What will autonomous trucks mean for truckers?
Robots won't take all our jobs. But our new study finds they could turn middle-class jobs into low-wage gig work — unless workers and policymakers play an active role in guiding innovation.
Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, pioneered by tech firms here in Silicon Valley, are fundamentally changing how we work. What will that mean for workers? Together with the UC Berkeley Labor Center, we commissioned a new study into how driverless technology could be adopted within the trucking industry — likely to be one of the first sectors transformed by automation.
Our research found that in the scenarios that many tech companies are working towards, driverless trucks will handle the majority of long-distance highway driving while human-driven vehicles will navigate local roads. However, many of these long-distance highway driving jobs are among the best trucking jobs in the industry.
While the loss of these jobs could be made up for by an increase in local driving jobs, unless policymakers act, these jobs are likely to be low-paid gig jobs that exploit workers.
In short — driverless trucks are on course to replace many of the best long-distance trucking jobs and shift the industry towards more low-wage gig work.
In these replacement jobs, workers are likely to be misclassified as “independent contractors” so companies can avoid paying for basic worker protections such as minimum wage and overtime rules. These workers would also likely work within an Uber-style business model that could further drive down wages.
While many have forecast a future in which robots take all our jobs, this research finds that the real danger with automation is that it creates a world where the quality of jobs is far worse.
But this bleak future for workers is not set in stone. This is why we’re focusing on a set of proposals to ensure that workers are protected. By taking steps now to promote innovation that benefits trucking firms, drivers and our communities, advances in automation and artificial intelligence could deliver family supporting jobs, healthy communities and a more productive trucking industry.
If policymakers, truck drivers, industry leaders and the public come together now, we can plan how to ensure that the benefits of automation can be fairly shared among us all.