The Former Drivers Of Driverless Cars
Imagine a massed angry crowd. In this age, it’s not hard to imagine. They are jobless and dispossessed. They are protesting, blocking the roads. They are suddenly out of money, struggling to feed their families, and can’t find another job. Many of them are immigrants who came here for a better life; many are formerly well-earning lower-middle class.
They are the former drivers of driverless cars.
We live in an age of mass driving as a job, where Amazon delivers packages in an hour, and Uber picks us up, and supermarkets deliver our shopping. In the UK gig economy, it’s not unheard of for protests by Uber drivers and Deliveroo riders, who want better pay, proper holiday and sick leave — to be treated like employees, not ‘slaveroos’. A far cry away from the rarefied layer of London black cab drivers, who had to study the Knowledge for years to make driving their business, but who earnt correspondingly well.
But this is something different: it’s the possibility of technology not just mass-producing and de-skilling these jobs, but deleting them.
Here’s what scares me: that the top job in most American states is ‘long haul truck driver’.
There are 8.7million trucking-related jobs in the US — and nearly all of them will go when driverless trucks finally hit the road.
Do you think a big company will hang on to the expense of a human driver, or will campaign for laws to keep them in the passenger’s seat, when trucks drive themselves more safely and more efficiently and more cheaply, without any need for breaks to sleep or eat?
It scares me that there are 27,000 London bus drivers; 25,000 Uber drivers; 242,000 mini cab drivers across England — all of whom will be out of a job in 20 or so years. Where will these people go? What jobs will they do?
At first, we won’t care or count the human cost, because it will not touch us. The people who lose their jobs are not the people who make the laws, or the technocrats. Few of them will have taxi driver uncles, or bus driver fathers (Sadiq Khan excepted). But there will be a critical mass of people, who had relatively good jobs, making relatively good money, who will be turned out onto the streets. And they will be angry.
The future of driverless cars holds huge benefits for humankind: reduced pollution, parking lots turned back into city space, an end to traffic jams, a huge fall in the number of road accidents (the biggest killer of young people worldwide.)
But the human cost of mass unemployment is yet uncounted.