Just as the idea of autonomous vehicles being a far-off, sci-fi fantasy occurrence began to rise above a whisper, a government edict hushed those concerns (at least for now). The US Department of Transportation has released its Autonomous Vehicle 3.0 policy paper, Preparing for the Future of Transportation. As mentioned in my white paper, No Hands: The Autonomous Future of Trucking, government harmony across federal, state, and local levels is paramount for the full deployment of this technology. AV 3.0 continues the conversation started by the SELF Drive Act passed by the House of Representatives in 2017. That act left out any mention of commercial driving, but AV 3.0 specifically references truck drivers. And not just of the human variety.
“...the Department’s policy is that going forward FMCSA regulations will no longer assume that the commercial motor vehicle driver is always a human or that a human is necessarily present onboard a commercial vehicle during its operation.”
This passage from the AV 3.0 document has considerable implications for trucking and every industry associated with it. The US DOT has effectively paved the way for complete removal of drivers from the cabs of trucks and called into question the future of trucking as a profession. If truckers are removed from the driver’s seat, where will they go? And will the robots honk back when children giddily gesture for them to do so? The answers to those questions remain to be seen but the AV 3.0 document certainly stands as a wake up call for the drivers of today and companies that rely on them to function.
In fairness, the loss of those jobs come with the creation of several other occupations in the future of work. We have previously written about jobs like the Man-Machine Teaming Manager and Highway Controller that will be essential for the autonomous road ahead. One for smoothing out the tensions between employees and their robotic co-workers and the other to safely monitor a transportation ecosystem that will consist of human drivers, drones, and self driving vehicles. Both roles are essential to a future in which truck drivers concede their in-cab duties to machines transporting goods without them. In our recently released 21 More Jobs of the Future, we highlight a few more roles we expect to see as more drivers are sidelined by technology. As the DOT continues “Preparing for the Future of Transportation” here’s a look at the jobs that will enable that future:
Machine Risk Officer
Autonomous trucks could be hacked, hijacked, or simply malfunction to cause a wide range of calamitous damage. Is the juice worth the squeeze? The Machine Risk Officer will hold accountability for such concerns and work to establish trust between humans and the machines they work alongside.
Machine Personality Design
All truck drivers operate with safety as their primary concern, but temperaments vary widely. Some yield to the drivers around them that dart around with much more agility than big rigs while others may aggressively flash lights at a motorist they feel is driving too close to them. The personality traits we expect robot drivers to exhibit should probably fall somewhere in between. It will be up to Machine Personality Designers to program behavioral traits that are appropriate given the context and culture of human drivers around the autonomous vehicle.
Algorithm Bias Auditor
This role serves as a human safeguard over the increasingly impactful algorithms running businesses. Numerous iterations of AI have been shown to display bias based on gender, race, age and other demographic demarcations. Given that the algorithms behind autonomous trucks must safely navigate roads filled with people off all backgrounds, algorithmic bias against any particular group could have catastrophic consequences. The recurring question about self driving vehicles at dinner parties is always some variation of “which group will the vehicle crash into if a collision is the only course of action?” The answer has always been “whichever group its programmed to crash into.” We’ll need ABA’s to ensure that programming is not based upon the inherent biases of the programmers, thus keeping trucks in the road and out of the news once deployed.
While the roles above will be necessary across industries, SMEs of the trucking industry will be of particular value. But the aforementioned are considerably more tech-centric than the current truck driving profession. Rosy prognostications of new jobs created by tech often ignore that the newly unemployed may not have skill sets that align with the jobs that have replaced their previous roles. How can drivers, often with a high school education, transition as their previous work is eroded by AI? Cognizant’s joint venture with Per Scholas stands as one example of the re-skilling opportunities to redeploy workers with outdated skill sets. The public-private partnership equips participants with the technical skills they need for the jobs of the future and pays dividends to companies looking to expand their pool of qualified job applicants. Similar programs could be set up for drivers to take classes from the comfort of their truck cabs as autonomous vehicle technology transitions them to back-up driver roles. On the job training keeps the workforce employed and allows companies to retain the wealth of industry knowledge held by their employees. The AI revolution will alter the world in ways we’ve only begun to theorize. The doom and gloom forecast by naysayers has merit but forward thinking individuals and organizations have the opportunity now to detour from that deleterious destination.