Last night a woman was struck by an autonomous Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona


This is where I agree…But a LOT more jobs are going to be eliminated…not just drivers.


Maybe Uber should use the same code as Herbie.



For the initial reasoning, look no further than the early adopters- service industry. It started in warehousing- robots eliminate people. The largest cost for any business- and growing. Next step is obvious- self driving trucks and cars (and drones) to move goods and people. Aside from pay and benefits, people have to rest. Machines don’t. Over the road trucking can go on 24/7 with no mandatory rest period. This is a paradigm shift for businesses in terms of cost reductions. Yes, the initial CapEX is high but in the long term, it’s a huge reduction in costs for them.


Oh boy. No doubt that labor costs are a major issue in any business as is plant and machine costs as well as advertising. But it is simply a potential goal and not a fact that costs to eliminate labor will not be higher than the labor. There are lots of automated systems out there that save labor but there is still a lot of labor involved in the use and maintenance of those systems. Last night for example I heard an ad for a major trucking company that they had increased their mileage rate now to 45 cents a mile. I just did the math in my head for a guy running 8 hours at 60 average (which will never happen) and came up with around $50,000 a year for a driver. Are you really going to develop, buy, and maintain an automated truck for a measly $50K a year? Think about it. And just running it 24/7 doesn’t change the equation-it just means getting more use out of fewer trucks that will wear out faster. Figure it out yourself if you run three trucks at 5000 miles a month or one truck at 15000 miles a month. You may save some but if it goes down you also lose 15000 miles instead of 5000. When we used to try to run 24/7 at the can plant, we just found that the down time and maintenance versus the extra production didn’t make sense. I was better to run two full productive shifts. No machine can run 24/7 without maintenance and repairs.

Taxi drivers? Again these guys have to keep moving to eek out barely a living. Is the additional cost of the self driving technology really going to be cheaper than a minimum wage driver? Maybe, I don’t know and you don’t either at this point.

I also had some interest in the automated hamburger flipper (Flippy I think they called him). It sounded good since the robot could work without breaks and consistently but at a cost. So far it just didn’t work out. I have no dog in the race but would rather see a high school kid flipping hamburgers earning money for school than a robot (or the current crop of fast food workers).

Just saying at this point its pie in the sky thinking with no real clear hard facts or numbers to deal with to determine whether it will ever be cost effective or not. Remember that old cartoon that told a guy he was being replaced by a computer, a programmer, repairman, etc?
Like I said, just because you can doesn’t mean you should or that it’ll make any economic sense.


I wonder what a self-driving big rig 18 wheeler would do if the engine stalled out b/c of some unexpected mechanical problem while driving down the freeway? Would it know how to scan the scene and coast to the safest spot to pull off the road within coasting distance? And how far it could pull off the road before the threat of tipping over b/c of the soft shoulder? Or would it just stop in the middle of the road? Wht if it loses its brakes on a long downhill? Would it know what to do in that situation?


Bing, I think you are underestimating driver costs. I was making more than your estimate when I retired 23 years ago and that didn’t include the $14000 that was being paid into the pension and hospitalization fund. I was also refusing to lie on my logbook to make more money and picking runs that would let me get bach home and to bed the quickest. We had many drivers making mor than $70K + benefits. Also, the class 1 common carriers have been running their road tractors 20 hours a day for years. When one comes in the gate, it is dropped, fueled and hooked up to loads ready to go with another driver. Only a driver writing up the rig for a defect interrupts the cycle. A computer keeps track of the maintenance needs and the tractor is dispatched to a terminal with a major shop where it is quickly serviced.

These days, I think an automated road tractor would easily save $250,000 a year. The tractor can work 7 days a week, the driver cannot. The electronic logs now required will mean less miles covered by each driver on average also.


Knowing where the phrase “pie in the sky” comes from, I’m surprised to see you use it.

The phrase comes from an early twentieth-century folk song written by labor activist Joe Hill (aka Joe Hillstrom), a famous member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The song, titled The Preacher and the Slave, is a satirical attack on the Salvation Army.


Here’s something I hadn’t realized - the ‘black box’ info recorded by the self driving Tesla in the crash is in a proprietary format that isn’t required to be handed over. Tesla’s now doing that, but I’d think that any self-driving vehicle should record its actions in some common format, easily read by crash investigators.


Oh boy is right.

But it is simply a potential goal and not a fact that costs to eliminate labor will not be higher than the labor.

