Au­to­mated cars could threaten jobs of pro­fes­sional driv­ers

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

NEW YORK: Ron­ald De Feo has watched ro­bots take fac­tory jobs for years. Now he sees them threat­en­ing a new class of worker: Peo­ple who drive for a liv­ing.

“I am in Pitts­burgh; it’s a test mar­ket for Uber’s au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle,” says De Feo, CEO of the in­dus­trial ma­te­ri­als firm Ken­nametal. “We see all th­ese (au­to­mated) Ubers run­ning around the streets of Pitts­burgh, a con­fus­ing and dif­fi­cult place to nav­i­gate. If they can make that work, what do you think hap­pens to the job of be­ing a taxi driver?”

Com­puter sci­en­tists and econ­o­mists say the threat isn’t merely the­o­ret­i­cal: Au­to­mated cars pose an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the many Amer­i­cans who drive for a liv­ing: 2.9 mil­lion truck­ers and de­liv­ery driv­ers, 674,000 bus driv­ers, 181,000 cab driv­ers and chauf­feurs. The big ques­tion is how long it will take auto and tech com­pa­nies to clear the tech­ni­cal hur­dles to turn­ing the streets over to driver­less cars.

“I don’t see herds of ro­botic trucks run­ning down the high­way in the next few years,” says Vern Meyerotto, a 61-year-old truck driver in Den­ver. “There’s an aw­ful lot of de­vel­op­ment that needs to be done on it.” Meyerotto, who’s been driv­ing since 2007, points to the self-driv­ing Tesla Model S car that crashed in May, killing the driver, af­ter the car’s cam­eras failed to de­tect a trac­tor-trailer cross­ing its path. He doesn’t ex­pect to see ro­botic trucks do­ing much driv­ing for 10 or 15 more years.

But the quick de­vel­op­ment of driver­less cars has caught econ­o­mists by sur­prise. Assess­ing which jobs were vul­ner­a­ble to ro­bots in a 2004 book, econ­o­mists Frank Levy of the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Richard Mur­nane of Har­vard Univer­sity reck­oned that truck driv­ers were safe. Surely, a ma­chine couldn’t ne­go­ti­ate rush-hour traf­fic with­out a help­ing hu­man hand.

Six years later, Google’s au­to­mated cars were on the road, cross­ing the Golden Gate Bridge, cir­cling Lake Ta­hoe and cruis­ing down Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard. Now, com­pa­nies from Ford to Tesla to Uber are in­vest­ing in au­to­mated car tech­nol­ogy. “The next big wave of au­to­ma­tion will ap­ply to driv­ing,” says Moshe Vardi, a com­puter sci­en­tist at Rice Univer­sity.

First vic­tims

Vardi sus­pects that truck driv­ers will be the first vic­tims. Au­to­mated trucks can be pro­grammed to go from one ware­house to an­other, ply­ing ex­press lanes re­served for trucks that let them avoid in­ter­act­ing with hu­man driv­ers.

Vardi notes that vul­ner­a­ble truck­ers have much in com­mon with the fac­tory work­ers who’ve been ousted by ma­chines over the past sev­eral decades: They tend to be white men, mid­dle-aged or older, with high school-only ed­u­ca­tions - the peo­ple who’ve formed the core sup­port for Don­ald Trump.


SAN FRAN­CISCO: In this Aug 18, 2016, file photo, Matt Grigsby, se­nior pro­gram en­gi­neer at Otto, takes his hands off the steer­ing wheel of a self-driv­ing, big-rig truck dur­ing a demon­stra­tion on the high­way, in San Fran­cisco. Uber’s self-driv­ing startup Otto de­vel­oped tech­nol­ogy al­low­ing big rigs to drive them­selves.

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