Automation: Self-Driving Trucks Will Be a Part of Unprecedented Social Change
November 25, 2017, 06:04 PM
Print Friendly and PDF
It was nice to see the Los Angeles Times recognize the negative effect of self-driving cars and trucks which will cause severe job loss, as shown by a front-page story on Wednesday.

A lot of reporting over the last few years has had too much fan-boy wonderment at the rapid growth of admittedly amazing technology. But the automation gizmos are being designed to replace millions of workers: tech designers and business owners win, and workers lose.

The self-driving sector is now engaged in something of a gold rush. There is huge money involved on who prevails in the marketplace, and the big players in the automotive and tech companies don’t want to be left behind.

As a result of the haste, safety may not be given proper attention by Washington because nobody in Congress wants to see China or any other competitor overshadow American technology. The Times article refers vaguely to a hearing which must be the September investigation which I reported: Senate Hearing Paves Way for Self-Driving Trucks. The Teamster representative Ken Hall was the only one who discussed safety much, noting:

For instance, I have yet to hear a serious discussion about how we will make sure an 80,000 pound automated truck will be able to maneuver around a warehouse or drop yard and not injure the countless workers also occupying that same space. Or how we would make sure that the rules governing a driver’s training requirements would be updated the moment one of these new vehicles is put on the road. And we haven’t gotten to the largest issue of them all, the potential impact on the livelihoods and wages of millions of your constituents.
Read Hall’s full testimony here

My optimistic self hopes that 80,000-pound self-driving trucks will not be loosed on the public highways any time soon — a software malfunction could be catastrophic. A reasonable (and hopefully long-term) introductory step would be the “platooning” strategy where a human driver pilots one truck with a small number of other vehicles hooked up electronically to the leader.

Furthermore, as the article points out, the political blowback will likely be severe when the public begins to see society transformed in a way nobody asked for, and the driving environment looks to be just an early harbinger of change. Many jobs are liable to face a die-off or at least be affected by the automation revolution. The Oxford study that got everyone’s attention in 2013 predicted that nearly half of occupations in the US were likely to be automated within the next 20 years. Yet Washington remains asleep to the danger, as demonstrated by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s clueless remark last spring that big automation was 50 or 100 years away.

There’s not a lot that can done to stop the harmful effects, because capitalism and invention go hand in hand. But ending immigration would be a prudent step, since it makes no sense for America to continue importing workers when machines will be doing many of the jobs in a few years, because:

Automation Makes Immigration Obsolete
This is one of the better articles from a mainstream newspaper about the difficult automated future:
The driverless revolution may exact a political price, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2017

A driverless truck is seen at a garage in San Francisco in May 2016.

Such autonomous big rigs already are being tested on the roads. The Teamsters warn millions that of truck-driving and related jobs are threatened. Economists see a political backlash brewing.

In its race to embrace driverless vehicles, Washington has cleared away regulatory hurdles for auto companies and brushed aside consumer warnings about the risk of crashes and hacking.

But at a recent hearing, lawmakers absorbed an economic argument that illustrated how the driverless revolution they are encouraging could backfire politically, particularly in Trump country.

It was the tale of a successful, long-distance beer run.

A robotic truck coasted driverless 120 miles down Interstate 25 in Colorado on its way to deliver 51,744 cans of Budweiser. Not everyone at the hearing was impressed by the milestone, particularly the secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters, whose nearly 600,000 unionized drivers played no small role in President Trump’s victory last year.

Driverless vehicles threaten to dramatically reduce America’s 1.7-million trucking jobs. It is the front end of a wave of automation that technologists and economists have been warning for years will come crashing down on America’s political order. Some predict it could rival the impact of the economic globalization and the resulting off-shoring of jobs that propelled Trump’s victory in the presidential election.

“This is one of the biggest policy changes of our generation,” said Sam Loesche, head of government affairs for the Teamsters. “This is not just about looking after the health and welfare of America’s workers, but also their livelihoods.”

Washington isn’t ready for it. The Trump White House already has indicated it sees it as some future administration’s problem. Silicon Valley remains in shock over Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin’s remark in the spring that economic fallout from this type of automation is 50 to 100 years off and “not even on my radar screen.”

“I don’t think anybody there is thinking about this seriously,” said Martin Ford, author of “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future.” “They are still looking at this as futuristic and not having an impact and not politically toxic. … Once people start seeing the vehicles on the roads and jobs disappearing because of them, things will quickly become very different.”

The arrival of that reckoning is getting accelerated by Washington’s bipartisan excitement for self-driving technology, one of the few policy issues advancing. New Trump administration regulations don’t require industry to submit certain safety assessments, leaving it voluntary. And legislation — already approved in the House and expected to pass in the Senate — strips authority from states to set many of their own safety guidelines.

Objections raised by the National Governor’s Assn. and the National Council of State Legislatures don’t seem to be slowing things down. Consumer groups are dismayed.