The Costs of Autonomous Vehicles

As someone who truly hates his morning commute, I am anxiously awaiting autonomous vehicles. In fact, this is the one technology that I am surprised is not being more aggressively rolled out to the commercial market (though I get that the technology is out ahead of a lot of the policy thinking about the technology). I came across an interesting piece by Emilio Frazzoli over on MIT Technology Review today that really speaks to my interest in the technology. Coming hot on the heels of South by Southwest Interactive, though, the article brings me back to an excellent talk I saw from Autodesk’s Carl Bass on “The Robot Revolution.”

Frazzoli, in “Can We Put a Price on Autonomous Driving?“, covers the safety and traffic efficiency aspects of autonomous driving. He really speaks to me, however, when he puts some context around the cost of driving when it comes to personal time, particularly in terms of leisure:

There are about 210 million licensed drivers in the U.S., spending on average 465 hours per year driving a car; assuming a value of time of one half the average hourly wages, i.e., $12 per hour, the societal benefit due to increased productivity and leisure time is roughly $1.2 trillion a year.

I am all for being able to use the time I spend in the car more productively…if not in a more leisurely manner. One of the persistent issues that I continue to have with the technology deals with it’s potentially disruptive nature.

Last week at SXSWi, I caught an excellent talk by Carl Bass entitled “The Robot Revolution.” During the course of the talk, Bass asked, “Are the jobs lost to automation ones that you would want for your children?” This is a really interesting question because it presumes that there is some degree of choice involved.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that there were 233,000 in America in 2012. It also noted that there were 654.000 bus drivers and over 1.7 million heavy- and tractor trailer drivers.One could very easily argue that these are not the types of jobs we want our children to have, but given the low educational requirements for them, they represent a safety net of sorts. If driverless vehicle technology gets rolled out, what happens to those 2.6 million jobs? (n.b., current unemployment stands at 10.6 million so another 2.6 million unemployed is not inconsequential.) Through in robots like da Vinci Surgical System and I wonder how much professional disruption we are going to see over the next couple decades.

With this impending wave of disruption looming on the near horizon, it will be interesting to see if more countries begin to push for a guaranteed minimum income (to offset income equality) like the Swiss pushed for earlier this year.

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