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The rise of self-driving trucks will lead to the rise of basic income

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So far we've managed to push systemic changes of capitalism down to the poor and middle-class. What will be the tipping point that makes everyone realize the economy is a pie and every living human needs a slice? How about self-driving monster trucks?

That map of the most common job in each US state in 2014 is eye opening.

It should be clear at a glance just how dependent the American economy is on truck drivers. According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.2 million trucking-related jobs.

We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples. So now we’re talking about millions more whose employment depends on the employment of truck drivers. But we still can’t even stop there.

Those working in these restaurants and motels along truck-driving routes are also consumers within their own local economies. Think about what a server spends her paycheck and tips on in her own community, and what a motel maid spends from her earnings into the same community. That spending creates other paychecks in turn. So now we’re not only talking about millions more who depend on those who depend on truck drivers, but we’re also talking about entire small town communities full of people who depend on all of the above in more rural areas. With any amount of reduced consumer spending, these local economies will shrink.

One further important detail to consider is that truck drivers are well-paid. They provide a middle class income of about $40,000 per year. That’s a higher income than just about half (46%) of all tax filers, including those of married households. They are also greatly comprised by those without college educations. Truck driving is just about the last job in the country to provide a solid middle class salary without requiring a post-secondary degree. Truckers are essentially the last remnant of an increasingly impoverished population once gainfully employed in manufacturing before those middle income jobs were mostly all shipped overseas.

If we now step back and look at the big national picture, we are potentially looking at well over 10 million American workers and their families whose incomes depend entirely or at least partially on the incomes of truck drivers, all of whom markedly comprise what is left of the American middle class.

The technology already exists to enable trucks to drive themselves. 

Google shocked the world when it announced its self-driving car it’d already driven over 100,000 miles without accident. These cars have since driven over 1.7 million miles and have only been involved in 11 accidents, all caused by humans and not the computers. And this is mostly within metropolitan areas.

“And as you might expect, we see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit 8 times in many fewer miles of city driving.” — Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program

So according to Google’s experience, the greater danger lies within cities and not freeways, and driving between cities involves even fewer technological barriers than within them. Therefore, it’s probably pretty safe to say driverless freeway travel is even closer to our future horizon of driverless transportation. How much closer? It has already happened.

On May 6, 2015, the first self-driving truck hit the American road in the state of Nevada.

They've been using self-driving trucks in mining operations for almost two decades now.  Google's contribution, though a completely different strain of research and technologys,  is the "consumerization" of self-driving, not the invention of it. 

Yes, it seems like Google jumped in front of the parade.

They are leading the efforts to legalize it for consumers and to socialize it so everyone gets used to the idea. 

In 2012 in the US, 330,000 large trucks were involved in crashes that killed nearly 4,000 people, most of them in passenger cars. About 90 percent of those were caused by driver error.

That’s like one and a half 9/11s yearly. Human-driven trucks kill people.

Robot trucks will kill far fewer people, if any, because machines don’t get tired. Machines don’t get distracted. Machines don’t look at phones instead of the road. Machines don’t drink alcohol or do any kind of drugs or involve any number of things that somehow contribute to the total number of accidents every year involving trucks. For this same reasoning, pilots too are bound to be removed from airplanes.

Humans are dangerous behind the wheel of anything.

Robot trucks also don’t need salaries — salaries that stand to go up because fewer and fewer people want to be truckers. A company can buy a fleet of self-driving trucks and never pay another human salary for driving. The only costs will be upkeep of the machinery. No more need for health insurance either. Self-driving trucks will also never need to stop to rest, for any reason. Routes will take less time to complete.

All of this means the replacement of truckers is inevitable. It is not a matter of “if”, it’s only a matter of “when.” So the question then becomes, how long until millions of truckers are freshly unemployed and what happens to them and all the rest of us as a result?

In the next ten years we will witness the death of the car as we know it.

