Jobloss-free technology progression is basically a myth

M Rokonuzzaman | Published: September 18, 2017 21:23:52 | Updated: October 24, 2017 01:47:43

BBC recently reported that 'India is resisting the push towards driverless cars in order to protect jobs.' Instead of preparing to welcome driverless cars, India has been setting up additional 100 training facilities to add 22,000 commercial drivers. On the other hand, despite having Trump administration's strong agenda of job creation, US Senate stamped approval on a legislative package intended to provide the framework for manufacturers to develop and test self-driven cars. As against India's no, China is welcoming self-driving project that could help China leapfrog the West.

Yes, job loss is an issue; and even a single job loss is a serious issue for a family. Across the globe, likely job loss caused by the invasion of driverless cars is a growing concern. For example, in the USA alone, jobs of 3.5 million professional truck drivers are vulnerable to autonomous fleet. Basically, every country in the world will lose drivers' jobs. Most of the almost 40,000 vehicles entering Dhaka city every year are equipped with professional drivers. With the arrival of autonomous cars in Dhaka, these jobs also run the risk of disappearing.

Road accidents, mostly due to reckless driving by human drivers, have been a growing havoc. It's being reported that India has been losing 3.0 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) every year, equivalent to $58 billion, to road accidents, according to a study report of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) released in 2016. It's estimated that Bangladesh is losing almost 2.0 per cent GDP to road accidents. Even in advanced countries, cost for road accident is also alarmingly high. For example, material loss caused by road accidents in Japan stands at $63 billion every year. Most importantly, loss of human life to road accidents is disturbingly high, particularly in developing countries. As of 2016, yearly global death toll in road accidents is 1.3 million. According to the Times of India, 410 people are being killed by road accidents every day. The obvious question is: should we protect drivers' jobs at the cost of huge loss of materials and human lives, caused by accidents primarily due to drivers' faults?

Another relevant issue is that autonomous cars are not matured enough to manoeuvre with unstructured, crowded roads and streets of developing countries. Moreover, there is no certainty that autonomous cars will cause fewer accidents than human-driven cars do. There is no denial that autonomous cars are at the early stage. Many technology issues need to be sorted out to make them a reliable alternative. Like many other disruptive innovations, it's at the primitive stage, far from being a preferred substitute to human drivers. But indications are there that it's progressing, and at rapid pace. The study of Boston Consulting Group predicts that the global autonomous cars market is expected to be worth $42 billion by 2025 and $77 billion by 2035. It's expected that by 2035, a quarter of all cars sold could be autonomous vehicles. 

Basically, to benefit from technology, job loss is a must. The basic purpose of technology progression is to delegate roles from humans to machines to get the jobs done better at lower cost. So, job loss is inevitable. The degree of technology progression is measured by the extent to which job loss takes place-- the better the technology, the more the job loss.

Jobloss-free technology progression is basically a myth. The extent of job loss caused by technology progression is a measure of new wealth created; and the world needs more wealth to meet growing consumption. We don't consume jobs, but wealth. Instead of protecting jobs by saying no to technology, we should rather relocate jobs by taking the advantage of advanced technologies.

The second question is about the possibility of reducing the road accidents with the emergence of auto cars. Human drivers have some basic limitations. For example, the need of minimum 700 ms for human drivers to perceive the situation to take action to avoid accidents is a major drawback. Such natural limitation is often the underlying cause of accidents, particularly in developing countries like Bangladesh and India. Other common grounds of human drivers causing accidents are emotion, restlessness, addiction and fatigue. The driverless segment of automobile is mostly in the form of software. And software does not suffer from such limitations. But the capacity of software to sense, perceive and reason better than human drivers on varying road conditions is yet to be proven. Theory suggests that it is an achievable target, but it may need an unpredictable amount of time. The continuous air traffic safety record improvement could be an encouraging reference. According to available statistics, fatal accidents in commercial aviation have fallen every decade since the 1950s, a significant achievement given the massive growth in air travel since then. There were 40 fatal accidents per one million aircraft departures in the US in 1959, which fell to less than two in every million departures within 10 years. This falling trend continued reaching around 0.1 per million today. Moreover, during this period both the size and complexity of commercial jet liners grew substantially, from Boeing 707 to the emergence of Airbus 380. But the number of human pilots did not increase. This underpins the increasing role delegation of flying from human pilots to autonomous flying capability, commonly known as autopiloting.  Such role delegation is also increasing in automobiles reaching a state of fully autonomous driving.

The trend indicates that self-driven cars are going to be a better alternative to the current option. Among many other benefits, 25 per cent of seat space in passenger cars will be released. Like many other technology progression, driverless cars are opening the opportunity of creating additional wealth, by increasing utilisation factor-whether vehicles themselves or the road infrastructure--and reducing road accidents. It's no longer a technology debate, rather preparing for an opportunity of creating new wealth -- what we need most.

Both technology progression and job creation take place simultaneously, only when demand grows faster than the rate at which technology advances. To expand our capacity to grow from technology led wealth creation, we must expand the space of globalisation. Digging down the new unmet global demand is also an opportunity for creating new jobs out of technology.  For example, elderly care is opening the opportunity to create more wealth and job simultaneously by capitalising the further progression of technology, like robotics and artificial intelligence. Tele-transporting human consciousness to robotic elderly care devices have the possibility of creating both wealth and jobs simultaneously-- for advanced and developing economies alike.

Policy makers should take into consideration the basics of technology progression, wealth creation and job change to keep adding momentum to progress through smarter policies.  Once developing countries used to complain about technology protectionism of the West; it's quite an irony that they are now rejecting driverless cars. Many policies are being taken inappropriately to protect job loss due to technology progress--basically slowing down human progression. To deal with such policy making challenge, the theory of wealth creation and job change with technology advancement should be given due importance for avoiding confusion and policy chaos. Citizen level awareness will also help politicians to pursue smarter policy options for taking the advantage of advanced technologies, commonly known as cyber physical systems or Industry 4.0, instead of rejecting them by raising the issue of JOB LOSS.

Rokonuzzaman Ph.D, academic, researcher and activist: Technology, Innovation and Policy, is Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, North South University, Bangladesh. zaman.rokon.bd@gmail.com

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