What if Trucks Drove Themselves?
Like every other tech bro, I’ve got a crush on Elon Musk(Tesla/SpaceX) and also love zipping around sipping bottled water in an Uber. Connected by Google money and opportunity in general, it wasn’t hard to put together what was happening with these two. Tesla’s now not so quietly building cars that drive themselves. And Uber is more quietly trying to get rid of their drivers, as they are their biggest cost. Once Uber can stop paying their drivers, they can lower prices, crush competition and still increase their profit margin.
But what about the drivers?
“In December (2014), 162,037 “active drivers” completed at least four or more trips for the service (United States).”
That’s a lot of people. If removing drivers from their cars really makes Uber a lot of money, how long will it take to get rid of all of them?
If the Uber self driving experiment is a success, who’s next?
That got me thinking about other industries that could be affected.
Then it hit me.
What if Trucks Drove Themselves?
Two years after college graduation, I knew marine biology majors selling analytics software, entrepreneurship majors designing print media and my sports management roommate was driving a truck for an event company. I realized my best friend growing up who had studied special education was driving a produce truck in Amish Country. I learned my hometown friend who had been a chef was going to truck driving school and the captain of my high school baseball team delivered beer for Budweiser, in a truck.
I made a list of what all my contemporaries were doing for work and added check marks when there were duplicates. There ended up being a wide variety of professions but I was surprised when “Truck Driver” had the most. I asked myself, “Is this just an Ohio thing, how many people really drive trucks?”
There are over 3.5 million Truck Drivers in the United States, shares Truckinginfo.net.
Okay, that’s a lot of people, but there are 320 million of us here in the US, less than 2% of americans drive trucks. NPR.com had this cool interactive map where you could see the evolution of the popularity of jobs in different states beginning in 1978. I was convinced in ’14 that California’s leading career would be software developers, Texas and North Dakota would be full of oil men or welders and New York would be finance guys.
NPR alluded to 3 possible reasons why truck drivers dominated:
Driving a truck has been immune to two of the biggest trends affecting U.S. jobs: globalization and automation. A worker in China can’t drive a truck in Ohio, and machines can’t drive cars (yet).
Regional specialization has declined. So jobs that are needed everywhere — like truck drivers and schoolteachers — have moved up the list of most-common jobs.
The prominence of truck drivers is partly due to the way the government categorizes jobs. It lumps together all truck drivers and delivery people, creating a very large category. Other jobs are split more finely; for example, primary school teachers and secondary school teachers are in separate categories.
So I know and now you know, there are a lot of truck drivers out there. It’s the most common job in the United States and for almost 30 of the states specifically. Now, what has happened in the past when industry changing innovation comes along, like self driving cars or trucks?
Horses and other draft animals have been on the wrong side of automobile innovations since 1859 when Étienne Lenoir created the first commercially successful internal combustion engine. We’ve been leaning on the backs of elephants, oxen, donkeys, horses, camels for thousands of years to get us across deserts, over mountains and the last few miles home from the train station.
Our need diminished slowly at first, as for a long time motorized carriages or automobiles were too unreliable, hard to drive and expensive. The slope steepened drastically in 1913 when Henry Ford reached his goal of producing an automobile, the Model T, that was within the economic reach of the average American. The assembly line concept had come to Ford, from Swift & Company’s slaughterhouses “disassembly line” where carcasses were butchered on a conveyor belt with different employees performing the same action over and over, with great efficiency.
So the work shifted from the back of working animals to hundreds of men doing specific tasks, over and over in Ford’s factories. This innovation was great for the world of men, introducing affordable cars to the masses which would decrease travel times drastically providing all with the most valuable resource, time, along with a new industry that supported thousands and today, millions, of jobs.
We’re going to skip over the abacus, Ishango bone, Antikythera mechanism, slide rule for the sake of time. We’re going to skip over Alan Turing and his Turing machines, though thank you for ending WWII. Then there was the IBM 610 in 1957 with a price tag of $55,000, the Kenbak-1 in 1971 and hoards of other slow advancements before the first powerful computer that was actually useful and affordable for the average person. The Apple II, Atari 400/800 and IBM PC would enter the scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Apple, NeXT, ThinkPad, DELL, Be, IBM, HP, Compaq and others would continue to innovate over the next 30 years.
In 1977, 48 thousand personal computers were shipped compared to 125 million in 2001. In 2008 Forrester Research reported that there were over 1 billion personal computers in use world wide and due to adoption in emerging markets that number would pass 2 billion by 2015.
So what has this actually done? Like the automobile, it was a slow change, at first, as computers were too expensive and inefficient to be very helpful. Again the slope would steepen to a point where in just 7 years the world usage of personal computers would double.
A massive retraining of the workforce would occur as these new powerful machines became available and no one knew how to use them. Educational institutions added technical courses and computer training to syllabuses to better prepare students for the world they were entering. In the 2000’s being a Software engineer would be the fastest growing job and jobs that could be done by computers would stagnate or tank. With a computer, 1 bookkeeper could do the work that before would take 5 or more. For $49 towards TurboTax and a computer, one no longer needed a Tax preparer. The majority of banking could be done online, good bye Bank Tellers. Payroll clerks would disappear due to more efficient computer automation and as machines got smarter, they would replace millions on assembly lines, as they make fewer mistakes, cost less over time and never require bathroom breaks.
Technology continues to creep into and take up more and more responsibility of beast and man. Yes, Uber created so many hours of work and income for people that would have never existed. This is a good thing, but if the industry goes majority self driving, human drivers would end up serving as a sacrificial pawn in Uber’s early story.
In 10 years what will Uber drivers be doing when their job is taken over by a smarter, safer, cheaper computers? In 20 years what will 3.5 million+ truck drivers be doing if trucks can drive themselves?
How do we future proof ourselves?
How will you prepare yourself to not be replaced by technology?