A hundred years ago, America was transformed by the automobile. In the space of a few short years we went from a horse-based economy to a country powered by the internal combustion engine.
All of the haymakers, blacksmiths, stablers, saddle manufacturers, and carriage drivers were no longer necessary. Horses were rendered functionally obsolete and a vast ecosystem of interconnected jobs and industries were thrown into uncertainty. It must have been terrifying for workers who saw their livelihoods disappear, especially in those days of even weaker social safety nets than we have now.
What those displaced workers may not have imagined was that the advent of the automobile would unleash a wave of historically unprecedented job creation centered around the internal combustion engine: mechanics, assembly line workers, gas station attendants, car washes, meter maids, and many, many more. And when you throw in the workers needed to build out a continent-spanning transportation infrastructure of roads, highways and bridges, the incredible scale of hiring around cars becomes clear.
The blacksmith became a steelworker, the saddle manufacturer produced leather car seats, and the stable boy became the guy who checked your oil when you rolled into a gas station — all of them enjoying better pay, and better working conditions.
We’re now on the cusp of another wave — what I think of as the post-automation revolution — where AI, autonomous vehicles, and machine learning first disrupt jobs, then create them. Again, it will be scary for a lot of people — understandably so. When I speak to job seekers in my weekly Hangouts with them, or in person, I hear the real concerns they have.
Feeling like an implacable wave of robots are coming for your job is bound to cause anxiety. But once again, job opportunities will arise even as the more menial tasks of modern life will become automated.
In just one example, let’s consider the impact of automated cars. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently more than 2.5 million people who drive for a living on a traditional company’s payroll (excluding long-haul truckers), and when you include the gig economy workforce, that number swells to well over 3 million (Uber alone accounts for over 400,000 drivers.)
What will all these people do when driverless cars become the norm?
To answer, let’s start by asking what is a “car” when you no longer need a steering wheel, forward facing seats, a dashboard or heck…even windows?
Look at Google’s first automated vehicle…
Does that look like any car you’ve driven? This is just the beginning.
Previously cars were built to deliver only one service. Transportation. But very soon, there will be a hundred different “cars” all of which are “transportation plus”. Transportation plus haircut. Transportation plus coffee. Transportation plus shopping.
Imagine the revolution to commerce when everything you currently have to get in a car to go somewhere for can be delivered in the car itself. And you know what that means? Jobs. Lots and lots of jobs. In fact, the entire idea of a business will change. You won’t open a new store any longer. You’ll deploy a fleet. The future is on-demand everything and the amount of jobs this will create is staggering.
Even though the thought of tutoring, personal training, or even physical therapy taking place in a driverless car may seem outlandish now, this is going to be the norm in all of our lifetimes. Demand for these services will open up just one of many new types of employment that former drivers can shift into.
And consider one more thing about these new cars…
Apple introduced the first smartphone in 2007. The app store opened in 2008. In just 8 years, the app economy has grown to $34 billion, with more than 1.6 million people making their full time living building apps.
What will the impact be on entrepreneurship when this revolutionary new form of commerce is introduced? Expect the world to change again. Rapidly. And the autonomous vehicle is just ONE of the changes AI will bring!
There are sure to be disruptions, but manufacturing of this new type of car, creating and maintaining the infrastructure to support millions of self driving autos, and delivering services to the occupants of driverless cars will create jobs on a truly impactful scale. Multiply that effect by countless other automated technologies (drones, ships, trains, trucks, even airplanes) and clearly we are looking at potentially many millions of new jobs in all-new fields created over the coming decades.