First, let’s look at the potential time horizons for self-driving cars. Tesla intends to release a software update next month that will turn on “autopilot” mode, immediately allowing all Tesla Model S drivers to be driven between “San Francisco and Seattle without the driver doing anything”, in Elon Musk’s own words. The cars actually already have the technology to even drive from “parking lot to parking lot”, but that ability will remain unactivated by software.

Tesla-driven humans won’t be able to legally let their cars do all the driving, but who are we kidding? There will be Teslas driving themselves, saving lives in the process, and governments will need to catch up to make that driving legal. This process is already here in 2015. So when will the process end? When will self-driving cars conquer our roads?

chart self driving car adoption 2015 2020 2025

Source: Morgan Stanley

According to Morgan Stanley, complete autonomous capability will be here by 2022, followed by massive market penetration by 2026 and the cars we know and love today then entirely extinct in another 20 years thereafter.

Granted, this is only one estimate of many and it’s all educated guesswork. So here are some other estimates:

Take all of these estimates together, and we’re looking at a window of massive disruption starting somewhere between 2020 and 2030.

There is no turning the wheel in prevention of driving off this cliff either. Capitalism itself has the wheel now, and what the market wants, the market gets. Competition will make sure of it. Tesla and Google are not the only companies looking to develop autonomous vehicles. There are others.

A company named Veeo Systems is developing vehicles as small as 2-seaters to as large as 70-seat buses, and will be testing them in 30 US cities by the end of 2016.

At 25 to 40 percent cheaper, the cost to ride the driverless public transit vehicles will be significantly less expensive than traditional buses and trains… The vehicles are electric, rechargeable and could cost as low as $1 to $3 to run per day.

Apple is also developing its own self-driving car.

The project is code-named Titan and the vehicle design resembles a minivan, the Wall Street Journal reported… Apple already has technology that may lend itself to an electric car and expertise managing a vast supply chain. The company has long researched battery technology for use in its iPhones, iPads and Macs. The mapping system it debuted in 2012 can be used for navigation…

And Uber is developing its own self-driving car.

Uber said it will develop “key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” including driverless cars, vehicle safety and mapping services.

It’s this last one that fully intends to transform the transportation landscape. Uber is going all-in on self-driving vehicles to the point it wants to entirely eliminate car ownership as a 20th century relic.

Travis Kalanick, the CEO and founder of Uber, said at a conference last year that he’d replace human Uber drivers with a fleet of self-driving cars in a second. “You’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” he said. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.” That, he said, will “bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”

That’s the potential of self-driving cars — the outright extinction of car ownership. And with that, the elimination of entire industries built up around the existence of car ownership like: mechanics, car washes, parking, valets, body shops, rental companies, car insurance, car loans, and on and on. Even hugely expensive and capital intensive mass-transit infrastructure projects like streetcars and light rail can be dropped in favor of vastly cheaper on demand robotic “transportation clouds”, and all those construction and maintenance jobs right along with it.


Basically, the only real barrier to the immediate adoption of self-driven trucks is purely legal in nature, not technical or economic. With self-driving vehicles currently only road legal in a few states, many more states need to follow suit unless autonomous vehicles are made legal at the national level. And Sergey Brin of Google has estimated this could happen as soon as 2017. Therefore…

The answer to the big question of “When?” for self-driving trucks is that they can essentially hit our economy at any time.

the big question for me is what will happen to the audi r8s?  ;)

It will drive itself to come pick you up!

And this is where the argument for Basic Income comes in.

As close as 2025 — that is in a mere 10 years — our advancing state of technology will begin disrupting our economy in ways we can’t even yet imagine. Human labor is increasingly unnecessary and even economically unviable compared to machine labor. And yet we still insist on money to pay for what our machines are making for us. As long as this remains true, we must begin providing ourselves the money required to purchase what the machines are producing.

Without a technological dividendthe engine that is our economy will seize, or we will fight against technological progress itself in the same way some once destroyed their machine replacements. Without non-work income, we will actually fight to keep from being replaced by the technology we built to replace us.

