  

Valley? Because, I mean, you reference Theranos,  and we know about 'fake it until you make it' and   'move fast and break things'. Is this Musk?  Or is this just how Silicon Valley rolls? I mean, I think it's a bit of both, right. Because  clearly there is this sort of 'fake it till you   make it' mentality in Silicon Valley. And then  again, you know, Elon Musk is someone who's  

made it, right. He's made multiple companies that  have sold. He's made cars, he's made rocket ships,   not personally, but the companies that he's built.  And I think what's different here is Elon Musk is,   like, a household name, right. He's a man with  this huge following. We've talked about that,   right. But his promises have a different weight  than, you know, another founder who's saying it  

to a venture capitalist to raise money. His  words resonate with millions of consumers,   not just in this country, but around the  world. And so, when he says something,   because he's been successful, right. Step back  here for a second. One of the things when we   started getting into this film, right, is, you  know, Elon is a guy who's defied conventions,   right. He started a car company when you said  - people said you - we haven't had a new car   company in decades, and to be coming successful  car company, when nobody has startup car company,   to the big leagues, right. He's, you know, helped  found a rocket company, right. So, he did things   that people thought were crazy. And so, you know,  when you get into this technology, and Tesla,  

and the attempt at creating self-driving car, he's  using technology that other people think is, well,   not enough to be robust or safe enough. And  you have to ask that question. Okay, well,   does he know something that the rest of  us don't because he's defied conventions?   And, you know, as sort of  we got into it, it was just   harder to say, Well, okay, maybe he's right  again, defying conventions here. And, you know,   you gotta wonder is he someone who's had so many  successes that he just assumes the next thing will   be a success. Whereas we're all prone to having  failures even after we've succeeded, right. And   I think that can be harder to acknowledge and  understand when you've been so successful, right.   One of the, you know, we went through a lot of  archive, and there was this line that kept kind of   sticking out to me every time I would sort of come  back to it on paper in the timeline. And that was   where Elon talks about sort of wishful thinking,  and that even he sort of falls prey to that,   that we all want to believe something's  true, even when the facts on the ground,   sort of make it seem like, that's  probably not going to be true. And  

I couldn't help but wonder, you know,  is this one of those cases for him? And,   you know, how significant that is given his sort  of outsized influence on sort of public opinion. So, that's - I mean, I know you're not - we're  not trying to - I'm not trying to put words in   your mouth or his mouth, but I mean, there is this  - because, as you said, he's not just - it's not   like he's a bullshit artist. He's backed up - like  you said, he's started up many of these companies.   He's backed it up, I think; you know, if we're  gonna compare it's not like an Elizabeth Holmes at   Theranos, where she flat out knew, you know, that  - I guess it's still the case is still going...

We don't actually... ... know what he's thinking, right. So, we don't know how much he knows  about how good the technology is.   And we know that there's people who've  raised questions about the technology.  

What he said publicly is, he certainly believes  it, right. But you're at a point right now, where   you've got to wonder if he - how you could  not recognize the challenge he's up against.   And one thing happened, you know, recently, and  this is sort of a little bit in the weeds here,   but he's promised for years that, you know,  Teslas are going to be like robo-taxis that   help make money, right, that you can buy one  and make money off your car. I mean, like,   we think we buy a car, it's like, it loses  money as soon as you drive it off the lot.  

And he's been like, Oh, no, it will turn into a  self-driving taxi. And when you're not using it,   you can make money. And recently, just this  year, he said, Well, we might be creating, like,   a separate [inaudible] for a taxi, like, something  different. And, like, people in the sort of, like,   Tesla self-driving universe said, Oh, wait, is  that Elon trying to pivot from this idea that   all these cars have the hardware necessary for  full self-driving? And does he realize he needs to   try something different? And, you know, is that  sort of his way of spinning that he has a new   product, rather than admitting that the product  that he has out there hasn't met the promises that   he said it would have, you know, for years? So,  I really wonder how much - what really is going   through his head and what those motivations are,  right. But, you know; so, you're saying, Okay, no,   we can't say he's exactly like Elizabeth  Holmes, he hasn't been charged with crimes,   convicted of crimes; like, there's a difference  on that level from what the government has done   and what we know publicly. But I think there are  some real questions about, you know, what does he  

