Sergey Brin lives in another world. Like every other non-gearhead, he doesn't understand us. He doesn't get why we wrench in our garages, spend weekends at track days, or take off in the middle of the night for a ride. He's like your Aunt Martha, except Brin has the power to change the world. And he doesn't make those awesome cookies.
Brin recently joined his compatriot, Google CEO Larry Page, on stage with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to chat about where Google is headed.
In many respects, where Google goes, so goes the world, so naturally, the conversation turned to self-driving cars.
Watch the video above (the topic comes in at the 21-min mark), and it's striking to see how Brin looks at the world of driving from a disturbingly fundamentalist perspective.
To Brin's mind, not just cars, but car ownership is inefficient, wasteful, and dangerous. They take up too much space, use too many resources, and, listening to Brin, are an unconscionable blight on society.
Of course, he has some points. Traffic congestion costs us around $120 billion dollars, wastes nearly 2 billion gallons of fuel, and keeps the average urban commuter trapped in a box for over 30 hours each year. But that's just time and money. The real goal is to eliminate the 2.3 million injuries and 33,000 fatalities each year in the U.S.
These are all noble intentions (until you think about how Google will monetize it all), but they're also a utopian vision divorced from reality. And that shouldn't come as a surprise when you consider the source.
Brin looks at the world through an engineer's lens. It's binary: good versus bad, progress versus stagnation. The idea that someone would derive any amount of pleasure from the act of driving is completely antithetical to the society Brin envisions. Add in the fact that he's also the protagonist in a world of his own creation, worth $30 billion, and nestled safely inside the Silicon Valley hive mind, and – with the right (Google) glasses – you can see where he's coming from. Until you can't.
Our reality is radically different from Brin's. We enjoy the drive, we thrive on the involvement, we revel in the experience of focusing on one thing well. It's part of who we are and what we do. Which makes Brin's ignorance that much more astounding.
You'd assume that anyone that can get lost in something – say, coding – where the world slips away and the only thing that matters is the task at hand, would understand a single-minded passion. From that perspective, the line between Brin and us isn't that obscured. We're tinkers. Shade-tree engineers. Hackers, if you will. We tweak things to make them better. For Brin and Page, it started with search and evolved into an empire. For us, it started with a carburetor and evolved into a 9-second electric Miata.
But that's not the way Brin and his army of engineers, developers, and cheerleaders see it. They look at the world of cars with disdain – an outmoded system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt in their idealistic vision. And everyone has to be on board for it to work.
Nothing illustrates that fissure between us and Brin better than one of his final comments to Khosla.
"It's also really nice to not have a steering wheel," says Brin. "To not have pedals."