Just as our roads a decade from now will be full of machine drivers instead of human drivers, a 21st century economy shall be driven by human consumers, not human workers, and these consumers must be freely given their purchasing power. If we refuse, if we don’t provide ourselves a universal and unconditional basic income soon, the future is going to hit us like a truck — a truck driven solely by ourselves.

To allow this to happen would be truly foolish, for what is the entire purpose of technology but to free us to pursue all we wish to pursue? Fearing the loss of jobs shouldn’t be a fear at all. It should be welcomed. It should be freeing.

No one should be asking what we’re going to do if computers take our jobs.

We should all be asking what we get to do once freed from them.

i love that last sentence!

this might be as revolutionary as the washing machine. 

Perhaps, but without the sweetness and roses and summer days playing with children ... because the washing machine replaced an unpaid chore in a solvent household able to afford relegating that chore to a machine, as opposed to replacing a livable wage job and removing the livelihood of an individual with few to no other equally livable wage options.

So unfortunately the hard answer to that seemingly lovable last sentence viewed from a great distance is not as happy as we would think... even for us non-truck drivers, especially after those companies fire most all their employees, or more likely drop their wages and replace them with the growing population of the homeless whose only residence is minding a self-moving truck...

The shift in needed jobs is happening. What we decide to do about it is still up in the air. 

women didn't leave the washboards to spend that freed-up time playing with their children in the summer roses, they went on to other work that needed to be done.  and that's what will happen here: other jobs will be had, other skills will be developed.  i do not think it is necessary to lament the loss of driving jobs.  humans have plenty of other things to do with their precious lives.

Emily, I agree with you up to a point.  And yes some women did leave the washboard to have more free time – at least some of those that had the option to do so.  And that was largely due to the fact that America was creating and expanding a vibrant middle class after WWII.

And also, we might agree that women didn't leave the washboards en masse especially since several major companies told them to do so and do it now... most all women had a choice to leave and when to leave, or at least an evolving option towards staying or not – and they simply didn't all leave at once.  Remember Anita Bryant?  

And that historic glacial shift is the physical issue here of what is not going to happen and what actually will happen even faster for an entire class of people dependent upon the concentrated decision making of industry – not the distributed choice of individual participants – and being drop-kicked into a vanishing middle class not an expanding one.  The trends are showing even faster erosion of economic distributions out from the middle classes and into the extremes, with a winner take all advantage to those at the top:


Truckers are not going to have a distributed choice to individually keep driving amidst a massive disintermediation into standard industry practices – unless we become France overnight.  There's really very little choice available to them... what is it that they can successfully claim as their next acts after being disintermediated by industry advances from exponential technologies?  I don't see many truckers coding and starting internet companies... 

Our most beguiling challenge is simply not having the experience, capacity or even social perspective to understand exponential technological advancement and its consequences on vast numbers of people. 

We don't have any idea how to create a soft landing for such folks.  And the hard landing consequences are not very pretty, especially given current trends in economic wealth redistribution and regulatory capture capacities by those with wealth already in hand...  

true.  i especially agree with your final statements.  it is going down and it's going down quickly.  but it's happening to everyone.  the economic shift of all our wealth going into the hands of a dozen people will have a greater effect on us than just the loss of middle-class jobs.  so machines take over driving jobs.  this is just the beginning.

technology is advancing, communication is advancing, our resources are in the hands of a few, but we are all geared up and ready to live!  so, something's gotta give.  i hope we don't regress to serfdom (but now with robots) before we figure out how to advance as a species.

we don't have any idea how to create a soft landing for any of us.  i don't care how rich you are.  if you have less than a billion, you're out.

but i don't know what to do about it.  do you?

But that's exactly the point – abetting and building upon this presupposition and ongoing narrative of something that is "inevitable" removes all responsibility for there to be any "we" capable of making a decision or doing something net-positive about it.

what are you talking about?  what do you propose?  to keep driving jobs so people can have jobs driving?  why?  because they need a living?  that is not a good enough reason.

if a machine can do it, get the machine to do it.

We need a radical review of personal wealth creation and social goods distribution with better standards precisely because we've lost our middle class and the moral compass that came with it ...