really know about how capable that technology  is, and how much he's sharing with the public? But I think, I mean, one of the many things  your film does so skillfully, there's that   section towards the end, again, spoiler alerts,  but, where you, you know, you basically say,   you know, you pretty much have - I'm sure  it's not every example; you could have - the   whole film could have just been him saying,  We're two years away from this technology   being - and he's been saying that since what,  roughly, 2016 or so. Or maybe even earlier. So,   he is an intelligent man. So, he knows that  if he's been saying it's only two years away,   and now, six, eight years on, it still hasn't  happened. He's got to be doubting it. I mean,  

there has to be some, you know, and as you  pointed out, maybe that's the reason for   potentially a pivot. But he's got to realize,  you know, that something's not working here. Yeah, he'll say - probably, right  - Like, oh, my timelines are off,   but I always believe them when I say them.  But I guess I would have a hard time,   like, saying that with a straight face if  that were me. Because I would look back and   say, Oh, well, I guess I was wrong there when -  maybe I was too ambitious. And he has acknowledged   that it's harder than he thought. But he's still  out there saying, It's happening this year. And what do you - I mean because, I mean,  obviously your background as a journalist   and obviously documentary filmmaker, and you're  working with the New York Times journalists on   this, but - isn't there a little bit of,  you know, there's a bit of a media buy-in   to all this, too, isn't there? I mean, you're  doing your part to shine a light but, you know,   we've been hearing about - no one cries. No one  shouts BS. No one says - you know, it's not just  

Musk. I mean, the others can make announcements  and say, Well, we're going to do this in a   couple of years. And it's almost reported  kind of as fait accompli, isn't it? I mean,   I guess what I'm getting at is - We have this  kind of love-hate relationship in our society   with technology. We're enamored with it. And it's  almost like we want to believe all these things. Yeah. And it's complicated, which is  what makes it possible, right. You   get in a Tesla and it like, it feels cool, right.  Like, it's tech, if you're not used to that,   like, you're like, oh, wow, this is neat. Or  when you see the car, like, kind of takeover,  

you might wonder, Oh, wow, like,  look what it can do. It can drive.   But what, you know, even the engineers who are  developing this technology have learned is, like,   just because it can do sort of 80% or 90% - these  numbers, obviously are guesses, right - but just   because it looks like it can drive some of  the time, doesn't mean you can deal with the   complexity of what human driving really is. And  so, you know, I think this is one of the sort of   challenges of sort of short term reporting where  new things happen and you report them. Versus   having a longer view, which longer articles or  documentaries are able to have, right, because you   can say, Okay, we've seen this over time. And it  hasn't materialized. And I think that was really,   at the heart of what we wanted to try to do  with this film was sort of step back from   the day-to-day and look at, okay, what  have we learned? And why does it matter? And I think - I mean, I guess one last  question I'm gonna ask about that. I mean,   do you think these tech achievements are possible  without the Elon Musks of the world, you know, or   the - not to disparage anyone else, but like Steve  Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, these types. I mean,  

there's these visionary types who achieve things  that, you know, like you said, previously, no one   thought of, you could make a - whatever, start a  new car company, and now he's got, you know, he's   become the richest man in the world. No one, you  know - do your own space exploration, what kind   of - Oh, we got Richard Branson here in the UK,  but even there, that's nothing compared to what   Musk is trying to do. I mean, is there something  you need to have this kind of - I don't know.   Suspension of disbelief in your own self? In  order to achieve these kinds of - or would these   accomplishments, these innovations, just  take longer if it weren't for people like   Elon Musk, what do you think? I think that's an unanswerable question from any  sort of, like, obviously quantifiable sense. But  

