I rarely watch NBC, but was clicking around a couple days ago and saw a rather decent piece on self-driving trucks that included important facts about how the technology will affect jobs in an important American industry. Interestingly, Fox News is AWOL on the subject, while the liberal media does better, in particular PBS and The Guardian (UK). The coming destruction of the economic order by the disappearance of the wage-earner component needs to be discussed in media and public forums across the spectrum.
NBC reports that half of America’s truck drivers may lose their jobs because of technology within 10 years. The disemployment is occurring in many fields but there’s little public understanding or debate about the big picture.
Could U.S. Trucking Jobs Go Extinct Due to Automation?, NBC Nightly News, March 11, 2017
Some 3.5 million Americans drive big rigs and delivery trucks, but revolutionary driverless technology means two million jobs, or more than half of the country’s truck drivers, could lose their jobs to automation in the next decade.
REPORTER STEPHANIE RUHLE: Trucks move America.
DRIVING INSTRUCTOR: Hands on the wheel.
RUHLE: It’s more than a slogan. Some three-and-a-half million Americans drive big rigs and delivery trucks. Long-haul truck drivers earn an average $40 thousand a year for the hard work and long hours and it doesn’t require a college degree.
TRUCK DRIVER STUDENT: I always wanted to be a truck driver so. . .
DRIVING INSTRUCTOR: When you pull up . . .
RUHLE: Students like these are learning the trade at a moment of change in the industry. Revolutionary driverless technology means more than half of the country’s truck drivers could lose their jobs to automation.
RAVI SHANKER, MORGAN STANLEY: We think the first fully autonomous trucks go on sale by 2020. I’ll be surprised if in 10 years a lot of the largest trucking carriers in the country aren’t significantly autonomous.
RUHLE: Daimler showed off the technology in Las Vegas in 2015. Their goal is to assist drivers as they plan to keep them at the helm. Other companies are rolling out programs that could put technology in the driver’s seat.
Then is technology the future, the partner or the enemy to the trucker?
JERRY CORVELLI, JERSEY TRACTOR TRAILER TRAINING: I mean certainly the future, you know you’re not going to stop the technology.
RUHLE: What was once a low-skilled trade becoming a profession driven by code and computers.
SHANKER: The truck driver will also be kind of be a technical engineer and if there’s a problem with the hardware, the software, they’re going to have to figure it out.
CORVELLI: Jobs for everyone in society — the highly skilled, the highly educated — but the ones, the individuals that are not so educated and skilled, where are the jobs for them? So that would be the downside.
RUHLE: For some, there’s no substitute for a human driver.
DRIVING INSTRUCTOR JASON MOODY: There may be a computer that can drive a truck from A to B on a straight line. But there will never be a computer that will be able to navigate a truck in the heart of Manhattan, never.
RUHLE: But those who want to stay in trucking for the long haul should expect a changing industry. Stephanie Rule, NBC News, New York.
As reported in the NBC story, Daimler tested a big-rig self-driving truck in 2015 in Nevada, a state where automated vehicles are permitted if a driver is present for emergencies.
In addition, driving big rig trucks may seem like the quintessential blue-collar American job, but theoccupation has become more diverse in recent years, just like everything else. But America does not need immigrant truck drivers now or later, if it ever did.