How my Medium articles got me on CNN

I didn’t bring dress shirts to SXSW, cut me some slack!

You may know from my previous articles that I have a contrarian perspective on autonomous cars — not that autonomous cars are bad or that they won’t work, but that autonomous cars need a network the same way our computers and cellphones do.

This is a huge greenfield market for IT, with a domestic market opportunity as large as the current world market for IT, if we just figure out how to fix the funding model.

By using roads to build this network, we can support cheap, accessible autonomy while getting brand new roadways, without tax increases or tollways everywhere.

As you might imagine, the idea that autonomous cars can give us free roads, and these free roads can make autonomous cars cheap resonates with people. It is unexpected, compelling, and has just enough crazy in it to draw you in.

A few years ago, MoDOT started the Road to Tomorrow program to see if there was anything to my claims, and recently hired Michael DeMers as Director of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding to continue helping us implement these concepts in Missouri.

A one hour conference cut to three minutes, they lost the part where Chm. Miller recognized my efforts to make this happen. C’est la vie!

Colorado liked what MoDOT was doing and began the RoadX program to accomplish the same goals.

As this was going on, last year I was at SXSW representing LaunchKC, when I attended a C3 panel with Doug Newcomb and Seval Oz, CEO of Continental ITS. I’ve known Seval since she was with Google’s driverless program, she knows what I’m about. They had this great graphic about Smart Cities, and afterwards I pointed out that they had every asset labeled with its Smart City opportunities except roads — but roads took up half the space of the image!

There must be some mistake here. “What is the role of roads in enabling smart cities and autonomous cars?” I innocently inquired.

Seval sighed and smiled. “You know that you know that better than I do,” she said, “why don’t you submit for a panel next year so you can tell us?”

Good idea! So I did.

I worked with Tripp Kaiser of MMA Research, and we invited Johanna Zmud of the Texas Transportation Institute and Hector Negroni of Fundamental Advisors to join us. Our panel was accepted, and Saturday we presented our thoughts at SXSW to a packed audience. We had some Q&A, talked to some people afterwards, and went off to enjoy the rest of SXSW.

Standing room only!

I spent Sunday at the LaunchKC / Kauffman Institute / Husch Blackwell party at Maggie Mae’s, thinking my work at SXSW was over.

Then something amazing happened!

I was at breakfast Monday morning talking to a Dell bigwig about… well, I probably shouldn’t say… when I got a call, which I ignored. Then I got a VM. A text. A FB message. A tweet. From CNN. Ok, you have my attention.

“We have an urgent request for an interview today. Are you interested?”

I called the number left in my VM and reached a very helpful producer named Sabrina. She said they were doing a CNN International bit on autonomous, and had sourced interesting people from SXSW. They saw my session on Designing Infrastructure for Autonomous Cars, and thought I had an unique perspective on things.

Would I go on CNN International with Richard Quest that afternoon?

Uh. YES! Of course!

I walked back into breakfast in a daze. I’m not sure what we talked about the rest of the time, something else had stolen my attention. For the next few hours, I tried not to hype myself up about what was happening in the afternoon. It went by very fast.

Sabrina sent a car to pick me up and drop me at a small film studio in Austin. She gave me a deadline — be in the chair on studio monitor by 4:30 or be bumped. The clock was ticking.

The driver arrived 10 mins late, apologizing for the traffic.

SXSW traffic! No! We had forgotten to account for SXSW traffic!

The exits to 8th St. were all jammed like crazy. We were running out of time. The driver pulled into a parking lot, then started an Austin Powers style turn-around, and I considered running the rest of the way. Just when I thought we were sunk, traffic cleared.

We turned the last corner with 90 seconds to spare. The driver started looking for a parking space. “Forget it, just stop!” “But I need to…” “Seriously, stop or I’ll jump out while you’re moving!” I got out in the middle of the road and ran inside. I had 60 seconds to sit down.

Sabrina texted me, asking where I was. She had to make the call if I was going on or not. “Elevator,” I replied.

I stepped into the room one minute past the deadline, and the cameraman notified CNN I had arrived. He stuck a earpiece and mic on me. “Tim, this is Christine. You’re on the monitor. 2 minutes to go.”

I listened to Richard talk about the prior topic, and then he addresses me. I’m thinking to myself, “Live on CNN, don’t screw up!”

We start talking when Richard says something I hadn’t expected: He’d read my writing and was surprised that I think that onboard autonomy is ludicrous.

The only place I’ve said that is Medium.

And that’s how I got on CNN because of my Medium articles.

Thanks, Medium!

And thank you to Richard and Sabrina!