I think people needing a living and actually getting one is a damn good enough answer for most anything that America desires to do and become.  

But that's my personal opinion and rampant patriotism speaking. 

i would like to see us get paid to be alive.  it would be amazing to watch humans thrive with their technological advancements and more leisure time to enjoy life.

maybe we'll get new skills.

I for one am watching Switzerland to see if the basic income initiative there is successful:

I for one cannot WAIT for robots to take my programming job. Full-time jobs are one of the lamest ways ever devised of dividing up the productive capacity of an advanced technological society. If an increasing number of rich Americans can steel themselves to live on trust funds and unearned income, maybe it could be fun for all of us!

i like the way you're thinking, joyce.  :)

adam, i'd love to see what happens in switzerland.  do you know what's going on now?

Robot slaves for a better world.

The Swiss government is opposing the basic income initiative so it's going to have a national referendum in 2016:

Emily, "I would like to see us get paid to be alive.  it would be amazing to watch humans thrive with their technological advancements and more leisure time to enjoy life."


Joyce, "Robot slaves for a better world." 

Somehow, you both just articulated humanity's most disastrous cocktail of ambitiously delightful ends (Emily) borne of expeditious means (Joyce).  How many cautionary tails of failed utopian pursuits must we study to realize they never really work out well – most frequently resulting in war, occasionally genocides and at best hell borne heartbreak for the masses.  

As a side editorial, I don't think slavery has ever resulted in anything good for the slaves or the masters that I can read in several thousand years of history. Maybe this time it will be different?

I'm kinda leaning on informed opinion here from some of our brightest and most capable humans alive today (Hawking, Musk et al) who are certainly cognizant of utopian ambitions and potentials yet seem somehow pestered by a nagging uncertainty of unchecked and ill-considered technological advancement in pursuit of bland convenience and next quarter's earnings report ... I don't think any of them feel corporate interests are building products that will result in paying their customers to be alive.  

And even if we delaminate the pernicious mandarin culture of corporate rent seeking behaviors, the most chilling aspect is that our greatest minds espy dire consequences of unchecked artificial intelligence that inspire fear, trepidation and uncertainty ... in other words, it's VERY LIKELY the consequences of Strong AI will blindside humanity and not in very good ways, at least from our anthropocentric perspective.

If Joyce is right, odds are that there will be slaves and it will be us... if we're lucky.  And if we're not it's more likely we'll be the matrix power cells or otherwise expendable resources supporting another ascendent species sentient trajectory that we have no aptitude for or endurance to abide ... nobody is going to be lounging around enjoying robot slaves other than a fraction of a basis point of humans.  And there are betting odds that they might not be alive for long in any semblance of a way we can currently envision or desire.

Without cognizance of the power laws that exponential technology injects we can't conceive of the constraints needed to control it... and it may be that self-driving trucks are just the shit serving of dead canary to the total shit sandwich buffet that awaits humanity in our coal mine ... unless we get a whole lot smarter a whole lot faster than Moore's law dictates for machine intelligence.

Which means no way in hell ... and that's truly inevitable.

uh oh.

i like my utopian dream.  i was already thinking of all the ways i could be useful!

I like it too.  I want it to come to pass!

I'm just waking up to smarter people saying that it's going to take a bit more than just wanting it though and I'm not very happy about that...

There's an either/or-ness to this conversation I'm not grokking!  What is everyone WAITING for?

technology to rise up and swallow us whole.

but, before that, for one sweet era we would all reign supreme, with robot butlers, self-driving cars and self-producing farms.  oh, and a paycheck for being alive.

:)  YOLO!

This thread triggered an existential crisis!  What would it be like - what would I be like - as a recipient instead of an earner? 

right?  me too.  i started thinking about how i could be useful if i weren't trying to make money.

and i figured i'd still be doing what i do now... but without thinking about money.

It'd likely be an expositional life... where we and everyone else are "artists" doing our own artsy thing, or dilettante-ing doing many new things.  

