With the rise of self-driving technologies, there is great speculation as to how this new world of autonomous transportation will impact the economy and society. Critics claim that industries will suffer, millions of people will lose their jobs, and society will overall be worse off. Optimists predict that along with new technologies will come new industries and new jobs, and with the benefits of self-driving cars, there will be a ripple of benefits into other aspects of life.
Journey through Time
Before exploring these different possibilities of what the future may be, let’s take a journey to the past. Our first stop: Mesopotamia, 1900 BC. Here we find civilizations at war, and one of the earliest forms of transportation: the chariot. Used to deliver warriors to fight in battles near and far, this two wheeled carriage was revolutionary, and changed warfare from then on.
Next we arrive in 15th century Hungary, the birthplace of the modern horse-drawn carriage and coach. This was not the beginning of longer distance transportation, but an invention that was considered revolutionary nonetheless, allowing people to travel with more ease than ever before.
England, 1821. The industrial revolution paved the way for steam-powered transportation. Before cars, came trains, making long distance travel and trade radically more efficient. Trains were also the beginning of the booming travel industry.
1885, Germany. Karl Benz invented the first modern car. The shift from human-driven cars to self-driving ones is often compared to be as monumental, if not greater, than this late 19th to early 20th shift from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. Not only did cars once again make travel more efficient, but they also led to the development of suburbs and towns on the sides of highways, impacting the restaurant and hospitality industries in unforeseen ways.
From horses to trains to cars to planes to drones and everything in between, all of these revolutionary changes brought with them new eras of transportation and mobility, and led to the development of other new industries.
Thus, we reach the final destination of our journey through history: today.
Today we are at the cusp of another revolution in the world of transportation. Some of us (me) are excited. Some of us are scared. Beyond the worry of technology taking over, which I hopefully calmed your nerves about here, the main fear of many is of the large economic effects that will come with fully autonomous vehicles. From a study done by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, it was projected that industries such as insurance, traffic police, and personal transportation will decrease by 60%, 50%, and 31% respectively with the rise of autonomous vehicles. However, other industries like digital media, freight transportation and electronics and software are projected to increase. But, who knows what other types of new jobs will be created?
When cars first were invented, do you think anyone thought jobs like tow truck drivers or smog technicians would exist, among thousands of others that emerged with the new industry? Could anyone have predicted the development of truck stop towns? While yes, electric autonomous vehicles may reduce the need for bus drivers and oil checks, as well as many other related services, there is a large opportunity for new professions and industries to emerge.
The world is constantly evolving. Beyond just mobility and transportation, we as a human race are always innovating. Think about all of the new, fantastic, once a dream, now a reality technologies that were created and advanced in the past half century. Television. The Internet. The smart phone. All of these have replaced old technologies, destroyed jobs and industries, but at the same time, created new ones in their place. As Joseph Schumpeter would call it, creative destruction. Why should autonomous driving be any different?
No one can accurately predict the future or know what exactly what will happen with the world of autonomous transportation, but if we can learn from our past, my guess is that the future will not lead to economic catastrophe, but rather will lead to growth and development of new jobs and technologies that we cannot even imagine today.
Just in the past few years, a myriad of new car and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers have popped up all over the globe. With more EVs, we need more charging stations. Think about the growth potential for solar power and other renewable energy industries that this may lead to.
Or, imagine what kind of businesses might emerge in terms of in-vehicle services. New types of gaming, entertainment systems, mobile apps, food delivery? The possibilities are endless!
If you take a look at the benefits of self-driving cars, you’ll see that with autonomy, we’ll have significantly more free time, both inside and outside of our vehicles. Spending less time on commuting, think about what else we can being doing instead. Maybe this will lead to innovations in recreational activities and entertainment? Or, with more time on our hands, could it be that we will put our energy towards being more creative and productive?
Another interesting path to consider is one that strays away from recent patterns of globalization and more towards localization. More and more countries are trying to produce their own autonomous EV technologies. Especially in terms of training self-driving cars, it would be much simpler for a car to learn how to drive on every road in one city or state, than it would to train it drive on every single road in the world, localizing manufacturing. This could be an important source of economic stimulus for lesser developed nations such as in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as for other cities around the world that have lagged behind in auto-making.
While self-driving cars will destroy a lot of jobs and industries, it is not all bad, and should not be feared. Human beings are always innovating, and will find a way to create something new to replace the old.
Where do you think the world of autonomous vehicles will take us?
Written by Bria Rosenberg, Intern at VIA Technologies, Inc.