Abracadabra autonomous!

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Updated Jul 11, 2019

Self driving trucks have invaded Ohio, hide yo’ children, hide yo’ wives. 

The testing grounds are pretty close to our home base, and as a person who travels these roads frequently, I’d like to state unequivocally that we’re all doomed. Mostly because the self-driving craze is plowing ahead, assuming the self driving vehicles will solve all the problems of the road, without seeming to understand how very difficult and dangerous it really will be to implement.

magic hatHere’s a great example: I was watching the press conference on our public broadcasting channel, in which representatives from Ohio State, Otto, and the Governor all got together in front of the highway and fell all over themselves about how awesome the whole world is going to be when these vehicles take over. Everyone gave a speech, and as they were speaking, I watched truck after truck after truck drive by in the background. Truck traffic sailed along, smooth as glass, until a dipwad in a black BMW whips it between two big trucks and causes everyone to screech around and grab lanes to avoid crushing Captain Clueless in the beamer. It was possibly the most perfect example of why self driving trucks will not save the universe, and it was completely lost on those with their backs turned to the truckers and the traffic. So. Much. Irony.

The State of Ohio is investing $15 million in fiber-optic networks for the self driving vehicles to operate on. I’m curious what pot holes or crumbling bridge they’ll implement this new technology in. Perhaps safety could be improved in real life if we spent $15 million on public driver education and infrastructure improvement, but that just sounds silly compared to fiber-optics and autonomous vehicles.

Quartz magazine recently ran an article about the time frame we’re operating with, regarding the actual implementation of autonomous vehicles. Truckers say 40 years before any real job losses are seen, tech says 2-3 max. Roy Bahat, head of the venture capital firm Bloomberg Beta, held focus groups with truckers regarding the Shift Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology, and feels that most professional drivers aren’t preparing properly for the future. “They’re not opponents of tech, but it might be a failure of imagination,” he says.

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Well guess what, Mr. Bahat? It’s kind of hard to prepare for a job that has barely started to explore the depth of mandates and laws that will need to be revisited before we can even begin to prepare for the “future.” Hell, they can barely decide from one day to the next about the hours of service and exemptions are handed out like candy to whiny babies, so let’s slow the row on the imagination-bashing a little and get real. Like truckers think: Real time, right now, with the clock ticking on your drive hours.

The reason professional drivers don’t see this as an imminent threat is because they’re the ones actually driving out there, and they know it’s damn near impossible for a seasoned human to make it through the day without having an imbecile in a black BMW slam into you out of nowhere. And as long as that imbecile is allowed to drive freely with laws, speeds and equipment that differ from the autonomous vehicle, the “safety” you speak of is completely left to the discretion of nonprofessional drivers. And that is stupid.

So I believe what most drivers and people who actually use the highways regularly are probably banking on is the fact that it’s going to take you quite some time to get the entire driving population, professional or otherwise, to completely give up their privilege to drive. Until then, you will still need drivers to avoid the meteorites that populate highway universes in the form of licensed drivers who are not professionals. And until there are vast improvements in the infrastructure, the autonomous vehicles will be restricted to lanes and areas that can accommodate them, so again, you’ll need real live humans for a long time yet.

Don’t turn your back on the unimaginative trucker just yet, y’all. They’re some of the most innovative and adaptive people I have ever met, and I’m betting pretty heavy the world of technology will regret the condescending attitude when they make costly “improvements,” and still need themselves a good ol’ boy to hit a dock in Jersey.