Fully autonomous vehicles would hit the U.S. workforce hard. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 3.8 million people operate motor vehicles for their livelihood. This includes truck driving, the most common profession in 29 U.S. states, which employs about 1.7 million people. As we have said before, autonomous trucks are likely to be the first autonomous vehicles to hit the roads, which would put all of these workers in a tough spot (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017: Self-Driving Trucks”).
Even as many jobs disappear or change, though, there will be new roles formed by autonomous vehicles. One that is already developing is that of a remote vehicle operator. These operators would be analogous to air traffic controllers at airports. They would monitor fleets of vehicles and lend assistance if a car or truck gets stuck. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, startups like Phantom Auto are already developing technology for these command centers.
What’s more, the robotic taxi rides of the future will be very different indeed from what we’re used to. A report from Intel predicts that as much as $7 trillion will be invested in the new “passenger economy” by 2050. There will be job openings for positions like masseuses and nail technicians to provide services during rides. But it’s not as though displaced workers will simply fall into these new professions. If you’re a trucker, taxi driver, or delivery worker, it may not be too soon to start considering your next next career move.