It'd either be really great and hilarious, perhaps for a time, but then likely tedious and dull – like having to witness non-stop elementary school craft projects of other people's kids or being at a summer camp that never ends...

Or perhaps instead of our own petty indulgences we might build on Musk's kickstarter campaign for humanity and start exploring the unsolvable, unknowable mysteries of the heavens above us and finally make space travel what we're born to do... 

... but that's a big leap for most people alive today that would be happy with endless hours of decoupage.

i like to think it would not remain a decoupage party for long.

i hope that we would aim for that peak of self-actualization when our other needs are met.

In the last hundred years we've "evolved" from an agrarian to a manufacturing to a knowledge work economy.  That last iteration freed us up to .... surf pr0n.  

Geege: I guess we could only plow and manufacture porn until then...

I like the idea of humans linking together in a harmonic practice, activating themselves like step-up transformers, and then vibrating at robust frequencies of greater dimension awareness and astral projection... kinda like what the chanting monks in Tibet do but without the altitude sickness.

I mean if we're all now on holiday time, let's go travel!

To be fair, there are less hippy-dippy ways it could work out. For instance: let's say one day healthcare became single-payer. Well that would be a shit-ton of people working in the health insurance industries who no longer had full-time jobs. Let's say that some of those people decided with a basic income they could spend some of their newly free time visiting sick or elderly neighbors and bringing them lunch a couple times a week. That's definitely something that society needs done, right? And then let's say some system such as crowdfunding allowed other members of the community to reward with a little extra income the people who they saw as useful to the community. I don't see that as a life of decoupage, and in many ways it's not THAT different from how things work now.

I feel like it's historically a mistake to think of it as a "recipients" vs "earners" thing. Every society AS A WHOLE produces a bunch of stuff and then comes up with more or less wacky rules about how to divide it up. The Tokugawa shogunate, for instance, was deliberately designed to have the most dangerous people -- the samurai -- waste all their time and money incessantly walking to and from the capital, instead of going to war with each other. I don't know that our current system is really any more rational than that.

To me one of the benefits of a basic income is that we could cut some of the bullshit that we need to paper over the fact that capitalism isn't that aligned with our ideals about earning and the middle class any more. For instance, there are whole swaths of rural America where essentially the entire economy is based on income transfer from the Federal government via the military, disability payments, and Social Security/Medicare. Because of that it's politically unfeasible to shrink the military, or even to ask people on disability to take better care of themselves. And for all the self-righteous anger about "welfare queens" in the inner city cheating the food stamp system... I'd say our military-industrial complex is one of the least efficient methods ever invented to allow rural people to get just enough money from Uncle Sam to scrape by. Cut the crap, just give the people the money without running it through the hands of a gigantic bureaucracy and a bunch of rich arms manufacturers first!

Anyway, pipe dream or not it's a pleasure to talk to you guys about these issues!

it is a pleasure!  and we could really on and on... :)

Well, I'm not done THINKING about it.  THANKS JOYCE.

Joyce, you're right: it's likely we'll continue seeing incremental, linear distributions of technology advancement along with sporadic, huge disruptions.  

I've observed it's one thing to work on ourselves independently while the world stays pretty much the same as we change (hopefully for the better).  It's another thing to be conscripted into a forced march of societal level change because some idiot totalitarian nut-case has the power and demands that everyone do it.  And it's quite another thing to see the world rapidly changing, seemingly spontaneously around us, with nobody at the helm guiding those changes and nobody with any visionary idea of where such changes are leading us and if it's best to be going in that direction.  I think we're in this version at the moment.

And It's this path where many people question their own place on it and/or lose appetite for keeping up with it.  If any of you have experience in care-giving for the elderly you know exactly what I mean.  The accelerating rate of seemingly spontaneous, technological change we are all now experiencing is making all of us the new elderly, regardless of our age.

The very centerpiece to these parallax consequences is people and their willingness or reluctance to change behavior.  I'm sure drugs will help. Lots of them.  But I'm not sure how this will start, let alone where it will lead.  Our best minds don't even have any probabilistic notion of where humanity will end up... the only difference is that instead of such imaginings being only far future science fiction thought experiments, these physical realities have the increasing likelihood of occurring in our livable futures.  

