If you feel like driverless cars are the future of Uber, think again
It seems like the perfect job. You drive around town when you want, meet cool people and only occasionally mop up puke. But if you quit your job to drive Uber or Lyft, you might want to have a backup plan. The robots are coming to take those jobs. When it happen, you may be driving nowhere — except to the unemployment office.
But I'm also going to tell you why that might not happen.
Robot chauffeurs are almost here. Self-driving Uber cars are already roaming Pittsburgh. A self-driving beer truck last week drove itself from Loveland to Colorado Springs, Colo. Lyft is aiming at a fleet of self-driving cars as early as 2017, and a blue paper from Morgan Stanley predicted that, by 2025, we'll live in "a utopian world in which every car on the road will be autonomous."
This won't be utopia for everyone. A couple artists I know are turning to Uber and Lyft for some extra money, so they can spend their days writing songs and books. They say they don't believe the self-driving cars loom to snatch away their extra-money plans. But then again ...
Rae Reilly, a talented songwriter, recently left her day job to concentrate on music. She's hoping Uber will help buy her parakeet seed while she gigs. She's worried that a robot-car future might affect her, but she's not petrified.
"It's gonna take a while for those cars to be reliable," she says. "There's gonna be glitches and stuff."
Maybe. But maybe that's like saying, in 1850: "It's gonna take them a while before machines learn how to pick cotton." Today, iron hands are replacing flesh ones everywhere: in factories, warehouse work, food service, and in brothels for kinky Japanese businessmen. A White House report says there's an 83 percent chance that any worker making less than $20 an hour can and likely will be replaced by a robot eventually. And a firm predicts the Inevitable Robot Uprising will wipe out 6 percent of all jobs by 2021 (except maybe the job of fighting Skynet).
If robots drive cars, will people miss the human element? I think so. In the grocery store, I tend to pick the checkout line with the real person, rather than the machine. David MacNeal also thinks this way. MacNeal, a writer whose first book, "Bugged: The Insects Who Rule the World and the People Obsessed with Them" comes out this summer. He blew some of his bank researching it. And until the tsunami wave of royalties starts to roll in, he's turning to Uber and Lyft for extra money to buy him Swamp Thing comic books.
"I think people much prefer a live human," MacNeal explains. "I'm sure Uber will still have the option for a live driver, and not do a 100 percent conversion."
Uber says the same. "There are just places that autonomous cars are just not going to be able to go or conditions they're not going to be able to handle," CEO Travis Kalanick told Business Insider. Drivers say there will always be a need for them — who will clean up the drunks' puke?
MacNeal points to the deeper reason to resist driverless Ubers: it may deepen our sense that we ourselves are robots. After all, if we ride with a driver, we talk and joke with them. By ourselves, alone in a driverless car, we're just going to stare at our screens more, and we're just going to feel more numbness, more of what J.G. Ballard called "a vast conforming suburb of the soul." And if that isn't reason to hail an Uber night now, when they're still propelled by people like Reilly and MacNeal, I don't know what is.