The driverless lorry is on its way . . .
Date: 8th Monday, May, 2017
“Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony,” Morpheus, The Matrix.
Technology has arrived at a tipping point that will change our lives and the lives of future generations of workers. With the evolution of robotics software, Artificial Intelligence and a seemingly unstoppable growth in computing power, we have arrived at a nexus of complementary forces that will change the way we view the world we work in. Turning vehicles into ‘thinking’ robots will revolutionise transport and, unlike the prophecy of the Matrix, it is real and it’s happening here and now. Autonomous lorries will no doubt become the natural evolution of the driverless car leveraging the same computing principles and technologies. It is arguably just a matter of time before all freight is moved through some form of automated process – for road, rail sea and air. You cannot hold back technological progress if it serves to reduce costs and improve customer satisfaction. The implications are less straightforward.
Current truck trials are adopting a steady approach by initially introducing an auto-pilot function not dissimilar to a jumbo jet. The driver is present in the cab and the vehicle operates as pre-programmed. The biggest obstacle to general acceptance is being 100% convinced that the operation is safe and all potential eventualities are accounted for in the system’s algorithm. Loss of confidence would certainly hold-up the pace of progress. Logistics has lent heavily on technological innovation over recent years and has benefited hugely, so resistance to full automation of commercial transport may be a relative damp squib! We shall see.
On the face of it, automating all logistics seems a sensible idea though its impact poses a moral dilemma. Whilst we are battling to encourage more people to become professional drivers in the current climate of driver shortages, automation would remove this pressure (and the drivers). Good for the bottom line you might say but not so great for society if the benefits cannot be shared in some way or alternative roles cannot be created.
You only need to read the papers to see how human ingenuity is intent on removing a layer of employment from traditional businesses from banking to manufacturing. Where processes can be automated, they will be, where machines can be imbued with intelligence and programmed to undertake tasks large and small, they will be. It shouldn’t be a shock as the early signs are here and clear to see. It is simply progress – with a large dose of irony!
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