We live in the age of multitasking. To be plugged in and tuned in all the time is the norm. We live in the age of the busy mind.
But a professional driver is expected to be tuned in to the task at hand for long periods of time, day in and day out. Distraction is one of the key safety issues we face today. Before we spend a large amount of time and effort trying to attract young people to the driving profession, shouldn’t we be asking some uncomfortable questions? Are we taking into account the changing popular culture? Are we stuck in a trucking culture of the past? Are we guilty of failing to adapt to a changing world?
Perhaps professional drivers are a dying breed, and that’s a fact we simply don’t want to face. I know many of you reading this may feel that we will always need a “pilot” in the cab.
But that opinion does not mesh with the goals of artificial intelligence and the vision of a connected world. It’s time to put our emotional attachments to our love of driving for a living aside, and to take an objective look at our world. Artificial intelligence is going to turn our world inside out and upside down for the next several decades, and it’s starting now.
I listened to a radio documentary recently by Ira Basen titled Into the Deep: The Promise and Perils of Artificial Intelligence. This documentary investigates “deep learning,” the ability of computers to think in very human ways. You can find it on the CBC Sunday Edition website if you want to give it a listen. I found it fascinating, exciting, and somewhat terrifying. It’s worth an hour of your time.
The most uncomfortable part of listening to this documentary is when you are introduced to Flippy. Flippy is a robot imbued with artificial intelligence. Flippy started work at a Pasadena, California fast food restaurant in March of this year.
He may be replacing 2.3 million fast food cooks in the U.S. in the very near future. Officially Flippy is called a kitchen assistant and sells for about $30,000, or about the annual salary of one of those fast food cooks he replaces.
When production is rolled out, the price of that kitchen assistant will be around $10,000. As Basen states in his documentary, “You do the math.”
In the trucking industry, we have been focusing on automated trucks and how they impact drivers as a piece of standalone technology. But what if there is a “Truckey” in our future?
A robot endowed with artificial intelligence that works along with the automated truck, performing the tasks of the human driver. Perhaps Truckey will interact with Shippy on the loading dock. It’s hard not to think of this scenario as something out of a Hollywood movie and not a real possibility in our near future.
The thing is, we are really not very good at envisioning what the future may hold for us. This is especially true if you have spent your lifetime working in this great industry as a driver.
Artificial intelligence and the changes it will bring to pass is not a trucking industry issue. It is an issue that changes our human society on a global scale. It does not matter what your profession is, you will be impacted in some way, shape, or form. Yes, there will be jobs created by this new technology, but there will be far more jobs that will be made obsolete.
The solution to our driver shortage is probably not where we think it is, as we look at it through the lens of our past experience. As drivers, we should stop worrying about what the future holds and enjoy every day we have on the road. We may very well be the last of a dying breed.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at http://truckingacross
canada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.