May you live in interesting times.  

Our country's political governance is centered upon resistance to change by dilatory debate and three branches fiddling around with each others' consequential policies regarding public wealth accumulation and distribution.  Technology development and distribution bypasses all such practical constraints and consumer impedance, yet not public consequences. We remain woefully ill-prepared and at best only reactive to fractional elements of the new reality we are co-creating even now.  Social impact intentionality at scale is unborn, infantile or at best half-blind... we know not what we do – so let's do it large!

My primary concern is that because technology advancement in all industries is highly specialized, fractional and barely reliant upon the wisdom of the crowds voting with fully-disclosed curation... that an even smaller segment of humanity is now changing our entire experiential environments at a pace people can't understand and at a scale we can't easily perceive, correct or even recognize when we do make mistakes until irreversible. Climate change ... anyone? 

We live at a metaphorical point in civilization where corporations and private companies have the ability to build nuclear bombs, fire them off, wait to see where they'll land and then what the effects will be... without doing any of the social impact math first.  Whoa, dude – that's so cool!  Ooops.  Or not.

Granted, our time alive beats being around during and in the same zip code as Vlad the Impaler's reign.  But Vlad and the Visigoths and the 1,000 year Reich didn't have their fingers on the light switch of Strong AI, nor have that much Strong I on their own part, so their dramatic changes to civilization were temporal variations from the humanistic mean and made for a few not-so-nice chapters and a lot of big budget Hollywood films.

And after all that we now face environment and behavioral changes driven by singular visions of profit whether or not the net externalities produced by AI yield greater goods or ills.  As to inevitability, we're pretty much way beyond the singularity point of technological entrainment where our opinions about technologies can save us...and now are even more vulnerable to authoritarian top down will – whether human or AI imposed.  Our best hope is striving for better human behaviors with new environments that support individual bottom up choices while constraining top down enslavement.

I hope we get there... I really do.

Was just talking about this!

Was also discussing how everyone should wait/waitress in their formative years.  Because character development.

The subreddit is fascinating: 

I like arguing both sides... so on a more optimistic note, here's the cogent and not so circumspect Peter Diamandis on AI:

What replaces a "work ethic"?

In other cultures, it's been some combination of "being useful" (e.g. taking care of other people's kids, hunting well, making super good weapons) and "artistic expression" -- which is considered useful in those cultures :)

Like a ... commune?  

I suspect that for the foreseeable future it would be more like Social Security recipients :)

But I am *earning* my social security benefits ...  :)

If we're designing, I'd like all goods to be simply offered for free everywhere... maybe through giant, beautifully colored Pez dispensers.

All goods for free takes away the incentive to achieve.

You earn your basic income by working on things you care about -- whether for profit or not for profit.

For profit means you make more than basic income. There's the incentive to achieve.

Not for profit means working on art or charity or service. There's the incentive to help and create. 

Lol... Adam, I really wish those truisms were still true today in practice.

I live in Austin and what anyone still calls basic income is not a livable wage within this city, perhaps less so in San Fran, NYC and etc.  You can still commute into the city on basic income, but forget living here...

As a startup angel impact investor I really wish that for profit meant earning more than basic income.  I'd be happy with any income at all from most of my portfolio companies!  That includes being a co-founder from time to time and actually working in them...

I also find that with startup entrepreneurs (whether for-profit or for charity) the distinction you make about incentives are not true in practice – most all innovators and entrepreneurs are driven by an internal passion and need to create... some align that need and passion into an expression of helping others.  It's very rare that I come across any folks working competently driven by a need for their own achievement, but that's quite likely selection bias on my part being in the social impact space.

In any space, innovation and entrepreneurship is a very low probability sport for realizing for-profit achievement and I'm sure it doesn't stop the masses from trying. It might be different within the corporate Borg... 

Basic income by definition needs to be a livable wage.

But yes there are many details to figure out and there is much debate:

The subreddit is fascinating: 

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