Like all technological disruptions there are winners and losers, pros and cons. The advent of driverless cars will be no different. However, the scale of the impact and the rapidity with which it roils our lives may be without historical precedent. Countless millions of jobs and our personal privacy will be under assault.
Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of autonomous vehicle technology is its ability to wreak havoc within the transportation sector and the economy as whole. Transportation accounts for a staggering portion of global economic activity. In the US alone, transportation activity makes up 10% of gross domestic product. One in every seven US workers are employed by the transportation sector.
Now not every job in the industry is threatened by this technology and some new jobs will be created, but many, many jobs are likely to vanish. Three likely outcomes of this technology will be the displacement of professional drivers, a substantial reduction in vehicle manufacturing and substantial reduction in support services for cars, including automotive repair, service station, car dealers, auto suppliers, etc. Professional drivers account for over 13 million employees in the US. Automatic support services account for 4.5 million employees. And vehicle manufacturers account for 1.7 million employees. Combined, these jobs account for nearly 10% of the US workforce. If autonomous vehicle technology is absorbed quickly and job losses tend toward the extreme end, it will trigger a tsunami that will ripple through every corner of the economy.
Autonomous vehicles also threaten our privacy. Much like our phones, these cars will know who their passengers are and where they are going. Some vehicles may even know what you are doing (Tesla’s Model 3 includes a camera trained toward the cabin.) And, absent legislation, we won’t have any control over who has access to this information. Without strong government policy, personal privacy will continue to deteriorate with driverless car technology.