I’ve been a software engineer for ~35 years, and I’m currently working in a research team that is just full of people who specialise in machine learning (the basis of AI), so I see what’s happening from the inside of this technological trend.
Here’s how it looks to me.
The biggest job under imminent threat, is “Driver”.
There are literally billions of dollars being thrown at self driving cars by probably half a dozen multi-national corporations, surrounded by thousands of companies wanting to get even a tiny slice of the pie, in what is estimated to be something like a $15 Trillion / year industry globally.
There are self driving prototypes driving around on the roads already, but under human supervision.
There’s an international SAE standard that defines standard levels of self driving capability:
- Level 3 is where a vehicle can self-drive autonomously on any normal road, but in the case of a situation it doesn’t know how to handle, the human is the fallback. You’re expected to be prepared. There’s a lot of people trying to figure out better ways to ensure you will be prepared to do that.
Level 3 is already working.
- Level 4 is where there is no requirement for human fallback, but if you get off the beaten track, you could optionally still drive it yourself.
Level 4 is will probably be realised in the next 4-5 years.
- Level 5 is where there is no option for human control any more.
Level 5 is not really harder than level 4.
It’s just that vehicle designs change. People become cargo.
This has a lot of weird implications, some of which are less than obvious.
- The really obvious one, is that given that “driver” is the most common “unskilled” (or at least common skilled) job, there are a lot less fall-back positions for people that can’t get other more specialised jobs with higher pay.
- Less obvious: People are going to stop owning personal cars. They will just pay for the use of a vehicle, that will come an pick them up and take them wherever they want to go. If what you really want is some lumber from Bunnings, then you don’t really need to go there, an appropriate vehicle can just go get it and bring it to you then go away again.
- Less obvious: Most vehicle servicing will become centralised. Say bye bye to your friendly local service mechanic. There will be a lot less but larger service centres, and the cars will mostly take themselves there.
- Less obvious: Car insurance will radically change. At level 4, vehicle accident liability will be with the vehicle manufacturers, who will build that into the price and they will have a strong incentive then to keep making them safer, but they also get to re-insure that and take more margins. That liability factor will also act as a barrier to entry for any would-be small makers of self driving vehicles.
- Maybe obvious: The licensing, insurance and ownership costs and conditions for anybody wanting to manually drive a car will go through the roof.
- Probable: Public transport gets a whole lot more useful. Imagine a little vehicle that comes to pick you up for work, then joins a whole train of other little vehicles to efficiently roll along together into the city, then splits out to drop you off at the office. There are already designs floating around that plan to operate like this, but they probably need to wait until most human driven traffic is out.
In this same time frame, the vast majority of vehicle manufacturers world wide have already switched to focus all of their R&D on electric cars.
- Maintenance is massively lower work and lower cost. The motor mechanics end up with a lot less to do.
- Most of the consumable parts are gone. Tyres are similar, brakes wear out less because regenerative braking, no cooling fluids, no petrol, no oil etc.
- The power infrastructure to support this is going to have to grow massively.
- We’re going to need a lot more electricians. Ramp up those apprenticeships
The other big change I see bubbling along in the background is automated house construction.
There’s a lot of different approaches being tried:
- 3d House Printers - like a gantry system on your block with a concrete nozzle that prints out walls or lays bricks under computer control for whatever house design you enter.
- Factory pre-fabrication of complete walls for designed-to-spec houses, that are just connected together on-site with a crane and a few tools. Instant house in a week, with all the fittings, electrical and plumbing built in.
Either of these do away with much of the existing building trade roles though houses should get cheaper. It’s hard to predict the timing of this change.
Another big change is automated fabrication, of just about anything.
3d printing (or “additive manufacturing”) and CNC Milling (or “subtractive manufacturing”) under computer control is shaping up to be a really big deal, but perhaps weirdly, assembling things is still a pain in the arse.
- You can 3d print in just about any material you like, including titanium and steel by using laser sintering (the patents on most of this recently expired so there’s explosive growth in this area just now) .