Seriously? First off, you’ve made the novice mistake a lot of people make in assessing costs for labor. The person’s take home pay is only one slice of that pie and about 1/3 of the cost to the business I am in- manufacturing. There are all kinds of costs to the business from having and maintaining a space that is conducive to human working (heat, lights, furniture, break rooms etc etc etc), health insurance and other benefits, unemployment insurance, and so on. Almost all of which do not apply to automated robots. And this is not to mention lost days to sickness, vacation and other personal reasons and inefficiencies that result from distractions or overworking humans. Automated robots have none of these issues.

Case in point. We had people doing Receiving Inspection on incoming parts. Huge bottleneck due to the vast amount of materials, complicated inspection plans etc. Now have people come in barking about delays etc and fatigue=mistakes start to creep in. We replaced most of that department with automated inspection equipment for a fraction of the cost of human labor. They can do more complicated measurements, never get tired, don’t take days off, are not distracted, can work 24/7 without taking breaks, do not need health insurance or even a warm environment to work in.

In the trucking example, they can eliminate all the soft costs that sit on top of payroll and, since drivers need to rest, an automated truck replaces 2 or maybe even 3 drivers. The maintenance needs of the truck are no different, that is a wash.

Is the additional cost of the self driving technology really going to be cheaper than a minimum wage driver? Maybe, I don’t know and you don’t either at this point.

I think it is quite safe to say that the addition of a computer and electronic controls will be FAR cheaper in the long run than the ongoing costs for a human. You pay ONCE for hardware…


No, but you also aren’t getting that driver for 50k/year. You have to give the driver benefits, you have to train the driver, you have to provide the driver with a truck that will keep him comfortable, which means you have to pay extra to air condition it (not much per truck, true, but across a large fleet it adds up), and you have to carry higher liability insurance because your driver is human and he might mess up.

All of these things will go away, or in the liability case be drastically reduced, when a robot is driving.

Then there’s the productivity angle. The robot truck will drive 24/7. The human driver will not.

And there’s the efficiency angle. The robot truck will be able to form convoys with other robot trucks and run inches from the bumper of the truck in front, which will cut down on drag and save you fuel money.

And there’s the “businesses are jerks to their employees” angle. At the last TV station I worked at before bailing from the career, they upgraded our studio to robotic cameras. This allowed them to fire 12 people (camera operators, sound guys, playback operators, etc) and only retain one to supervise the computer, which would move the cameras, switch from camera to camera, and automatically play stories during the newscast. This cost the station just over $1m to accomplish.

Two months after the upgrade we were informed that bonuses were cancelled and raises weren’t going to happen because we were just over $1m below our target profits for the year. Hmmmm.

I guarantee the same kind of crap will happen in trucking companies too. They’ll find a way to offset at least some of the startup costs onto the workers they have left.


Maintenance is a non issue, since you have to maintain any vehicle you buy (with or without driver).

So the only cost comparison you need to make is Initial cost of driverless vehicle. Is the initial cost of the vehicle - averaged over the life, plus the drivers salary going to more or less then the initial cost of the driverless truck. I say the driverless vehicle will cost less…in fact a LOT LESS. May not be a huge savings for a small company, but a large trucking company - it could save them millions/year. Large trucking companies are salivating waiting for driverless trucks. They’ve done the math and calculated their annual savings.

It’s NOT pie in the sky. Labor can be easily calculated. The savings could be GREAT.

It’ll be a LOT cheaper…

I hate to burst your bubble, but technology has displaced MILLIONS of jobs world-wide. Other jobs have stepped up to replace them, but those jobs are lost forever.


And keep in mind that we are approaching a point where jobs will not be replaced, because whatever job might replace the jobs lost to technology, will also be done by technology.


Yup. Damn good thing I’m about to retire and my kids are in good professional fields. But good blue color jobs are being replaced by service jobs. There are only so many service jobs…and they pay a LOT less.


Am I too old to enjoy the AI Utopia? Soon all work will be done by robots and people will be free to enjoy life. Maybe the young will be required to repair and re-program computers for a few years then retire on a full pension at age 30. St Peter might give up his job and return to enjoy the Heaven on Earth. Who wants milk and honey when you can enjoy Ruth’s Chris delivered via autonomous Uber?


That’s one possibility. I feel the more likely possibility is that a small group of people will own the machines, and the rest of us will be homeless.

