The week before November to early January is the busiest time for the trucking industry. Situated fully in the last month of the year and the fiscal quarter, it is the time when most retailers report a profit on their businesses (and sometimes the only time of the year), when the most sales volume and dollar amounts are generated, and when items move off of shelves as fast as one can grab them as people, realistically and sadly speaking during this time of year, purchase gifts that people don’t need for people they often do not like with money they do not have out of a social and cultural obligation that once followed Christmas has been perverted into a heathen orgy of frivolous spending which marketers have worked to exploit in order to line their pockets and those of their corporate shareholders.
Christmas is supposed to be about Christ, but has been replaced by “the Holidays,” which really means whatever one wants it to be, so long as some kind of spending takes place.
Trucks are essential to realizing this because trucks allow the goods that people buy to go from place of origin to the stores or homes of the buyers. If the wheels of the trucks stop turning, the wheels of the American economic machine stop, which means the financial system stops, which means chaos. It is a game of musical chairs that, while it has many different forms, always at some point results in the army of delivery men stepping from their warm trucks into the cold weather, packages in hand, to bring to their destination.
Truck drivers can get a lot of “miles” this month, but this is also a hard time for truck drivers because while the trucking industry- especially “load planners” (those who set up delivery routes) and fleet managers (those who manage deliveries at the company for the driver) tend to ignore the fact that truck drivers are human beings and try to make them do the work of multiple people in sometimes legally questionable ways while then distancing themselves from their own orders by “blaming the driver”, a standard trucking industry practice. Drivers can become cranky and unruly, making obnoxious, asinine, dangerous, insane, or intellectually questionable demands, but many of them want to spend at least part of this time- Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the New Year -with family or friends and not sleeping in the cab of a truck at a gas station somewhere in the middle of nowhere with only potato chips and candy bars to eat because even the McDonalds or Hardees at the gas station is closed and the only person behind the counter is (often) an Indian, Pakistani, or Syrian immigrant working the business because every other business is closed and because he does not have the same religious or cultural ties to the US as do others, he figures (correctly) that he might as well stay open and earn extra money.
There are few things crankier than a truck driver who is forced to work Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, especially if he has been told he can take them off if he wants to but is constantly denied the chance to do this.
The human aspect of truck driving is often the most contentious because the eugenic mindset of American business often conflicts with the human needs and desires of real people. This has strongly propelled the AI-based part of the trucking industry, where trucks are being automated to the point of being “self-driving”, with human beings serving as rather machine operators than actual truck driver. A lot of funding for this has come from DARPA because there is a direct overlap between trucks having the ability to make “independent decisions” and that of a robot making likewise independent decisions in a military environment.
A recent story from Popular Mechanics reports on how a new AI-outfitted truck made a forty-one hour trip across the country, from California to Pennsylvania, with a driver overseeing the trip and no serious issues.
The trip took about 41 hours to complete, according to data from Google Maps, and spans over 2,800 miles. It took the Plus.ai truck three days to complete the journey, during which it made a few stops, but never because it couldn’t handle the driving. In fact, there was a safety driver aboard the vehicle, but they never had to take over and intervene for the truck other than during fuel stops and federally mandated breaks. The company said there were zero “disengagements,” where the truck lost control.
Back in March 2017, Plus.ai became one of the first autonomous trucking companies to land a California Autonomous Vehicle Testing License, which is exactly what it sounds like. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, there are now 65 companies that hold one of these permits.
To complete the long trip and deliver the butter before it perished, the truck relied on Plus.ai’s SLAM technology, which is an acronym for its instant positioning and map building solution. That includes a suite of sensors like cameras, lidar and radar, very similar to what you’d see in an Uber self-driving Volvo or an Argo AI Ford Fusion. What stands out is the company’s data fusion system, which combines this information to create a field of front detection that’s over 1,600 meters deep, allowing the truck to see far ahead. At the same time, Plus.ai achieves a wide field of view to help the truck adapt to new road shapes and slopes.
Let’s not forget that the damn thing was pulling around a refrigerated cooler with 40,000—we repeat, 40,000—pounds of butter onboard. The other primary obstacle, beside the perishable goods, is weather. This trip, which took place during the week of Thanksgiving, encompassed 12 states and some pretty inclement conditions, including snow. (source)
For years, people have said that trucking needed “more people” to fill her ranks. Those numbers have never been fulfilled because of changes to the industry, the comparatively lower pay rates (that continue to decrease if inflation is concerned with each year), and the fact that employers are making more demands. With fewer people wanting to go into the industry and those going in being those persons of generally a “last resort” option (for example, people with serious felonies such as child rape, murder, or a history of robbery), AI trucks are transforming the modern conception of trucking. Whereas one could generally lack intelligence but still get a job as a truck driver, the more technical side of machine operation in light of the new changes suggest that to be a truck driver in the future may make one as much a partial “programmer” and technician as well as a driver and, when the need arises, a road side mechanic.
The immediate effect this will have, as expected, will be a general “decrease” in the price of shipping costs, which will likely come at the expense of the drivers, as having to pay fewer people (for example, less of a need for “team drivers”) to do the same amount of work faster will garnish financial returns that the companies will likely pocket for themselves. People who are older or less intelligent, and likely could not get a job in the current economy outside of trucking, will be further pushed to the outside of society. This also includes people of good will and good intelligence who will be “laid off” not because of any fault which they committed, but because there will not be a need for their services. This feeds back into the potential unemployment crisis that I have warned about and which could become the greatest crisis of the 21st century, because large numbers of unemployed people in any society always create social unrest since they cannot pay their bills, they are angry, and they cannot channel their energy into anything productive and if they want to, they do not have the means to establish the conditions to be able to act in a productive way.
Human beings can be difficult creatures, and all aspects of the transportation industry- be it truck drivers, shipyard workers, Teamsters, or anybody involved in the movement of goods and services between two or more points -have a history of attracting difficult types and being involved in various kinds of conflict, be it of the physical or social type. However, they are necessary because the economy exists for people, as it is the exchange of goods and services between people that leads to the development of policies and rules to facilitate this (politics), which brings about the formation of social norms and shared experiences (culture), which then support the continued development of society (economy).
Artificial Intelligence is a tool, and a useful one, but like any tool, it can be used for good or evil purposes. Unfortunately, a consistent aspect of human history is that if a new tool is developed, it is almost immediately put to an attempted use for evil purposes, and this case is no exception. While AI can certainly help the trucking industry, aside from military applications, it is going to be used to disenfranchise people from work in the name of maximizing profits and stock shareholder returns. This has been consistently shown throughout American history to be a pattern, and because the philosophy itself has not changed, one should not expect a change in the tools used to mean a change in attitude, for the latter comes from within a man, but the former is wholly external and exists apart from any internal change.
The trend for truck drivers and other people, especially in “lower” skill and income jobs, is going to be that AI will continue to develop to the point of pushing out many people. There will still be human beings involved, but just with a lessened role. The results will be what have been taking place for the last thirty years, which is the forced expansion of the labor pool and a declining number of jobs, leaving more people fighting harder over fewer positions with increased competition, more anxiety, the continued evisceration of what is left of the family and orderly life, and more social stress save for those of the very ‘elite’ classes. This is nothing less than a formula for instability, revolution, and perhaps in the future, calls for eugenic measures in the name of dealing with, to use a phrase employed by the Dickens’ A Christmas Carol protagonist before his conversion and repentance, the “surplus population”.