This piece, 1.8 million American truck drivers could lose their jobs to robots. What then? (Vox) is a great primer on self driving trucks and how they are going to have a major impact sooner than later.
If you are interested in IT, AI or robots, it really shows one of the places where this technology is going to have a significant impact.
If you are interested in economics, politics, or sociology, then the effect of robots replacing all these truck drivers is definitely something you want to be aware of.
If you drive on highways, you definitely want to know about it.
In any case, it’s a good piece by David Roberts. That is his beat and I find he always does a great job of breaking down a topic like this and making it easier to understand and relevant to me. I recommend any of his pieces.
A year or so ago, a parking lot I use had a human in a booth to take tickets and provide other services. That human booth was replaced by the thing in the photo above.
It’s not a robot and it’s not A.I., but it is replacing humans.
Stories about A.I. or robots taking over work makes them interesting. It’s also secondary to the real story. What is really taking people’s jobs is a willingness of others to use technology, and a willingness of companies to replace people with technology. People are not afraid to use technology. If anything, sometimes they prefer to deal with technology. This makes it easier for companies to go with technology as compared to using people, and if companies can save money or make money, so much the better.
It is happening in all sorts of industries, from food to sportswriting. The technology isn’t the driver of this: it’s the willingness of people to prefer technology that is the driver.
The following is anuncritical and hyped-up analysis of robots, from Wired (On Cyber Monday, Friendly Robots Are Helping Smaller Stores Chase Amazon). A key quote from it is this (highlighting by me):
… (Amazon) is relying on more than 100,000 temp workers this holiday season to supplement its already massive warehouse workforce, the advantages of offloading more of that work onto machines are easy to see. Robots don’t slow. They don’t tire. They don’t get injured or distracted or sick. They don’t require paychecks or try to unionize.
Now check out this robot:
Once you get over the word “robot”, you can see it resembles alot of the other machines you see in workplaces. Machines like high speed printers, scanners and even vending machines. All of those things don’t slow, don’t tire and don’t unionize. They don’t get sick, but they break down alot, which is just the same. They don’t require a paycheck, but they do cost the organizations that use them. Sometimes they perform their function so poorly that people bypass them altogether. As well, robots need others to take care of them. An army of robots just doesn’t show up: there is an entire process of testing, deploying, fixing and replacing them that is costly and non-trivial. There is a process for deploying human resources, too, but to say that that is costly and the process of deploying robot resources is not costly is wrong.
Robots will take over some functionality in workplaces, be that function blue collar or white collar. But that is no different from alot of other machinery already in place. The difference with robots will be that they are mobile. That’s it. We should get over the notion of robot as some magical creature and just accept them as another machine.
While there is lots of discussion about self driving cars, it’s much more likely that self driving trucks will become standard and accepted first. Here are two stories that support that. First this: How Canada’s oilsands are paving the way for driverless trucks — and the threat of big layoffs. Second, over at Vox, is: This is the first licensed self-driving truck. There will be many more. Key quote from Vox:
Last night at the Hoover Dam, the Freightliner company unveiled its Inspiration Truck: the first semi-autonomous truck to get a license to operate on public roads.
The Inspiration is now licensed to drive autonomously on highways in Nevada. It works a bit like a plane’s autopilot system: a driver will get the rig on the highway, and can take control at any time once it’s there. But the truck will be able to drive itself at high speeds, using cameras to make sure it stays within its lane and doesn’t get too close to the vehicle in front of it.
Self driving trucks are already up and operational. Additionally, the business case and the hurdles to overcome with self driving trucks will be easier to achieve than that of self driving cars in urban areas. Sooner than you think, you will commonly see self driving trucks on highways, especially during the hours when most highways are 80-90% trucks.
Transportation is changing. Self driving trucks are going to be leading that change. Self driving cars will be a distant second.
As you can see, this new drone (Micro Drone 3.0: Flight in the Palm of Your Hand, Indiegogo) is really small. Also relatively cheap. Like other IT, I expect personal drones will only get smaller and cheaper. The only limit will likely be how big they have to be in order not to get blown away.
I have heard people come up with innovative ways of using personal drones. For example, some home inspectors are using them to check out hard to reach parts of people’s house in order to see if they are in good shape or not. That’s great.
But there are going to be lots of other ways that people use them which may not be so desirable. The most obvious one is invading people’s privacy. It is one thing to inspect a house when no one is in it: it’s another to do so when someone lives there. Instead of prank phone calls, we’ll have prank drone visits.
How people protect their rights in such cases will be difficult. Drones will raise a number of legal questions. For example, what is your recourse if someone has a drone follow you around? Or if someone has a drone hovering in a public place outside your home? Can you fly a drone above an outdoor concert so you can record it? Can you attack drones that fly into your personal airspace? Will there be security drones that keep other drones off people’s property? If you post a video of a drone visit to a property on YouTube and someone uses that video to help them rob that property, are you an accomplice?
There has been some good work on drones being done by government agencies like Transport Canada, but I think the technology is going to challenge governments and courts to keep up. Expect to see more and more debate on drones in the coming months and years.
As far as this particular drone, Mashable has more on it here.
This piece on the three day work week, Why Not a Three-Day Week? in The New Yorker explores the notion of working three and not five days a week and is well worth a read. But….
But….before you protest that you don’t work a five day week now, the better and more important question is: why do we have to work so much and so hard and why can we not have a lot more for a lot less? My own belief is that we are still shackled to a culture underlined by a Protestant work ethic and devoted to to a lower form of capitalism. We would lead better lives if our energies and our lives were devoted to more meaningful activities that addressed our higher needs, instead of tolling away to survive. The good/bad news is that even if we want to stay chained to this culture, we will not be able with the way mechanization and automation is proceeding. We need to start thinking about the way we work now, whether we want to or not.
Take 1: Over at Make, A Peek Into the Design of The Robot Anyone Can Afford | MAKE.
Take 2: Over at Kottke is a good post on why we shouldn’t be blase about robots replacing us (Humans need not apply).
The one fact is that as microprocessors get small, cheaper, and faster, the ability to make robots gets easier and cheaper. That means more people can experiment with them, from individuals to corporations. Soon robots will be ubiquitous, just like personal computers and now smart phones are ubiquitous. And just like now there are fewer and fewer jobs without computers or smart phones involved, soon there will be few jobs without robots involved.
I don’t think this will result in robots taking all the jobs. My belief is that there will be a mix of robots and people doing work for some time to come, rather than just robots replacing people. But robots in work and play and all aspects of our lives in inevitable and coming soon. (Depending on your work day, you may not see this as a bad thing.)