There are 3.5 million truck drivers in this country. But forecasts indicate that over the next 10 years, 1.7 million truck drivers might be out of a job and replaced with robots—the powers that be claim that driverless trucks would be safer and cheaper than the human-driven versions.
It’s not just truckers. Analysts predict that, due to innovation in AI software and robot technology, the global workforce is in for a major change. 80 million American jobs alone are at risk in the next 10 to 20 years.
The Drawbacks for the Industry
If these predictions turn out to be accurate, then America is in danger of losing one of the last good-paying middle class jobs that does not require a college degree. Sure, other jobs would be created to maintain a driverless network—to help out with “the fleet”—but that might look like 1 human worker to every 10 driverless robots workers.
It could also spur enormous demonstrations across the country. Imagine truckers ringing state capitols with their rigs, demanding their jobs not be replaced. Particularly given the fact that driverless trucks are thought much more likely to roll out much faster than driverless taxis or other cars. In May of 2015, a self-driving truck hit the road in Nevada. And a whole convoy successfully drove across Europe using a technology called platooning, which allows trucks to connect via WiFi, GPS, and cameras with a lead vehicle setting speeds for the entire fleet.
Prepare for the Inevitable
The bottom line is this: the technology exists. The only thing standing in the way of a driverless trucking fleet is regulation. But given that the switch could save the industry about $168 billion annually (and could save quite a few lives), that’s only a matter of time.
As Andy Stern, the former president of the Services Employees International Union, recently said to The Guardian, this should lead to a critical discussion of wages, welfare, and employment in America—and could certainly more than justify an UBI, or Universal basic income. “From a business person’s perspective,” Stern says, “it’s about risk management. Do you want to ride around in an armored car and have guards with you? Do you want the Hunger Games? Or do you want a more fair and just society?”