Silicon Valley is practically wetting itself in excitement over the possibility of self-driving trucks and self-driving cars. Yes, they say, let’s eliminate all those tedious carbon-based life forms who currently drive for a living and who insist upon livable wages, breaks for eating, and crazy stuff like that. Uber in particular is salivating about replacing their human drivers (who don’t stick around long, no doubt due to terrible work conditions) with automated cars. Hey, no driverless Uber car ever assaulted a female passenger or sued the company. Woo-hoo.
Truckers are seriously under threat. The change is coming. Self-driving trucks in Nevada are already doing regular routes. Europe has tested convoys of driverless trucks. Sooner, rather than later, millions of truckers and those in businesses supporting trucking will be under-employed or unemployed. I’m guessing they will not go quietly.
It is slowly dawning on our wannabe tech overlords that such unemployment and resulting social unrest could make things a bit dicey for them, so they plan to toss some crumbs (universal basic income) to the prole rabble and which will then force the rabble to move someplace far away from them where they can actually exist on that meager income. No word yet on how this will be financed. Such details will be left to be figured out by those icky intrusive governments that so annoy Silicon Valley.
“From a business person’s perspective it’s about risk management. Do you want to ride around in an armored car and have guards with you? Do you want the Hunger Games? Or do you want a more fair and just society?” says Stern.
In San Francisco, former Googlers have launched a startup called Otto, which promises to retrofit vehicles with driverless capabilities for just $30,000. The average trucker’s wage is around $40,000 per year.
Where does this leave the 3.5 million truckers whose livelihoods depend on the need for a human behind the wheel? And what of the millions more whose livelihoods depend on the truckers coming up and down the country, stopping for food, drinks and sleep? “It’s going to be a huge problem,” says Stern, pointing out that unlike the steel and automotive industries, trucking is not concentrated to a few regions. “It’s the largest job in 29 states.”