Last week Fox TV host Tucker Carlson interviewed robotics expert and Columbia professor Hod Lipson, author ofDriverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Aheadto discuss the future of transportation and jobs. The professor is obviously a well educated guy and an expert in his field, but he apparently doesn’t get how the entire basis of a market economy is undermined when workers are no longer necessary for production and services.Instead, Professor Lipson has the gee-whiz attitude toward automation of many tech elites that makes them rather dim about how economics affects society. The cover of his recent book shows a reclining non-driver reading a book as his robotic car gets him where he’s going — very revealing I thought.Lipson thinks the answer to the jobs question posed by Tucker Carlson is that unemployed drivers can just find new work somewhere — even though automation is gobbling up employment in all sorts of fields from fast foods to manufacturing.Remember the dire predictions of massive jobs loss from automation: robotics experts forecast a fundamentally different future because of smart machines and computerization. The Gartner analytical company predicts that one-third of jobs will be performed by robots by 2025, and that trend goes beyond manufacturing to cognitive tasks like financial analysis and medical diagnostics. A 2013 report from Oxford University researchers estimated that “nearly half of U.S. jobs are vulnerable to computerization” in less than 20 years. A report this year from the consulting firm McKinsey and Company, found that 59 percent of manufacturing work could be automated in the next decade.Curiously, Professor Lipson surmises that self-driving cars will spur automotive manufacturing, while other futurists predict decreased car ownership overall. Perhaps today’s two-car family transported 20 years hence will own one car and summon a second when necessary on a smart phone, or they may not own a vehicle at all. Fewer total cars is the dream of city managers who struggle with traffic and parking issues.On the bright side, there will be no more drunk driving when a robot is in charge of directing the car.Certainly in a future with no driver jobs, America won’t need to import immigrants to pilot cabs or drive trucks, because
Automation makes immigration obsolete.
As Tucker said, driving is a major jobs category that employs millions of Americans, but the self-driving car advocate did not take that concern seriously without repeated prodding. Tucker didn’t buy the pitch that self-driving cars would vastly improve safety either — it’s all about businesses saving money.
TUCKER CARLSON: It’s our birthright: it’s both a joy and a necessity when your country spans a continent, but is it about to end abruptly? Driverless cars are coming, maybe sooner than we think they are, and what are the ramifications exactly? By the way, what happens to the millions of Americans who drive cars and trucks for a living? There at least four million of them. Joining us now is one of the foremost experts on this subject, Hod Lipson. He’s a roboticist, mechanical engineering professor at Columbia in New York and the author of Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead. Thanks a lot for coming on. I think this is a really interesting topic and a cool topic and driverless cars are a marvel, but I think anyone who ponders it for a minute starts to feel concerned for the millions of Americans who drive for a living. So what will happen to them?HOD LIPSON: I think there’s you have to look at the big picture and realized that what we’re about to experience is a transformation to transportation as a whole, so we’re going to have a lot more cars being driven, a lot more traffic, and a lot more production of cars, so the industry as a whole is going to grow in a big way. We’re going to have a lot more car manufacturing, a lot more mechanics jobs, a lot more jobs for maintenance of roads. So overall we’re going to see an expansion, but it’s true that some jobs are probably going to go away, not completely and driving is one of them for sure.CARLSON: So that’s not a small thing, I mean this is not buggy wip manufacturing. According to the census, driving commercially, either delivery or trucks, is the single most common job in the majority of states — I think in 29 of 50 states it’s number one and number two and a bunch of others so this is a huge disruption of a massive part of the labor force, and I mean you’ve thought a lot about the technology behind this. Who’s thinking about what happens to those people? What exactly are they going to, do you think?LIPSON: I agree with you. Part of the reason we wrote this book was to get people to start thinking about driverless cars in a big way, to understand the ripple effect of this technology. It’s not just technology itself, it’s not just about to replace cab drivers. it has a ripple effect on the economy from lots of jobs but also growth in many sectors of the jobs. I think what’s going to happen is that many of these drivers will have to start looking for other jobs, but unlike other transformations that involved the growth in, let’s say, the software industry at the expense of other industries, what we’re going to see here is expansion of the entire industry. We’re going to see a lot of more jobs in factories in manufacturing cars and taking care of roads and so forth, so I think overall it’s going to be a net benefit but there’s going to be some adjustments to be made.CARLSON: Well, I mean there are going to massive adjustments and I guess that that’s my concern. So a lot of people are thinking about this, a lot of for-profit companies are involved. The government is subsidizing it, as you know, both directly and in road maintenance. And the main point is of course to save on labor costs because that’s a huge part of the cost for a lot of these businesses. This is very much a market-driven idea. Who is sitting and thinking seriously about what these people are going to do, or is it kind of a faith-based assumption that they’ll be fine and that other parts the economy will expand and they’ll be taken up there? I mean, is there anyone who’s really plotting this out because it’s happening soon, as