The Future of Driving as Seen From the World Government Summit
I met many interesting and brilliant entrepreneurs at the World Government Summit in Dubai this year, but one of the most enlightening and surprising was Israeli native and Silicon Valley veteran, Jonathan Matus, CEO and founder of Zendrive. Aside from being a former Google and Facebook employee -- who also graduated from Harvard -- Matus was a requested Israeli speaker in the UAE. Why is this surprising? For those who don’t know, Israelites are more often than not denied visas to enter the UAE. But the technology that Matus and his team at Zendrive have created has sparked the interest of people everywhere, including the UAE.
His groundbreaking technology could reduce automotive crashes drastically, but what does this mean for the future of jobs involving drivers of these automobiles? Autonomous vehicles were one of the main topics of discussion at the Summit this year, so perhaps artificial intelligence, in relation to our own vehicles, is closer than we think.
I was lucky enough to get an interview with Matus, and you can read it below.
Q: There is a lot of amazing tech coming out of Israel. What brought you to create Zendrive?
I came to the states for college, I went to Harvard and studied A.I.. Following that, I joined Google very early on. I was the 25th employee on the Android team. Using that as a segway, I spent the last 11 or 12 years in Silicon Valley working on some pretty cool tech stuff including launching Androids, picture recognition in Google, Facebook mobile and now Zendrive.
Q: How did you end up speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai? As an Israeli, that is quite astonishing, isn’t it?
Got it (laughs), yes, it is pretty surreal. At Zendrive, we are very much involved with both artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. We were invited by one of the main editors of Wired, who is a world expert of artificial intelligence, to come and share a little bit of the next decade or two decades of artificial intelligence and the impact of technology and the social makeup, and to help governments and policy makers plan for it. It was a really interesting panel.
Q: I listened to your panel about autonomous cars. What do you foresee the next job opportunities are for people who drive cars for a living and won’t be able to in the future?
That’s the billion-dollar question. I think job displacement is a major problem and one that should be addressed primarily through education. People who consider themselves drivers need to be retrained and will need to find new occupations. There are a lot of opportunities, a lot of them mainly in technology, of course, but technical skills are considered to be relatively difficult to acquire. If there is a strategic investment in making coding accessible to everyone, everywhere, these people will be assimilated into the economy very quickly. But because this doesn’t fit everyone, you need to come up with other service jobs and other opportunities, and I don’t think anyone has a really good answer for immediate employment opportunities.
Q: I have read that the mission of the company is to make roads safer. It seems that this company cares a lot about people. What was the primary reason for creating Zendrive?
Absolutely. When I quit Facebook, after working about 7 years with Google and Facebook, I was hugely frustrated with the amount of talent and caliber of people that focus all their attention on the advertising space. Why do you need too many PhDs and smart folks optimizing click through rates? This is to essentially make people buy stuff they don’t need. I felt that there is a need, opportunity and a requirement for folks to focus their attention on mission-driven and socially beneficial projects.
So, with Zendrive, our mission is to make roads safe using data analytics, and we put together the world’s best team to solve this. When we measure progress, it’s not just in terms of dollars or in term of miles that we’ve tracked. It’s in terms of lives that we’ve saved and the impact that we have on roads globally.
Q: How did you build such a strong team?
My co-founder and I have known each other for about 11 years now, he was my first tech lead at Google. He built and scaled the artificial intelligence engine behind speech recognition at Google. He is literally one of the smartest people on the planet. When I met him, we had a geek bro-mance. We really liked talking tech and talking shop, and we knew that we were going to work together in the future. When I was ready to start my new chapter, he happened to be in Silicon Valley, and we went out for dinner. We knew we had to do this together.
Q: For people who want to work with you, what are three things you look for in a new hire or partner?
The first one is curiosity. I believe that in order to be successful in whatever it is you do, you need to learn every day, have a passion for meeting new people and want to solving problems. The second thing is passion for making positive social impact. We call it focusing on the mission. The people who come to Zendrive are not here because of the paycheck. They work at Zendrive because they want to look back and say, "‘I really made an important change in the world." The third thing is what we call true grit. Startups are difficult. Going after a huge problem like road safety is something that has its ups and downs. Sometimes things go amazingly well, and you’re speaking at a panel in Dubai. Sometimes things can be really difficult, and you’re banging your head against the wall because you can’t solve a technical problem. Being able to stay focused and determined, even in the toughest times, is a very important property for entrepreneurs and startup people.
Q: How do your parents feel about all your success?
I don’t consider myself very successful; I am very lucky. My parents are very proud, and they are also very supportive. My mother has this saying -- "Take things gradually, don’t go all in, and you are too determined and driven!" She reminds me every now and then to take a breather, go to a beautiful forest or meditate. I owe her that, and I miss them a lot actually.
I find that many strong entrepreneurs also have a strong mother, of course. This new technology is exciting, groundbreaking and could change the world in so many ways. Like all changes, mostly involving technology, there are pros and cons. With artificial intelligence rising at a rapid speed, Matus hints that we may need to re-vamp our education system and teach the world how to flow with new technologies and companies like Zendrive. This new technology clearly does not simply address road safety, and it raises the bar for artificial intelligence and job opportunities across the globe.