April 27, 2016
Semi-Autonomous Trucks And More Tasks For Drivers

We are headed for a transitional phase where trucks mostly drive themselves but human drivers have to remain present to take over in circumstances that computers can't handle. A piece in Wired speculates that drivers will take on other tasks remotely while driving.

Is this idea viable? If the trucks could have high speed internet through much of their trips and the high speed internet was cheap enough then I can see a number of potential users of trucker time: Drivers could monitor video streams of businesses to look for criminals invading business premises in off hours. Or monitor video streams of stores to spot shoplifters. They could also listen on audio streams to answer questions of visitors in a store. Develop a specialty and answer questions about choices of consumer electronics for example. Or answer questions in a hardware store about how to do home repair or remodeling.

Do any of these ideas seem practical? See uses for the time of drivers who are babysitting computers that are driving the trucks?

The same question can be asked about aircraft pilots on long trips with autopilots in control. What other productive work could the aircraft pilots do on very long flights? For that matter, given an airplane full of passengers what productive use could they be put to? Load up a large data set of images or sounds or text to classify and ask each passenger questions in exchange for a partial fare refund?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2016 April 27 09:55 PM 

Brett Bellmore said at April 28, 2016 3:04 AM:

Online education, so you can get a job that doesn't involve babysitting a truck?

jp straley said at April 28, 2016 12:23 PM:

Ya know, half our populations is on the left side of the bell curve, and unless the employed wish to make a parasite-class out of a permanently redundant & unemployable citizens, then we won't bother to make self-dirving trucks. Computers can back these guys up, and perhaps affect safety stats in that way, but lots of people need jobs, and education is not the answer with the left-fraction.

I think the economics bear a little analysis, too. Where do the savings from instituting self-driving trucks go? Ahem, they bypass workers and go straight to equity-holders. This is the same paradigm that makes excess immigration so popular with neo-con conservatives...the savings in wages go straight into the pockets of owners, and the external costs incurred by importing otherwise undesirable folks are borne by taxpayers. (Don't accuse me of making this up, look up any analysis by Dr. George Borjas, a well known specialist in this area.) So the wealth divide greatly increases, leading to a very unstable situation.

So why bother doing this? Who benefits?

JP Straley

STH said at April 28, 2016 3:25 PM:

I'm still skeptical that automated cars and airplanes will come to fruition because the possibility of failure can be so catastrophic. It's one thing to automate restaurant employees, janitors, or farm workers since failure results in minor. low-cost consequences, but quite another when human lives are at stake. The real question is: why do human beings have to be transported way from home so often? Why should they drive to work everyday? Telecommuting already relieves some of the burden having to commute to wok, but today's telecommuting technology is decidedly lacking; currently, there's no substitute for "being there".

I think we would be better off if the same amount of effort and resources which is currently being invested in self-driving cars were put into developing "virtual presence" so that an employee can stay near their homes rather than drive to work. That way future office workers can enter a holodeck-like environment to interact with other office workers without leaving having to travel to work everyday. The roads and highways would be far less cluttered if it were limited only to those drivers who truly need to be present to do their work.

Randall Parker said at May 2, 2016 10:44 PM:


I had friends who worked their way thru college as night security guards. I think we might be coming up on a window of time where a smart kid could become a long haul truck babysitter and then study on the road. While cruising along the 18 year old could watch college lectures on a Head Up Display and listen to the audio feed.


The autonomous vehicles will make mistakes. They just have to make the mistakes substantially less often than human drivers. We will know if that his happening by watching accident rates.

Virtual presence: a number of companies are chasing VR already. There's plenty of money flowing into it. But it's hard. My guess is we still not have the computing power needed to make it work really well.

Randall Parker said at May 3, 2016 8:52 PM:


Look at what has already happened to employment rates as a function of educational level. I do not think capitalists will hesitate to make investments that will make a large chunk of the population unemployable. Each capitalist tries to cut costs and maximize profits for their own enterprises. They don't think about the big picture. They focus on their own businesses.

Our government also pursues policies that harm the long term interests of middle and lower classes. Look at immigration.

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