Google has hired John Krafcik, previously the CEO of Hyundai North America and president of auto-pricing website TrueCar, to lead its autonomous car project. Krafcik is a long-time manager and engineer with degrees from Stanford and MIT, and he started in the automotive business as an engineer at NUMMI, the former GM-Toyota joint venture (and current Tesla base) in Fremont, California.
By any metric—experience, smarts, successes, contacts—Krafcik is a stellar choice to push Google’s flagship moonshot toward reality. But autonomous cars are science fiction. They’re The Jetsons. They’re Blade Runner. They’re rolling totems of the impossible. Maybe some crazy-ridiculous decision makers, then, should be charged with the development and deployment of crazy-ridiculous things.
Herewith, in no hierarchy, are The Drive’s revisionist choices for the position of Google Car Czar.
The man knows interfaces. Left essentially immobile by ALS, Stephen Hawking has communicated through a computer tied to his hand and cheek muscles for almost 30 years. That, and he’s probably the smartest person in the world. From such credentials flow the confidence necessary for a person say, Sure, I’ll put my loved ones in an automated highway pod.
We’re chalking this one up to clerical error: Clearly, “Krafcik” sits just above “Kraftwerk” in Sergey Brin’s phone, and the wrong party ended up getting that all-important call. But even if that weren’t the case, Kraftwerk’s synth-centric electro-pop influenced everyone from David Bowie to Depeche Mode, and founding member Florian Schneider holds a patent for the electronic drum kit. Fame, technical know-how, an innovative spirit, German work ethic: Smells like a hit record to us.
At 28, Musk sold a company he co-founded for $341 million. Then he invented PayPal. Now he’s CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and chairman of SolarCity, a leading supplier of solar equipment. If anyone can sell American consumers on as-yet-unproven technology from Silicon Valley, it is he. Remember when the Tesla Model S broke Consumer Reports?
Samantha the OS
Spike Jonze’s retro-futuristic Her explores the boundaries of human-machine relationships, with Joaquin Phoenix as depressive loner Theodore Twombly and Scarlett Johansson as the sultry, sympathetic Samantha OS (operating system) with whom he falls in love. Samantha is considerate, hyper-smart and the perfect conduit between humans and the trusty A.I. sled Google is foisting on them. Granted, she evolved to the point that the muddy, plodding mortal world bored her, though she’d likely hyper-jump at the chance to frolic in Google’s vast server warehouses.
In a recent interview, Willie Nelson confirmed that, absent the mellowing influence of marijuana, he tends to drive cars fast and recklessly. Moreover, rumors circulate that Shotgun Willy’s wrecks number in the high dozens. We figure he’d make an exceedingly relaxed boss. And for optics, Willie is such a rolling hazard that he’d have no choice but to "pilot" an autonomous car. The result? Safer roads, mellower Google X employees and the only CEO of an automotive company who can also truthfully claim to have written America’s premier travel anthem, “On the Road Again.”