Along with the expected A-listers (George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson) and politicians (Joe Biden, Jeb Bush), the first week of CBS's The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was marked by the appearance of notable Silicon Valley figures. On Tuesday, Colbert discussed artificial intelligence and the colonization of Mars with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and last night, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick dropped by to talk about the ride-hailing company, recently valued at $50 billion.
While Colbert gave Kalanick -- hardly a household name to most viewers -- a platform to hype his company ("What's the next thing you want to 'Uberize?' he asked), he also grilled him on pressure points that have made Uber a divisive force, including surge pricing and the ongoing taxi-Uber war.
"What is your response to Uber kills professional good paying jobs and it's unfair to the drivers and it's destroying the cab industry?" Colbert asked.
Kalanick unleashed talking points about the entrenched, ineffective nature of the taxi industry. "A taxi driver spends $40,000 a year renting a car. That should be a Bentley you're riding around in, but instead it goes to a taxi owner who owns the license to own and operate that cab," he said. He also highlighted drivers' ability to set their own schedules, use their own cars and make more money with Uber.
This defense was undercut by Colbert's next question: "You said you want self-driving Uber cars. That's not for the driver -- we're employing robots at that point."
To which Kalanick responded that, like it or not, automated driving is the future. Blame innovation, don't blame Uber.
"Google is doing the driverless thing. Tesla is doing the driverless thing. Apple is doing the driverless thing," he said. "This is going to be the world. So a question for a tech company is, do you want to be part of the future or do you want to resist the future."
During the taping, Kalanick was reportedly interrupted by a pro-taxi heckler. According to Business Insider, instead of cutting the protestor off Colbert let him speak before eventually apologizing to Kalanick. The exchange was cut before the segment aired.
Kalanick said he occassionally drives for Uber. "Of course," he answered when Colbert asked, adding that his rating is perfect: "All five-star rides."