you pointed out.LIPSON: I don’t know if anybody has actually plotted out the precise path but the assumption is and I think it’s going to happen is that we’re going to see overall growth in the economy because of this. So it’s a little bit like an what the internet did for for communication: driverless cars are going to do for transportation is really expand the entire economy, allow a lot of new opportunities, new kinds of businesses that we enabled and again a new new kinds of manufacturing jobs. So overall it’s going to be an expansion but I share your concern.CARLSON: Well it might actually do what the internet did for bookstores which was destroy them forever! And you know there’s an upside of course, also the problem is it’s not just any four million people and that’s at the very low end of ancillary businesses attached to driving as you well know, but it’s high-school-educated men in rural areas, so if you look at the states where driving is the biggest occupation, they tend to be far from our economic center. So they’re already places with high unemployment especially among men — women work with the schools, the hospitals — while the men don’t have a lot of full-time work other than driving, and that causes massive social dislocation. You wind up a lot of people on disability, a lot of people on unemployment. I mean they’re gonna be social ramifications. Again not just asking the same question a third time, who’s thinking about that?LIPSON: So right now I don’t have a good answer and I get this is why we wrote the book is to sort of basically highlight this issue. It’s coming sooner than you think, it’s coming right gonna happen the next decade and it’s something that we have to start thinking about. What happens with these jobs but also you know I want to point out all the other things, you know the thousands of lives are going to be saved and again the new economy that’s going to grow out of it, and you know my hope is that a lot of these these drivers will find jobs that are suitable for them in these other sectors of the industry that will grow, and again it’s not just growth in the software industry where it’s difficult to see how these drivers will find employment. These are growth in other industrial manufacturing sectors that I think can absorb these drivers with their skills.CARLSON: God bless you for not telling me that they’re all going to become software coders which is the normal response from the tech community and it’s very stupid. Thank you for acknowledging a reality here. So two questions, for the government subsidizing this — why? Why would government be subsidizing what is obviously a job killer and, two, why is this inevitable exactly? I mean the tech companies don’t own the roads, the public does, and the government could shut this down tomorrow. The DOD can say No, and why shouldn’t they if there’s a massive social cost attached and we don’t know the consequences? — you conceded that.LIPSON: Right, I think it would be a bad move to shut it down because it will happen in the rest of the world. I can tell you I get phone calls all the time from analysts from other countries saying what can we do to get this this whole energy around driverless cars happening in our country, but what does our DOT need to do to allow driving autonomous cars to develop in our colleges. Right now it’s all happening in the US. It’s a wonderful thing because we will be able to sort of spearhead this thing, just like the internet happened here first. It created transformations of the entire planet, but a lot of the big companies in this era are all here and I think we want the same thing to happen in the US when it comes to driverless cars. We want the first driverless cars to appear here, we want to have the big businesses around this evolve here and we want to sort of lead the world in this area, so if we don’t do someone else will do it.CARLSON: Maybe, maybe not, but you can pardon my skepticism when it seems like all the benefits go to well-educated affluent urban elites like me and probably you who don’t want to drive anyway — we live in cities — and kind of shafts the middle of the country, and that the pretext for those is safety as it often is. Highway safety deaths are at the lowest point in a hundred years. I graduated from high school in 1987 — they were twice what they are today. We don’t have driverless cars, yet the numbers are going down. To say this is all about safety when it’s really about saving businesses on labor costs — a little insulting, no?LIPSON: No, no, I think first of all last year the car the fatalities went up by eight percent because of distracted driving and I think this will continue to go up. We have about you know 30,000 people fatalities a year in the US: that’s a huge number that’s just fatalities, not counting people who can’t think or walk after a car accident, so safety for sure is a good reason, but again I’m pretty sure that the economy will grow once we have this transformation, we’ll have new business models, we’ll have decongested cities. We will have a lot of people spending enormous amount of time commuting to work in back, right all that time could be saved; they can rest and maybe spend more time with the family when they come on instead of being exhausted. The benefits are tremendous.CARLSON: When jobs leave your town, the death rate goes up from oxycontin ODs and cirrhosis and obesity and all the kinds of slow forms of suicide that accompany mass unemployment. So that’s not a concern too?LIPSON: No, it is a concern and I think the bigger picture is what we’re seeing is that the artificial intelligence, automation, robotics is sort of taking away jobs in a more general pattern, not just in driving but in factories and see that happening more and more. So the bigger question is what do we do balancing automation artificial intelligence with increased productivity per se. How do we balance that with job losses and that’s a very important question and that’s a question that we need to to look at from an economics point of view.CARLSON: Nobody in my world cares at all, and and God bless you for at least raising the question, because nobody in rich-person world has given a single thought and they really ought to.