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Lint Pritchett in Foreign Affairs wrote an article about the perils of automation. While I felt he got off to a good start his article took a dive for me when he said
Automation is often a solution in search of a problem. It is a choice people have made, not an inevitability and certainly not a necessity.
I disagree. The reason I take umbrage with this is that it's ignoring Maslows Hierarchy of needs and most of what drives a capitalist economy. He's also telling us that he could decide for us what is and is not necessary. For some reason he uses Truck Drivers as an example where automation is not required and could be simply solved with more immigration.
There is no global scarcity of people who would like to be long-haul truck drivers in the United States, where the median wage for such work is $23 per hour. In the developing world, truck drivers make around $4 per hour.
It's ironic (or maybe it was planned) that the article in the magazine that came just before his in the print edition was written by Eric Schmidt whose Venture capital for Innovation Endeavours are investing in Gatik which is a truck automation company.
I think we need more immigration in the USA but truck drivers would not be near the top of the list.
Cars are being automated. There will be a ton of learnings that will naturally spill over into Trucks. The benefits from autonomous cars is transformational and to argue against it or against automating trucks to me is neo-luddism.
One reason why trucks are going to be automated is simple. Humans need to sleep or bad things happen. The following is a Tachograph (image taken from wikipedia).
They're a legal requirement and in the UK and there are strict laws on how long a driver can operate a Heavy Good Vehicle (HGV). Machines don't have this limitation. In the UK a driver can drive 56 hours a week max which is 33% of the week, a machine can go around the clock. Eventually they'll even have automated fueling the same way we have planes fueled in mid flight.
To get 24/7 drivers it gets expensive and there's additional costs in things like truck stops that need to be created along motorways to allow the drivers to sleep. There's the social cost of the drivers being away from their families. How about the increase in deaths from Lung Cancer?
Or Prostrate Cancer.
Automation is coming, it’s inexorable and as necessary as the flushed toilet or electricity in the home.