As someone who works in the driverless technology industry, this is a question that I get asked often. Not to mention, during this Coronavirus pandemic, it’s a timely question as so many people are losing their jobs. Let’s put this in perspective:
- Most driverless technology companies have employed a minimum of 1-2 safety operators/vehicle. While a couple of driverless technology companies have started to introduce operations with no safety operators, it is going to be many years before we see any real scale in that area. Waymo has even made a long-term commitment to the Safety Operator position (link here).
- The advancement of the technology has created a full industry of technology jobs for specialists in software engineering, artificial intelligence, robotics, etc. As stated in this article, “growth in the autonomous vehicle sector has been massive between 2015 and 2019: During this period, job postings increased by 833%, and job searches increased by 450%.”
- Even when the industry is ready for true driverless operations, people will still be needed for a range of support, including remote supervision, vehicle maintenance, and customer support.
In the long-term, driverless vehicles will, ultimately, result in a reduction of jobs, but I believe this is a good thing! Currently, there are driver shortages in public transit, trucking, and many other industries. Driverless vehicles will help to address these shortages and enhance the cost-effectiveness and reliability of people mobility and goods movement. We, as a society, have been given a heads-up. If you’re a bus or truck driver today – you will likely have job stability for many years to come. Will I advise my two-year old to aim for a driving career? Probably not…
Great article. I agree that driverless vehicles are likely to be net-neutral or produce a net positive in terms of number of jobs and think that the concern about AVs taking jobs is overblown since (a) this is going to be a long transition and (2) as you note, there is and will be a need for safety operators and other staff for the foreseeable future. I even question whether in the long run there will be a reduction in jobs – as AVs may create new and different roles we can’t even conceptualize at the moment.
Good stats, Lauren. As Princeton’s Dr. Kornhauser points out, the opportunity is to displace all the drivers who are not getting paid for driving (e.g. all the car owners sitting behind the wheel, stuck in traffic). And to build on another Kornhauser analogy, it would be interesting to compare the number of jobs associated with elevators before and after the elevator operator was eliminated in the 1940s. My gut says that as automation reduced the operational costs of elevators it increased the market for buildings with elevators and that employment loss of operators was made up in gains in elevator production and associated maintenance.