Man vs. Machine — Transportation
Uber garnered massive media attention in 2016; the subsidies used to increase their user base created an alarmingly large loss. They marketed their “sharing economy” ideals vigorously and impacted traditional taxi industries in countless cities. Although they claim to be creating new job opportunities, Uber is also aggressively developing driverless car technology (they acquired Otto, a startup developing self-driving truck for long-distance freight, and also hired people from Carnegie Mellon University’s research team). Is it possible that these jobs opportunities are only temporary, for the purpose of data collection as they train machine learning algorithms? Is their ultimate goal becoming a self-driving ride service?
Driverless cars are now very popular news. Technology companies (Tesla Motors, Google, Apple) and car manufacturers (Ford, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, General Motors) alike are now testing autonomous driving technology. Nvidia, who in the past dominated with its GPU, had changed direction after facing losses in the cell phone market and started producing the Deep Learning chips needed by driverless cars; this year their stock rose as much as 140%.
The driverless technology isn’t perfect yet but still has its value. In America, for example, 30,000 people die (and $2,300,000 is lost) every year on average in traffic accidents, usually because of distraction or dangerous driving. Machines, however, don’t make mistakes; they don’t drive drunk, or text or call while driving; all they need is the right data, which can be accumulated over time and with experience and technological progress. Even only semi-autonomous driving (for example, in parallel parking, staying in lane, emergency brakes, or navigation) will decrease the likelihood of accidents. So far, driverless cars recommend only using autonomous mode on highways; however, Uber, in September 2016, has started test running in the twisted, confusing traffic in Pittsburgh, clearly striving for the next level.
Local Motors, a new startup, announced in 2016 Olli, a small bus created by a 3D printer within hours, capable of carrying 12 people. It has already started a demo in National Harbor, Maryland, and will soon expand to Miami and Las Vegas, among other cities. Customers use the app to call for Olli; in addition to the self-driving, Olli also integrated IBM Watson technology, so that it can make conversation with the customers and provide suggestions for restaurants or the weather.
More Driverless Vehicles
An airline pilot is highly paid and regarded as highly professional; however, according to a survey last year by the New York Times, Boeing 777 pilots spend on average seven minutes every flight manually steering, and Airbus pilots only need half that. The piloting process mainly relies on autopilot; much like driverless cars, they rely on sensors and GPS. Even the landing procedure has software assistance. Commercial airlines are now highly automated, and becoming more so every year.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the American government and other companies have invested in testing unmanned aircraft. NASA is experimenting with replacing co-pilots on commercial airlines with remote operators and even concluded that this is actually safer. Remote operators can monitor multiple planes at once; NASA has estimated that this can save the airline industry several billion dollars every year, even though it might be a controversial move.
In military applications, the United States has deployed remotely controlled F-16 fighter jets. China has modified thousands of MiG-19 aircrafts and turned them into unmanned drones that can lead the first wave in an attack to exhaust enemy anti-aircraft missiles and are also capable of suicide dives.
The recent advances in sensors, computing power, and machine learning, the development of drones has progressed by leaps and bounds. Strictly speaking, unmanned piloting is nothing new; drones have already been sent to dangerous places or places humans can’t reach (like Mars) and have already been employed for industrial mining or agricultural purposes.
Even Amazon has officially started delivery by drones (called Amazon Prime Air), in December 2016 in England. It claims to be able to finish delivery within 30 minutes of ordering. The talent Amazon seeks for this project is high level, the qualifications reading almost like NASA job advertisements, and not something the replaced blue-collar workers can do.
UPS and FedEx are developing similar technologies and might use drones for different parts of a delivery process to decrease labor costs. The main obstacle here are the strict laws in place, much like the situation with driverless cars. According to an interview with a FedEx delivery employee: although it is not yet possible to completely replace delivery workers with drones, cooperation between people and machine can increase delivery efficiency. Ideally, in the future, FedEx would only need a few engineers monitoring hundreds of drones to complete all deliveries; this development might only need a couple more decades.
Changes Ahead – Good and Bad
Uber’s driverless car outlines a future of city life without having to maintain our own cars, drive ourselves around, or find parking spaces. There will be less need for parking in cities, saving space, and senior citizens or people with disability especially will benefit from a supply of convenient transportation. However, Uber’s plan counts on the fact that driverless cars will not need to take 70% of the income they make; millions of Americans make a living driving various vehicles and stand to lose their jobs. Even well-paid airline pilots will find themselves in increasingly less demand. Other industries around transportation—car dealerships, gas stations—will also be impacted.
Driverless cars will naturally also create new job opportunities. Customers who no longer need to worry about driving can use their commuting time to work, read, or entertain themselves. McKinsey & Company predicted that for every additional minute consumers spend on mobile networks, the revenue of digital media can increase up to €5 billion per year.  KPMG predicted that, by 2030, this can create 320,000 more jobs in England, 25,000 of them in car manufacturing (engineers or mechanics for driverless cars, for instance). Other job opportunities may also increase indirectly through increased productivity. The additional time spent on the internet consuming digital media or other services will also benefit the telecommunications industry. 
Companies that invest in driverless cars will also lobby the government to loosen laws; governments, in turn, will also need to levy taxes on this activity in order to provide training, career counseling, unemployment benefits, or government jobs for people who will be replaced by machines.
The takeaway for readers, here, is that, in the next 20 years, the transportation industry will become increasingly automated, much like the manufacturing industry. Driving, then, will no longer be a viable job in the future, and drivers now should seek to build skills for other careers. Do you see any other exciting opportunities? Please comment.