Driverless cars. They’re so present in the news we tend to forget they’re not on the road yet. Constant coverage has made them commonplace before anyone has ever been taken anywhere by one. “Just like science fiction,” says Shukan Gendai (Feb 4), trotting out the hoary cliché. Everything is just like science fiction nowadays.
They’re not here yet, but they soon will be. In 2015, the government set out its “road map” with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in view. This year, tests are to begin on public roads – in Okinawa in spring, in Tokyo in fall. Artificial intelligence and its vast implications will start to come home to us via driverless cars. Move over, humans. You’ve had your day. You’re no longer needed.
That’s the angle Shukan Gendai looks at – the jobs that will turn obsolete. Not that the magazine fails to acknowledge the practical advantages. Ferrying spectators and athletes around the Olympic Village is only the high-profile tip of the iceberg. Less spectacularly but more lastingly, they will keep public transportation alive in rural areas where depopulation makes bus and train service as we now know it uneconomical, however dependent aging local residents are on them.
Long-distance busing and trucking are also endangered as drivers age and few young people step in to replace them. Computer drivers never age, never tire.
If you happen to be a bus or truck driver not on the verge of retirement, of course, you are in the uneasy position of having to regard yourself as an endangered species. Drivers of all sorts are – urban taxi drivers, airport shuttle bus drivers, train drivers, parcel post service drivers and so on. Heavy equipment operators at mines, construction sites and forestry operations likewise. And garbage truck drivers. There’s more to their work than simply driving – they must collect the refuse as well. But that’s hardly beyond the capacity of existing robots.
That driverlessness threatens drivers is hardly surprising, but other those in other occupations too are advised to prepare for the future before it hits – store clerks, for instance, as driverless home delivery spreads; or parking lot operators, as the private automobile increasingly becomes a museum piece; or drivers’ license bureau staff, as drivers’ licenses become irrelevant.
What will police patrol officers do in a driverless era? Will there be speeders to catch? Even supposing an artificially intelligent computer-driver has been programmed with enough of a mischievous spirit to defy the rules of the road – just to see if it can get away with it, perhaps. It’s an easy leap of the imagination to foresee computerized police patrols more than a match for him, her or it. So the police force too, faces attenuation.
Machines have been eliminating human jobs for 200 years. They’ve also created jobs. Whether artificial intelligence will too, or whether the jobs it does create will be accessible to people of ordinary intelligence, is an issue that will have to be coped with somehow. With driverless cars on the immediate horizon, Shukan Gendai warns, we’d better start thinking concretely about what “somehow” means.© Japan Today