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Major Companies Looking Into the ‘Human Impact' of Autonomous Vehicles

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【Summary】Uber, Ford, Waymo and other companies looking into driverless cars have come together to study a possible labor crisis that’s caused by the introduction of self-driving vehicles.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jun 24, 2018 6:00 PM PT
Major Companies Looking Into the ‘Human Impact' of Autonomous Vehicles
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

Autonomous cars, for the most part, are expected to revolutionize transportation in good ways. Roads will be safer and less congested. Cities will offer more space for larger living quarters and pedestrians will be able to cross in a safe manner. Autonomy, even if you enjoy driving, is a good thing. 


There are a few downsides to ushering in an era of sharing the road with autonomous vehicles and one of the larger ones is jobs. Robots are expected to steal jobs away from humans for obvious reasons – they're more efficient, they don't need breaks, they're cheaper to hire, and more. While some believe that driverless cars will result in better jobs, others believe that's not the case. 


There's no way to know what kind of impact autonomous vehicles will have on humans when it comes to jobs, but it's something that companies like Uber, Ford, and Waymo are interested in researching. According to a report by The Verge, the aforementioned companies and others are working together to study the "human impact" of self-driving vehicles. 


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Looking Into Ways Autonomous Cars Will Affect Humans


The Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity (PTIO) is a recently formed group that's made up of various companies looking into developing autonomous cars. From logistics providers like FedEx to traditional automakers like Ford and Toyota to tech companies like Waymo and Uber, the group has a good mix of major players in the self-driving scene. As the outlet points out, the group has been formed as a 501(c)(6), which allows it to receive donations and lobby government. 


Safety is one of PTIO's major concerns. "Concern for the safety of works and the public is paramount to PTIO," said Maureen Westphal, the group's executive director in an email to The Verge. Westphal went on to say, "and safe deployment of [autonomous vehicle] technology is fundamental to securing better job opportunities for workers, so we plan to engage with a variety of concerned stakeholders already having conversations and planning for this transition to an autonomous vehicle future." 


If PTIO is concerned about saving jobs for drivers, it definitely has an uphill battle on its hands. As the outlet points out, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that more than 3.8 million people operate motor vehicles as their career. Truck driving is the most popular form of livelihood, as the industry employs approximately 1.7 million across the nation. 


That industry is about to be turned on its head with the introduction of autonomous semi-trucks. It's not just the trucking industry, though, that will be affected by the rise of self-driving vehicles. A report from Goldman Sachs Economics Research stated that when self-driving cars are in full bloom, drivers in the United States could see a reduction of 25,000 driving jobs a month. That equates to roughly 300,000 job losses a year. 


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Three Major Goals PTIO Hopes To Cross Off


If you're wondering what exactly PTIO is looking into, as the companies that make up the group are pouring millions into developing the technology that will lead to the demise of jobs that require humans to drive motor vehicles, you're not alone. To make things a little more understandable, the group put together three major goals it wants to achieve within the first six months of existence. 


The goals, according to The Verge, include: 

  • Begin to develop a well-rounded and data-based understanding of the impact and implications of autonomous vehicles on the future of work

  • Solicit the expertise, concerns, and aspirations of a variety of interested parties 

  • Begin to foster awareness of existing and near-term career opportunities for workers during the transition to a new autonomous vehicle-enabled economy


Studying the way autonomous cars will impact major industries is important and should go a long way into keeping livelihoods alive for people that operate motor vehicles for a living. It's not the first time, though, automakers and tech companies have come together to form an alliance for autonomous vehicles. 


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How PTIO Differs From Other Groups


As The Verge points out, Volvo, Uber, Lyft, Google, and Ford – a lot of the same companies involved in PTIO – formed the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets back in 2016. That group, which was led by David Strickland, former head of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was created with the interest of lobbying on behalf of the driverless car industry. 


"While the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets is doing very important work on issues related to autonomous vehicle safety and implementation, the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity believes that while society prepares for the practical impact of autonomous vehicles, we must also focus on our efforts on the human impact as it relates to Americans' careers and jobs," said Westphal. 


While it all makes sense and sounds goods, there's one glaring issue with PTIO – it's made up by companies that will profit greatly from autonomous vehicles. What's it to them if hundreds of thousands of Americans lose jobs as long as they're making money on driverless machines? Companies like Uber and Lyft are looking into autonomous vehicles to cut human drivers out of the equation to make larger profits.  


Can we really expect PTIO to have the best interest of Americans that make a livelihood by driving a motor vehicle in mind when money's on the line? According to Westphal, that's one of the things that PTIO hopes to bring to light. 


"Our hope is that in doing so we will help bring consensus around some proactive policies and initiatives that help ensure everyone benefits from these technological innovations," said Westphal. "At the same time, we realize by promoting debate we may generate conversations that are uncomfortable for some stakeholders, including our members." 


Uncomfortable is probably putting the situation lightly, but these are issues that need to be discussed before the United States goes all in on driverless vehicles. 

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