Google's Brin: Individual car ownership needs to go

In a wide-ranging interview with VC Vinod Khosla, Google's co-founders describe their vision of an intelligent future.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Can rationality make the world better? Khosla Ventures/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The people who are changing the world aren't going to wait for you.

It's your job to understand what they're doing and either approve of it or accept it.

Most people, of course, can't be bothered to see where the world is going. They're too wrapped up in their daily needs and lacks.

However, an interview given by Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to VC Vinod Khosla offered a clear picture their company's destination.

Page and Brin see a world in which much needs fixing. Theirs is a company that works on a broad number of fronts in the hope that just a few will be world-changing winners.

One of these is self-driving cars.

You might have thought that this was just an engineer's wheeze, something that faces vast obstacles in the real world. However, Brin would like you to know just how serious he is.

"I hope that that could really transform transportation around the world, and reduce the need for individual car ownership, the need for parking, road congestion and so forth," said Brin.

Ownership of cars is, in essence, inefficient.

Brin described the future like this: "With self-driving cars, you don't really need much in the way of parking, because you don't need one car per person. They just come and get you when you need them. You can also make much more efficient road use, if you-- and this is not something we've developed yet, but it's certainly been simulated by many. They can form trains. They can go at high speed, perhaps much higher than our highway speeds here."

Yes, the future is an uber-Uber world.

It's also one in which Brin knows what is ideal for you: "It's also really nice to not have a steering wheel, not have pedals. Maybe the seats should face each other, things like that. I'm not sure that the traditional car designs are ideal for self-driving."

Take that, you steering wheel fetishists, you pedal pushers.

You might think you like being in charge of your own vehicle, going as fast as you like, turning off to go down a less-beaten path. You might have to stop thinking that way for the good of, well, everyone else who will have to stop thinking that way.

Page believes that this should be a time of abundance. Indeed, it doesn't take much to make people happy.

"Housing, security, opportunities for your kids -- anthropologists have been identifying these things," he said. "It's not that hard for us to provide those things." Indeed, he estimates that we only need 1 percent of our resources to satisfy these needs.

Brin believes that government should use its fiscal power for what they see as the common good. He said: "Tax more of the things that we don't want, like carbon."

It's quaint to believe that there is a "we" that agrees on everything that humanity wants and doesn't want. Part of the problem with politics is that there isn't that sort of agreement.

This is something Page acknowledged: "I do worry that when I look at the government-- our interactions with governments around things we get interested in -- spectrum or whatever -- that it becomes pretty illogical."

That's always been the greatest frustration for those who believe that the world should be governed on rational principles. They seem not to accept that rationality isn't a human's natural state. How can it be when the stupidity of death hangs over us all the time?

Page would dearly love all laws to be limited to 50 pages. Every time a new law is enacted, he said, an old one should be removed.

However, he's clearly frustrated that around the world there are different countries with different laws. This is getting in the way of Google's universal mission. Can't these countries get together and get with the program?

One criticism of clinging to rationality emerged at the same time as this interview.

In a piece called "The Curse of Smart People," Avery Pennarun offered this: "Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything."

He added: "Smart people, computer types anyway, tend to come down on the side of people who don't like emotions."

For all the truth that logic is a very powerful tool, he said, the input needs to be very good. "If you know all the constraints and weights -- with perfect precision -- then you can use logic to find the perfect answer. But when you don't, which is always, there's a pretty good chance your logic will lead you very, very far astray."

Pennarun is a Google Fiber engineer.