Special report: Driverless cars are the new dot-com bubble

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We simply don’t know what sort of jobs will be available in the future. After all, imagine yourself in the year 1900 peering into the future. How could you know then that the proportion of people employed in agriculture in the USA would fall to a twentieth of what it was then?

Or that there would now be more people employed as mental health nurses in the NHS than there are sailors serving in the Royal Navy? Or that large numbers of people would pay good money to personal trainers to put them through their paces and ensure that they suffered the requisite amount of agony?

History is full of people who have made long-term predictions and who have been proved utterly wrong. Among economists one of my favourites is the great William Stanley Jevons, one of the most distinguished economists of the nineteenth century. In 1865 he predicted that industrial expansion would soon come to a halt due to a shortage of coal. Poor old Jevons.

So we must tread warily. Having said that, and having dosed ourselves with lashings of humility, and drunk deep from the well of scepticism, there is a lot that we can say about the future of employment in the new robot- and AI-dominated future.

One of the most widely talked about categories of jobs supposedly at risk is drivers: bus drivers, truck drivers, taxi drivers, chauffeurs, delivery drivers, and many more. A 2017 trucking industry report predicted that by 2030, out of 6.4m trucking jobs in America and Europe, about 4.4m of them could have disappeared as “robots” do the driving.

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