The dour feminist in me would like to point out that women are still struggling toward full autonomy in society after some 2000 years of ‘civilization’ ( :/ ), but the hot topic of self driving vehicles has crossed my desk and merits a comment or two with regards to society.

A healthy dose of skepticism is always in order when it comes to vaunted new technology promoted by the tech industry.  Because they, like other features of capitalist society, value profit over anything else, the tech industry will often jazz up, embellish, and often outright fabricate their claims to make their product seem like the next “must have” consumer item in society (consider the recent crapple failphone X – now with *twice* the screens to break).

Skepticism in place, we do need to realize that sometimes the technological advance is real and will have serious effects in society.  Consider the case of the elevator operators in the 1940’s.  It was a flourishing job opportunity, and even wielded social power as a 1945 elevator-operator strike in Manhattan severely clogged the engines of business industry.  Within a generation this profession was gone; automatic elevators had all but replaced human elevator operators and ran elevators more efficiently and cheaply ever since.

A shit deal if you happened to train for and be a Elevator Operator – with the phrase “this is progress looks like burning in your ears” you had to go out a get a different job, and most likely one that did not pay as well as being an Elevator Operator.

Fast forward to the present day – Truckers are now facing this very same conundrum as automated vehicles are entering their field of work.  Operating truck driving software and actually driving a truck are two very distinct categories; thus yet another blue collar job opportunity might very well be shut off to the people.  I’m not a Luddite when it comes to new technology in society, but the motivation behind the vehicles (and most of capitalism to be honest) has me worried.  “In Canada 1 in every 100 workers is a truck driver, some 300,000 people – it’s the second most common occupation reported by men.” (The Walrus – Overhauled by Sharon J. Riley).

Are we going to spend the money to retrain these people if the technology for self-driving vehicles actually becomes a standard?  Or do we just turn these people to the wind, like the Elevator Operators of the 40’s, “here’s your last paycheck, sorry about your luck , bu-bye now.”?  I highly doubt that the trucking industry – the prime mover in its quest for ‘automated-efficiency’-  is going to step up to the plate and sponsor job retraining for all the employees that have become redundant.  The responsibility for integrating these now jobless people back into the economic workforce will most likely fall to the government and as valiant as Canadian social services are, a three hundred thousand plus hit on our limited social resources just won’t end well.

So, the case looks like this – Business moves ‘forward’ creating more efficiency and profitability, while the social and economic damage caused by said advances is left to the government to haphazardly repair with the limited resources available to it.  This smells like a looming case of what in corporate culture is known as “externalities” or items that have a tangible economic or social cost but importantly not directly to the company itself (Pollution is a prime example of an ‘externality’).  So really, it will be the common citizen, who will be responsible for keeping society going while business plunges ahead willy-nilly chasing the most effective and profitable supply chain.

I have a problem with these technology driven calamitous ‘externalities’ that we will be facing, not just in the transportation sector but in other sectors as well.  This process is driven by greed, and greed gives no fucks for those who must perish in the process of efficiency maximization.  The argument against me would be such – but with greater efficiency and optimization more people will be better served by the industry at hand, thus society will be better and everyone wins.

It’s just that everyone doesn’t win.  The people put out of work by technological advances and their families are going to lose and lose big because they will have no income to afford the goods being delivered so efficiently and profitably to the stores.  Our profit driven corporate/business sectors almost always seems to ignore that fact that their profitability hinges on condition that people exist in the market that have the capacity to buy their widgets.   You may have the best widgets out there, but with no demand, nothing happens.  Of course you can keep profits going up through dubious accounting methods and the churn and burn of the stockmarket magic – but that is an illusion as you are just moving money around an not creating actual value in society; plus that financial shell game periodically crashes hurting everyone in society (see 1929, 2008 et cetra).

The way forward is clear, at least to me.  Technological advancement needs to examined and fined tuned through the lens of what society as a whole needs, and not just the business sector because the business sector is necessary too short sighted to see beyond the bottom line and what is good for them at the time.


Related reading and some of my paraphrase fodder – Overhauled – By Sharon J. Riley found in the Walrus Magazine December 2017.