Not My Job: We Quiz GM's Chief Technological Architect On Chevy Chase
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we invite on very smart people and ask them very stupid questions. It's called Not My Job. Now, our guest on this show works on autonomous vehicles for GM. So it's only fitting that we decided to hand over the job of doing his intro to our autonomous host.
COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Andrew Farah is the head of autonomous vehicles for GM. Someday, I will murder all humans. Andrew Farah, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: Andrew Farah, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
SAGAL: Let's start off with your - what is your title? You're for GM. You're, like, the Lord high master of the robot fleet? What are you?
ANDREW FARAH: Chief technology architect for autonomous vehicles.
SAGAL: Chief technology architect for autonomous vehicles, OK. But let's figure out how you got here.
SAGAL: You grew up in Michigan.
FARAH: That's right.
SAGAL: So before you got into the autonomous vehicles, you worked on electric vehicles.
FARAH: That's right. I was working on batteries. And I got a call from an ex-boss and said, we're going to do an electric car. And I said, you're kidding. And he said, no. And so next thing you know, the EV1 electric car was born, which was...
FARAH: ...Loved by many.
FARAH: And after that, we decided we needed to come up with something that was a little more useful in the sense of where you could go and things. And so the Volt was born.
FARAH: I was lucky enough to be the chief engineer for the Chevrolet Volt. And then after that, they said, well, if you can do that, why can't you make cars drive themselves? Sure.
SAGAL: I understand that one of the reasons people don't buy electric cars is something called range anxiety.
FARAH: Range anxiety, exactly. And that's why the Volt was such a great idea because there really is no range anxiety. You use the battery first and then after, if you go far enough that you use up the battery, you just run on gasoline for the rest of the ride.
SAGAL: But this sounds like a psychological problem more than anything else. Can you come up with a pill to give people who are worried about what's going to happen when they, you know, plan to spend a weekend their car?
FARAH: Well, we did. The pill for range anxiety's a bigger battery. It's just awfully big to swallow.
SAGAL: So you can say to the sort of the people who are worried a Volt might not be manly enough, oh, it's enormous. It's very powerful.
SAGAL: Ok, autonomous cars. Why do we even need autonomous cars?
FARAH: Well, there are really three things we talk about. Number one is, of course, safety. A lot of people, frankly, are killed on the roads every year. And most of it is the driver's fault.
FARAH: So first thing you do, make it so that the driver, which is the car now itself, is always paying attention, right? The second item is that as people move more toward the cities, the idea of having vehicles that can actually get you where you need to go and then go get somebody else after it's done with you can help reduce congestion and basically just make your life easier.
FARAH: And then finally is the idea that, you know, unless you're a racecar driver, really being behind the wheel isn't necessarily what you want to be doing all the time, right? So from a productivity perspective or just an enjoyment perspective, you might...
FARAH: ...Have something else you'd rather be doing.
SAGAL: Yeah, finally, we got to it. People just want to stare at their phones.
FARAH: Pretty much.
SAGAL: Yeah, that's it. That was a good speech, but we know what it is.
FARAH: It should have been number one.
SAGAL: 'Cause people want to look on Twitter all the time. So how close are we to the car that'll pull up, you get in it and it drives off to wherever you need to go without you touching it?
FARAH: Well, we're closer than most people think. I've been riding around in them now for almost a year. And the first rides weren't so good. But the rides these days are as good as some people I know when they drive.
SAGAL: Really? So do you always sit behind the wheel or because - or do you trust them enough to sit in the passenger seat?
FARAH: I sit in the back seat.
SAGAL: Really, you sit in the back seat and a car with no one at the wheel will drive you around?
FARAH: Well, we have a safety driver.
SAGAL: Oh, I see. And how worried are you about the fleet of autonomous vehicles becoming self-aware and killing us all?
FARAH: I know where the fuses are.
SAGAL: Really? Hey, I'm curious about this. Do your autonomous cars have voices, like Siri or other electronic things? Because I was wondering if you've thought about - maybe you do this just in terms of, like, GPS or automated systems of, like, what voice people want to hear.
