Robots could replace 1.7 million American truck-drivers in the next decade
“We are going to see a wave and an acceleration in automation, and it will affect job markets,” said Jerry Kaplan, a Stanford lecturer and the author of “Humans Need Not Apply” and “Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know,” which chronicle the effect of robotics on labor. Robots’ march into vehicles, factories, stores and offices could also profoundly deepen inequality. Research has shown that artificial intelligence helps erase jobs that require basic skills and creates more roles for highly educated people.
“Automation tends to replace low-wage jobs with high-wage jobs,” said James Bessen, a lecturer at the Boston University School of Law who researches the effect of innovation on labor. “The people whose skills become obsolete are low-wage workers, and to the extent that it’s difficult for them to acquire new skills, it affects inequality.”
Trucking will probably be the first type of driving to be fully automated — meaning there will be no one at the wheel. One reason is that long-haul big rigs spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention. But there’s also a sweeter financial incentive for automating trucks. Trucking is a $700 billion industry, in which a third of costs are spent on compensating drivers.
“If you can get rid of the drivers, those people are out of jobs, but the cost of moving all those goods goes down significantly,” Kaplan said.
Several states are already laying the groundwork for a future with fewer truckers. In September, the Michigan state Senate approved a law allowing trucks to drive autonomously in “platoons,” in which two or more big rigs drive together and synchronize their movements. That bill follows laws in California, Florida and Utah that set regulations for testing truck platoons. Wirelessly connected trucks made their European debut in April, when trucks from six major carmakers successfully drove in platoons through Sweden, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.