The robots are coming… and they’re bringing the beer.
I’ll admit that I don’t think it’s what Philip K. Dick – renowned science-fiction author whose stories spawned such movies as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report – and Isaac Asimov – think I, Robot and The Bicentennial Man – had in mind, but I do think we are faced with a technology that we can no longer relegate to the realm of science fiction.
Earlier this week, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and Uber Technologies announced that for the first time ever a self-driving truck completed a commercial delivery. The 18-wheeler truck drove more than 120 miles from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, hauling Budweiser with the human driver kicked back in the sleeper cab.
While this was just a practice run and there are still more bugs to work out of the software, it remains an important step forward. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV reports that it could save $50 million per year through the deployment of self-driving trucks – even with human drivers riding along – in fuel savings and more frequent deliveries.
This kind of massive cost savings can spread throughout the transportation industry. As a result, this technological development will create some fantastic investment opportunities as companies scramble to implement these types of long-term cost savings.
But there’s also going to be a human cost.
In a bit of great cosmic coincidence, Oxford University and Deloitte released the results of a study earlier this week that revealed 861,000 jobs would be lost to machines in the U.K. public sector by 2030.
While replacing humans with machines will save an estimated £17 billion (US$20.7 billion), we are going to have an overwhelming number of people who are searching for employment and likely surviving on government handouts.
In fact, Deloitte has previously estimated that 74% of jobs in transportation, 54% in wholesale and retail, and 56% in manufacturing are facing the risk of automation.
In September, the transportation industry in the U.S. numbered 1.5 million jobs. That’s a big chunk of jobs in danger. And let’s not forget that America’s manufacturing sector is already shrinking painfully. This economic recovery has seen mostly a swelling of low-paying jobs in sectors such as retail – not a good sign when we’re only going to hand the few jobs we’re gaining over to automation.
This new technology is offering up great investment opportunities for companies in terms of growth and cost savings, but I’m not convinced that it’s going to be creating new jobs as fast as it’s replacing old ones. We’re facing the rise of a dangerous imbalance that could send the global economy toppling over for an extended period of time.