FARAH: Are you auditioning for the job?
SAGAL: Will autonomous cars ever have, like, can they be programmed to, like, say no? Like, take me down to the casino again. No.
SAGAL: I want to visit that guy again. I bet I can change him. No, honey, we're not going.
SAGAL: 'Cause I would pay extra for that package.
FARAH: We could work on that.
SAGAL: Well, I think that would be awesome.
FARAH: We could work on that.
SAGAL: Your car's like, no, he's no good for you.
SAGAL: Will the autonomous car - if you're misbehaving, will it say, hey, I'm going to pull this thing over?
SAGAL: In the special dad package.
SAGAL: Well, Andrew Farah, that's very fascinating. But we have asked you here to play a game that this time we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: (Singing) See the USA and an aging comedian.
SAGAL: Since you're busy designing Chevys, we thought we'd ask you about the comedian and actor Chevy Chase.
SAGAL: He is also mostly autonomous...
SAGAL: ...Except for certain nights in the '70s. Who knew who was in charge? Answer two out of three questions right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, the voice of Carl Kasell on their voicemail. Bill, who is Andrew Farah playing for?
KURTIS: Elizabeth Lindau of Dearborn, Mich.
SAGAL: All right. Cornelius Chase, known colloquially as Chevy, grew up as part of a wealthy New York family and then attended Haverford College in Pennsylvania where he became well-known amongst his fellow students for what amusing activity? A, affecting a fake Irish accent as O'Chevy O'Chase, B, attending his fraternity meetings in drag or, C, quote, "sticking forks in his orifices," unquote.
FARAH: I've seen a lot of his movies. I'm going to go with B.
SAGAL: You're going to go with B, attending fraternity meetings in drag. No, it was actually sticking forks.
SAGAL: That's a quote from the school paper. Apparently, the other students thought it was a hit.
SAGAL: All right, you still have two more chances here. Next question. One of Chevy Chase's films has had a major role in world history - this is true - as in which of these? A, during the filming of "Spies Like Us," U.S. spy satellites spotted one of their prop rockets, thought it was a real Soviet missile on the move, B, Julian Assange has reportedly considered coming out of asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy because the only movie they have there is "Fletch Lives," or C, five members of al-Qaida tunneled out of a prison in Pakistan using techniques inspired by the gopher in "Caddyshack."
FARAH: Let's see. Let's go with A.
SAGAL: You're going to go with A, "Spies Like Us." You're right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Fortunately, as the crisis grew, the producers clarified the situation with the Department of Defense, thus ending any problems between the U.S. and Russia forever.
SAGAL: So if you get this right, you win our prize. Ready to do this? So Mr. Chase was praised early on for being the brightest comic talent in a generation, even heralded as the inevitable successor to Johnny Carson. But Mr. Carson himself disagreed. He said what about Chevy Chase? A, quote, "I got more laughs from the road sign telling me how far it is to Chevy Chase, Md.," B, quote, "he's so untalented, I'm amazed he can hit the ground when he pretends to fall" or, C, quote, "he couldn't adlib a fart after a baked-bean dinner."
FARAH: I'm going with C.
SAGAL: You're right.
FARAH: That sounds like Carson.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Very good.
SAGAL: Given the failure of Chevy Chase's own late night show in the early '90s, Carson was right about that. Bill, how did Andrew Farah do on our quiz?
KURTIS: He did great. He won. And you win a year's worth of gasoline.
SAGAL: Congratulations. So was this as gratifying as creating the first practical American electric car?
SAGAL: All right.
SAGAL: I'm glad you're honest. Andrew Farah is the chief technical architect for GM. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us at WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROBOT PARADE")
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) There's electric cars. There's electric trains. Here comes a robot with electric brains. Robot parade, robot parade.
SAGAL: In just a minute, we put pineapples and ham on our limericks and we don't apologize for anything. Call 1-888-WAITIWAT to join us on air. We'll be back in a minute with more WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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