I think if you look at self-driving, right, like,  obviously, nobody has fully achieved it, but there   are a lot of other companies out there that are  trying, and trying lots of different ways. So,   to say that you have to always over-promise and  not acknowledge the limits, I think, wouldn't be   fair, given that there's other people out there,  grinding it and looking at it in different ways,   right. And it's not to say that there isn't a lot  of value in having visionaries who inspire people,   right. You even see with some of the  people who worked at Tesla in the film,   he inspired people to push themselves beyond  where they thought they were capable. And that's   an important powerful driver of, you know,  technology and development more broadly. But   it's really a question of  how far do you need a push?   And are there other ways and, you know,  some people are more public like Elon,   so that doesn't mean there aren't other people  out there doing this kind of work as well.

And speaking of which, I mean, what  is the - I mean, I think it gets a   mention towards the end of the film,  but realistically, how far away are we? Well, look, I think all the companies that have  been involved in this arena have learned that   - what they were saying in it - it wasn't just  Elon. Elon is sort of the biggest, boldest kind   of voice out there is, you know, it's a lot harder  than they were projecting, right. And maybe other   companies realize that earlier. You know, some of  the challenges is that you're dealing with lots of   different technologies to figure out how it works.  And some of it is that artificial intelligence,   you know, has its limits today, right. What Elon  is trying to do is basically say that you can use  

cameras and artificial intelligence like a human  brain and make a self-driving car. The problem is,   the level of sophistication of artificial  intelligence isn't quite like a human brain   and we're still - you know, the projection now is  a decade or two decades off, right, at least, and   I'm just reciting what other people have told  me. I know that projections have been wrong in   the past. So, you know, I'm not holding my  breath. I think it was really striking when   I saw [inaudible] like an airplane. And  you see that, and then you're like, Well,   this is an idea that has, you know, long, long  legs here. And it could be a long time if ever,  

and what we are starting to see is  sort of discrete attempts and tests in,   like, closed boxes, right. Inside, you know,  Phoenix, right, where there's one operational,   where the weather's good, and it closes down  if the weather's not good, and it's flat,   and you don't go too fast. And, you know, there's  constrained environments where the technology   might be making inroads, but the idea that you can  just step in a car, it's going to take you where   you want to go, and that could be anywhere,  that's a long way off at this point, for sure.

And as you've said, he's got, you  know, he may not have said the words,   but he has people asking him questions, well, how  far are we from just being able to get in our car,   fall asleep and get to the next  destination? And I think he   says a couple years away. That was a few years  ago. And he's also - I mean, and it's only Tesla   that's - what you've described as looking at  the AI plus cameras. He's not using these other   technologies that the others are saying is almost  absolutely necessary for this to be successful. Yeah, no, exactly. And look, there's something  to be said for, if you're going to be creating  

something new, you have to believe, I think  one of the Tesla guys, John McNeill says,   you have to almost believe in the impossible,  right. And there is some truth to that, right.   Like, you have to believe something's achievable  that hasn't been achieved to do something new.   But the question is, how do you frame that?  And how do you tell the public about that,   when you're introducing something that you  believe will be good, but it isn't there yet? I actually wanted to ask you. So, this  is part of The New York Times Presents   series. I mean, how did this - I mean, you've  already mentioned how the project came along.  

