Preserving Crappy Jobs

HMI investor

Futurists are fond of scaring the crap out of us with foreboding predictions of dire outcomes from a heedless pursuit of technological advances. Artificial intelligence has been the poster child of ominous outcomes but it’s getting some serious competition from driverless vehicle technology.

Last week, fear was converted to action when Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways for India said that driverless technology will not be allowed in India because it will take away jobs. He was quoted in the Hindustani Times: “We won’t allow any technology that takes away jobs. In a country where you have unemployment, you can’t have a technology that ends up taking people’s jobs.”

“Won’t allow driverless cars that take away jobs: Nitin Gadkari – Hindustani Times –

This backward mentality is reminiscent of President Trump’s pledges to restore coal mining jobs when job growth in the clean energy sector is where the action is. Is clean energy creating unemployment and must therefore be discouraged? Hardly.

In the same way, autonomous vehicle technology is creating demand for new kinds of jobs and new opportunities while offering the potential to alleviate a crisis in the form of a shortage of truck drivers pursuing a trade which is injurious to their health. As we ponder the impact of driverless technology for passenger cars and commercial vehicles it is worth pondering the nature of the driving task and the viability of the business model.

Even a casual analysis of the trucking industry reveals under-compensated workers laboring in demanding and dangerous circumstances with limited regard from their employers for their health and safety. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of drivers are laboring for the likes of Uber on a treadmill to nowhere.

“Alone on the Road: Truckers Feel Like ‘Throwaway People’” – NYTimes

“Senators pressure retailers to root out shameful abuse of truckers” – USAToday

“A Mathematics Breakdown Showing What a Ripoff Uber is for Drivers” – Digg

Is the highest aspiration of our political leaders to be the preservation of the unfulfilling, and financially and physically suicidal jobs of today rather than opening the way for new more redeeming opportunities? The proclamation of India’s transport minister is hopefully the last gasp of a retrograde effort to preserve today’s known employment evils while eschewing the promise of better days ahead.

The transport minister of India and the President of the United States would do well to consider how best to redirect today’s labor force toward more productive and fulfilling functions via training and eductional opportunities. Coal miners and truckers know their days are numbered. They’re looking forward to a change themselves.

Postscript: Upon further reflection I want to make clear that drivers are essential to the functioning of the global economy. It is a trade requiring skill and one that is executed every day around the world with great dignity and care. In fact, it is professional drivers who will ultimately teach the machines that replace them. That replacement will take many years and, in the meantime, the technology to replace drivers should be purposed to make driving easier and safer.

If the Indian government is truly concerned with the welfare of drivers it will invest in better training and enhanced safety mandates and rules governing commercial vehicle operation. The government should foster life-preserving safety systems which will ultimately lead to self-driving technology – both for commercial vehicle drivers and those who share the road with them. (Meanwhile, Uber is screwing its drivers even as it is screwing rental car and taxi companies by offering a service purposefully priced below life-sustaining levels. Drivers must be properly compensated.)

Roger C. Lanctot is Director, Automotive Connected Mobility in the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics. More details about Strategy Analytics can be found here:

Roger C. Lanctot
Mentor – Autonebula

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