Are the Robots Coming? Automation, Self-Driving Technology and the Gig Economy.

in Medium

Dr. Jim Stanford, Director of The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, spoke with the ABC’s Nick Grimm about how changes in technology, along with more flexible yet less secure jobs, will affect the way we work.

Okay, the robots aren’t actually coming, but automation and self-driving vehicle technology has many forecasters predicting that workers who drive for a living are set to see their jobs disappear.

“You know, people are simultaneously intrigued and terrified by the idea of driverless vehicles. And certainly one of the concerns that people have is, it may mean hundreds of thousands of drivers lose their jobs.” Said Stanford

“We’ve reviewed all of the different hurdles that have to be overcome before driverless vehicles will be in widespread use in real-life situations, rather than in controlled environments. And we think that their advent in a mass way is actually many years down the road.”

Safety, regulatory issues and the enormous amount of investment required for infrastructure around automation and self-driving technology are just some of the reasons this change will not occur over night.

In fact the viability of the industry faces a bigger challenge from the so-called “gig economy,” which is seeing work practises becoming more flexible, while jobs become less secure.

“The transportation sector has been seeing steady growth in what we would call “non-standard employment” said Stanford,

“We’re seeing it more quickly than we’re seeing dramatic new technologies like driverless vehicles — and that is: the change in the whole idea of what constitutes a job. You know, this is a change in kind of the relationships in our work and how they are organised and how we perform our work.”

“Instead of being hired full-time, permanent, paid to do a certain job, you’ve got more and more non-standard positions such as owner-operators: people who are nominally independent but still very much under the thumb, if you like, of their ultimate employer: the shipper or other company that’s hiring them as an owner-operator.”

We’re seeing this shift where more of the costs of employment are being shifted from the employer to the employee. Working from home increases flexibility for workers, but it also means workers — not employers — are paying for the office overhead costs.

This shift in working conditions is already seen it in taxi services vs drivers of ride-sharing services like Uber, and in food delivery, including fast food delivery.

“We’re likely to see those types of business models extend into freight delivery as well in coming years.”

“So all of that poses a real threat that’s more immediate than the threat of robotization to what we traditionally conceive of as a job in this sector.” said Stanford.

To listen to the full interview by Nick Grimm on The World Today, click here.

Read the Centre for Future Work’s full report > The Future of Work in Transportation

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