You've gotten involved. You've got a long  pedigree. Certainly with Frontline. I mean, is   this - for you, is this a longer term arrangement?  And are we're going to see more things like this   coming from - I mean, maybe you can tell us a  little bit more about what New York Times Presents   has been doing? And is doing? And  what's the vision behind the series. I mean, I think that the goal is to try to  tell important stories with journalistic rigor   in a documentary format, right. And, you know, a  lot of times when you're putting together a film,   you really want to build up characters  and have people and that's oftentimes a   slightly different kind of storytelling than  you might have in, like, a news article.   And so, I think there's been a lot of emphasis,  trying to sort of figure out how can we,   you know, look at people that help us bring about  some of these bigger journalistic questions. So,  

you know, that, I think, is one of the key  goals, especially as sort of, we're moving   into this environment where that differentiation  between what is radio, what is TV, what is fringe,   right, it doesn't exist the way it used to. It's  all about how do you consume information? And,   you know, what are the different formats? And  what is the best way to tell different stories. And I guess, with the use of documentary  film, and things you can bring to life,   that you wouldn't be able to, in print or  online, you know, things, and those - you know,   bringing Josh Brown's friends on camera to  talk about that, and that gave it a certain   human element that maybe does get lost. Not  intentionally, but just by the nature of the   media - medium - in terms of print, you know,  or a typical newspaper article, even one that's   more than a few hundred words. What I also found  interesting is this whole collaborative approach,   because, obviously, there's been articles, pieces  written, and people have taken that, and that's   been the basis for a doc or even a short, but this  sounds like this was something from the beginning,   which was a little bit more collaborative, that it  wasn't just purely based on an article; you were   able to - you both were trying to, like you said,  tell a story around - what is something about   Elon Musk that we need to look at a little more  focused, and is that something - that's the   vision for The New York Times Presents, is this  collaborative approach to journalism, really.

Every project is going to be a little bit  different, here. But this is sort of, I think,   a story that was sort of kind of sitting there,  if that makes sense. And it needed to be told.   And there are different ways to sort of bring that  about, and, you know, we work together to do that. Okay. Well, I want to thank you for doing  that. It's very much appreciated. If people   haven't checked it out yet, I definitely, highly  recommend. It's very - it's a snappy documentary,  

it's only an hour and 14 minutes. And packs a lot  in there. And in very, very insightful and very,   very, very thought provoking. So, thank you again  for making that. So, just to remind everyone we've   been talking with Emma Schwartz, director and  producer of Elon Musk's Crash Course. It's the   latest in The New York Times Presents series,  and it premiered on FX and Hulu on May 20.   And will surely be out on some sort of  international distribution in the not too distant   future, I'm sure. So, thanks again, Emma. Very,  very much appreciated having you on the podcast.

Thanks so much for your  interest and appreciate it. One of the huge challenges of the system at  a time was trying to differentiate between   a truck and a bridge - an  overhead bridge - you know,   when a truck is parked perpendicular to the  road and blocking the way, the system might   think of it as an overhead bridge and so it was  safe to kind of continue driving through it. So, just want to give a big thank you to  Emma Schwartz, director and producer of   Elon Musk's Crash Course, latest in  The New York Times Presents series   premiered on FX and Hulu in the US on May 20.  And be on the lookout for it internationally.   I'm sure it'll be out there sometime soon.  And love to have Emma on again some time   with one of her next projects. I'd like to give  a shout out to Sam and Joe Graves at Innersound   Audio in Escrick, England, in deepest, darkest  Yorkshire. A big thanks to Nevena Paunovic,  

podcast manager at Alamo Pictures who ensures  we continue getting great guests onto the show.   And finally a big thanks to our listeners.  As always, we love to hear from you. So,   please keep sending us feedback and episode  ideas. You can reach out to us on YouTube,   social media, or directly by going to our website,  www.factualamerica.com, and clicking on the Get   in Touch link. And, as always, please remember to  like us and share us with your friends and family   wherever you happen to listen or watch  podcasts. This is Factual America, signing off.

You've been listening to Factual America.  This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures,   specializing in documentaries, television, and  shorts about the USA for international audiences.   Head on down to the show notes for more  information about today's episode, our guests,   and the team behind the podcast. Subscribe  to our mailing list or follow us on Facebook,   Instagram and Twitter @alamopictures. Be  the first to hear about new productions,   festivals showing our films, and to connect with  our team. Our homepage is alamopictures.co.uk

2022-06-17 18:06

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