After all, computers were supposed to knock us down to a 20 hour work week by now because we’d be so much more productive, so we’d get our work done and then go home for the week. Instead? The owners just demand that we produce more, and we’re often putting in more hours than we did when computers were room-sized curiosities in labs.

Unless we move away from capitalism before or at least concurrent with the major switchover period, it’s gonna be unpleasant.


It’s funny how rosy pictures for the future develop into thorny crowns for most and rose gardens for the few. We seem to be going “Back to the Future” of sweat shops and poor houses of Charles Dicken’s fame.I recall reading of a proposal to build an independent city state on Belle Isle several years ago. The planners may still have something in the hands of lobbyists. It seemed to be a monumental scheme for those able to get in.


You guys are a hoot. I’m not exactly naive about business or labors costs. I simply reflected the radio ad for driver’s pay at a national trucking firm. Some of you attempt to pigeon hole people into black and white boxes. You can be pro labor, anti labor, pro union, anti union, pro business and anti business at the same time depending on the issue. As well as pro Salvation Army for the good they do while at the same time not liking other things they do. Life is not black and white.

Yes automation has done a lot, and computers have done a lot, but don’t suggest that those huge IT departments to maintain computer systems are cheap or not necessary. You expect anyone to believe that you will simply buy a self-driving truck and that’s it except for oil changes? Who’s naive now?


Your knowledge of computers and technology is very lacking. The cost to own and maintain these systems are considerably cheaper then they were 30 years ago. 30 years ago a mainframe cost over
$1,000,000 and a maintenance contract was well over of $200,000 annually.

Today you can buy a server farm for 1/10 that and have 10,000 times the compute power. Service contracts are almost non existent. You cannot accurately run a large business today without them. Sorry, but it’s a reality you should learn.

Now compare that to the HUNDREDS (if not THOUSANDS) of people manually doing accounting, payroll, inventory just to name a few. In todays dollars - you’re talking MILLIONS AND MILLIONS annually.

The cost savings to large and even small companies is staggering. Not to mention growth. There’s no way these large corporations could have grown without it. That’s a fact.

No you took that radio ad and then added some of YOUR reasoning and came up with a very skewed conclusion.


Smarter men than me have failed miserably in their efforts to predict the future so I just make idle speculation based on what I recognize to be human nature. We each want all that we can acquire in return for the least effort and least risk. But we each must deal with the opportunities available and our individual aversion to risk.

Being as this is Car Talk I’ll ask what was the primary business/industry of Michigan prior to 1900? And from 1900 until 1970 how many people became millionaires and how many people begged borrowed and stole in order to move their families to Michigan just to earn a living wage? But even though a local financial “expert” advised a friend that GM could never go broke and the friend cashed in everything he had including a mortgage on his home and bought GM with the intention of living the good life then a few weeks later it went broke. So much for expert professional financial advice. I’m curious though as to who were the losers and who were the winners in the fall of GM? In the big picture my friend was a very small player in the deal but to him he lost everything as did tens of thousands of GM workers and retired workers but what about those stock holders on the board at GM? How are they doing now? The Saturn plant was near me and I am clueless what happened to the thousands of workers there and how was Saturn financially connected to GM?

When my friend threw his last dime into GM I bought a small chunk of Hertz just to put my money where my mouth was regarding my opinion of where to invest some money. If I had mortgaged my home and bought Hertz at the time I would be worth over $2million now.


While it is true that life is not black-and-white, people do generally take a stance on issues in general. I don’t like corrupt unions, but I do support the concept of collective bargaining. Therefore, I am pro labor and anti-corruption without having to equivocate. Because I don’t think corporations are people, I wouldn’t call myself pro business. I’ve taken a stance on the issue and determined on which side I reside.

As far as the Salvation Army goes, I’m against bigotry, so I’m not a fan of theirs. There are plenty of other charitable organizations who do the same things they do without denying equal treatment to homosexuals.

It’s one thing to recognize things aren’t black and white, and it’s another thing to talk out of both sides of your mouth like a politician. I may not find myself on the extremes of the issues, but I do fall on one side or the other.

As far as the original topic of this thread, I fall on the side of self-driving cars in general because anything is better than what we have now. Until automated cars kill 30,000 Americans per year, they will be the lesser of two evils. Yes, there is grey area where I enjoy driving and riding a motorcycle, but I have taken a side on this issue, as you have with others in the past, so I find your equivocating unconvincing.