Global consultancy firm, McKinsey says the market for autonomous cars could be worth $2 trillion by 2030. For its part, the motor industry has also seen a massive shake-up with gadget Fiat Chrysler recently joined an alliance led by BMW to develop autonomous cars with Fiat planning to put such car into production by 2021, a timeframe shared by many other companies. Exciting as it may sound, this is not good news for millions of people employed in the transport industry. Self-driving cars will drive a number of us into unemployment.
At the beginning of the year, world leaders met at the World Economic Forum and naturally, they had to discuss self-driving cars. A future which at a point was restricted to Hollywood sci-fi movies is now our present and the leaders could not ignore the fact. However, one particular issue arose: jobs! Missy Cummings, the director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University, North Carolina, USA told AFP then, “Companies are going to have to start thinking about it, governments are going to have to start thinking about it. The reality is we can’t just keep our head in the sand like an ostrich.”
Considering the numerous advantages of using automated cars, humans will prove to be expensive and inconvenient for transport companies and they will be driven out of jobs. Computers are better at driving than humans! In 2016, automated cars were recorded to have been involved in only 11 accidents which were all caused by humans. The transport industry is therefore going to be receptive to the almost flawless machines and ditch the unpredictable humans.
Goldman Sachs Economic Research in the USA, the country we expect to pioneer the revolution, says when the autonomous vehicles saturation peaks, America alone will see job losses at a rate of 25,000 every month or up to 300,000 per year. These are numbers that ought to scare any professional driver who has been excitedly jumping around celebrating autonomous cars.
In India, the country’s transport and highways minister, Nitin Gadkari told reporters, “We won’t allow driverless cars in India. I am very clear on this.” He added, “We won’t allow any technology that takes away jobs. In a country where you have unemployment, you can’t have a technology that ends up taking people’s jobs.”
His argument is one that should guide most if not all African countries. Sub-Saharan African was reported by the International Labour Organization as having over 70% workers in vulnerable employment. Numbers of the unemployed were expected to increase from 28 million in 2016 to 29 million in 2017. The continent’s working-age people is expected to grow to 450 million by 2035 and any moves that would jeopardise job creation are unwise. However, these self-driving cars will require technical acumen to make and thus create new jobs. This is good for the future generations but what of those already employed in the transport sector? Do we have the tools to re-educate them and put them back into the industry?
Violeta Bulc, European Union Transport Commissioner thinks not. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, she said, “We don’t have at this point, really well designed (plans) for re-education.”
How can drivers suddenly be shifted to predominantly engineering jobs without incurring a financial headache? Who will sponsor the retraining? Will the drivers be interested in learning new skills late into their lives? So many questions arise and pretending they are easy to answer is fooling ourselves. What is clear is autonomous cars are coming to drive people out of employment and in the worst cases, right into poverty!
African countries are better advised to first figure out the big questions surrounding the technology before hopping onto the “autonomy train”. We might end up suffering more than other continents for our over-excitement.