There is nothing wrong with planning for the future. If you are a cab driver, or a truck driver, or an Uber driver, now is the time to plan for what you will do when your job disappears. And for what we should do for you.
Today, Volvo and Uber announced that they are formally teaming up to develop self-driving cars. No big surprise; Uber already has a well-established and well-funded internal self-driving car program, with “The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.” The company says it will make self-driving cars available to the public in Pittsburgh this month.
Google has a self-driving car in development. Teslas can already drive themselves fairly well. Ford says that it plans to be selling a self-driving car with no steering wheel by 2021. In addition to the market for self-driving cars, efforts are already well underway around the world to perfect self-driving trucks, which will inevitably put most or all long-haul truckers out of work.
The replacement of human drivers with robots is a development, like climate change, that we know is coming, even as many close their eyes and plug up their ears and pretend it is not. It is coming soon. Within the next five years or so, significant numbers of humans will be put out of work. As the technology improves, and gets cheaper, the number of human drivers put out of work will increase, until the idea of paying someone to drive you around is little more than a charming anachronism. We still have horse and carriage drivers, yes, but it’s not a burgeoning career field.
There are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and more than 200,000 taxi drivers, and close to another 200,000 (at least part time) Uber drivers. This is something close to four million people who could find themselves deprived of at least a significant part of their earnings in the near future. The driving industry is the next major test case for the effects of automation on our real economy.
Where will these people go? When all the good manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas or automated away, those workers went into the service industry. When the driving jobs go away, will all of those workers go into the service industry, too? The service industry, by the way, is also at risk of significant job loss due to automation. You can be sure that we will see people lose a job as a taxi driver, start driving for Uber, lose that job to a robot, get a job at a fast food restaurant, and lose that job to a computer kiosk.