Job threat is the primary concern of truckers when the issue of vehicle automation is talked about. The technology is there, alright, and although it may still not be perfect, automakers are gaining traction at incorporating artificial technology into these systems, making them more and more plausible and positioned to replace traditional manual driving.
When set, these automated vehicles can put obsolete the cost of human labor that goes to getting people and merchandise from point A to B, a major aspect of the human personal and economic paradigm that would transform business platforms and social dynamics globally.
Yes, the technology is there – or at least positively will reach there sooner than later. But the real question is: are we ready for it?
The state of things
It might be better to put things in perspective. What are the things that automation and driverless vehicles solve?
There’s the congestion. With better built-in navigation systems that track vehicle progress relative to the road and to the other vehicles on the road, poor human decisions which at times cause traffic problems are potentially lessened. Some economic incentive put forward by premier autonomous car maker Tesla suggested that while at work or when at home, you can make your vehicle work for you by serving as service vehicles for others during that otherwise idle time. Optimizing ridesharing can bring vehicle access where there is demand and potentially help oil out the maddening congestion on the roads.
Access. A lot of people who cannot drive are barred access to mobility. If an elderly, for example, wants to go anywhere, he or she requires being driven by another person to be able to get into that place. Whether that is the doctor’s clinic or some place peaceful and quiet in the park, these places remain hardly accessible to some people who are not knowledgeable or are physically incapable of driving themselves. With automated vehicles, this disadvantage will no longer pose a lifestyle problem, given of course, if health factor is not at play.
But while the prospect is exciting for these areas, other aspects in automation pose equally important issues. Safety is one. Because as much as these smart vehicles can choose the safest route using its beyond-human computational skills, the code that underlies its technology is not hack-proof. A determined hacker can get in the system and take control of the vehicle remotely, putting its passengers or cargos at risk. This is a strong argument for car owners and businessmen alike.
Then, there’s the job dilemma. It might not be overnight, but the labor sector is certainly feeling the change gradually and they fear for the future. That’s not only talking about drivers but also delivery personnel, and others who will be relieved of their positions once automation replaces manual operation. This, however, will shift the demand to more high-end, skilled workers such as engineers, data scientists, etc. But the gap in skill education must also be addressed first.
Infrastructure is another problem. While the vehicles might be more efficient at navigation, this might also cause government projects to delay. This, despite the need instead to renovate roads to cater to smoother navigation, incorporating complementary technology that will help transportation become safer for travelers.
Price adds a factor as well. Automated vehicles designed today are mostly electric, and the new technology comes with a cost. Still, only high-tier customers can afford most, although leading automakers such as Tesla and General Motors are pushing for mass-market EVs. But that is still in a few years forward. Add that to the pace of how fast tech seeps into the network of other countries, especially in the third-world.
And finally, there’s the friction with policy. Currently, legislation concerning automated vehicle liability remain vague as many stakeholders will be affected by the issue. The question of who will be held accountable should things go wrong is still openly discussed among this huge network of tech providers.
The thing is, driverless is actually favorable and if given a choice, it’s a greener solution that could potentially help cut back the massive amount of harmful gases we put into the atmosphere each year.
It’s true. We are getting there, but just not yet. For now, that fear must be re-focused into adapting to the changes that are gradually unfolding. How one can go about such is a very niche-specific question. One that requires a deep inquiry into our ability to reposition our perspective and see how we can take advantage of this opportunity disguised as a red light.