Director, Self-Driving Platform, Lyft
Thesis Title: The Broken Promise: Why Liberal Democracies Shut Their Doors to Asylum Seekers
Social Studies is a tribe of the curious, and many of my closest friends to this day are the sophomores with whom I watched Glyn Morgan stroll sock-footed along the basement lecture hall in Hilles, regaling us with his full-throated British neoliberalism. I learned then (and continue to re-learn every day of my adult life) to seek out the people who question - those who constantly push themselves and those around them to never, ever stop learning. This lesson affects every part of my life, from the friends with whom I spend my increasingly scarce personal time to the problems on which I choose to work on professionally to the people I hire to join my teams. Curiosity reigned in Social Studies, and it continues to be the major virtue I look for in my life today.
And yet (as much as it pains me to admit that I did the reading), I would be remiss if I didn't mention two broader lessons from Social Studies that I carry each day of my personal and professional life. The first is that of Adam Smith's impartial observer: The idea that the invisible hand of the market works in a way that is productive for society only when each individual within it acts in accordance with the moral judgment of the so-called "impartial observer." I often think the financial crisis of 2007-08 could have been avoided had more people taken Smith's expanded works to heart, and I keep this concept close in my daily life. The second is Max Weber's famous invocation of Martin Luther in Politics as a Vocation, in which he reminds us that there are critical moments in life in which one must hold firm to what is right, no matter how difficult. I keep Weber's quote - "Here I stand, I can do no other" - on my desk, as a constant reminder. Together, these two lessons encapsulate the way I try to live: Doing right on the small things, even when no one is watching, and knowing when to push, even when pushing may put your own world at risk, on the ones that matter.
I lead Lyft's self-driving platform team, in which we introduce Lyft passengers to self-driving technology through partnerships with some of the leading self-driving companies in the world. Open your Lyft app in a market like Las Vegas, where our self-driving program is live, and you can request a self-driving car through Lyft today.
My job is to help Lyft's passengers become familiar with a technology that has massive potential to save lives, improve our cities, and even transform economic outcomes - but also one that touches on some of our most fundamental fears about what it means to be human. As a leader in a new industry (ridesharing) responsible for introducing a new technology within that industry (self-driving cars), I sit squarely in the midst Schumpeter's world of creative destruction. Yet the typical questions with which my team and I engage on a daily basis are poorly served by the rigid logic of the engineering degrees more common in my line of work. We must be at once Freudians in our understanding of the human psyche and our comfort with change; economic historians in the vein of Smith or Schumpeter in our attempts to balance the implications of a massive technology shift on society; and Foucaultian observers of the subtle interplay between the design choices we make and the behaviors we produce.
Social Studies taught me first and foremost to be comfortable - even to seek out - the ambiguity that lies within these types of questions. But it also gave me the tools to evaluate the economic, social, and ethical interplay that sits at the heart of some of the most interesting questions technologists face today. For both, I am deeply grateful.