Automation has already helped wipe out many manufacturing jobs around the world, as robots now perform factory line tasks that used to be done by humans. Now the technology is starting to be deployed through self-driving vehicles in places like ports, with similar results.
By Ethan Elkind
KQED radio in San Francisco ran an excellent piece recently that describes the battle going on in Southern California’s ports. These critical areas of goods movement typically offer some of the highest-paying union jobs around for longshoremen. But a new project with automated, self-driving cargo vehicles and cranes has led to layoffs.
This video below, shot by one of the laid off workers at the Long Beach port, shows in stark terms both the promise of these amazing (and zero emission) technologies as well as the human cost (warning: profanity included):
We certainly can’t turn our back on new technology that offers societal benefits, from cleaner transportation to cheaper goods. But we can’t be insensitive to the human costs from this deployment. One would like to think that the benefits will outweigh the costs, that the savings will help the economy overall to create more jobs, and that new jobs will be created to work on these automation technologies.
But we know there will be losers, and policy makers will need to devise ways to address what they’ve lost. Meanwhile, the trend will only intensify, as automation through self-driving technologies will eventually displace jobs from truck driving to airport shuttles to taxis, and everything in between.
Ethan Elkind directs the climate program at UC Berkeley Law, with a joint appointment at UCLA Law. His book “Railtown” was published by the University of California Press.
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