Friday, September 29, 2023

#272 / Rise Of The Robotaxi - Time For A Change


If you follow what's happening in San Francisco, you are aware that the California Public Utilities Commission has recently approved the unlimited deployment of driverless taxis on San Francisco city streets. Here is a report from the San Francisco Chronicle

It’s official: Driverless Cruise and Waymo taxis can now charge for rides in San Francisco at all hours of the day. The new era of robotaxi service could prove to be more transformative and disruptive for San Francisco — and the country — than when the first Uber and Lyft ride-hails arrived on city streets last decade.
The momentous decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to allow for General Motors-owned Cruise and Alphabet-backed Waymo’s full commercialization is effective immediately. 
48 Hills is an "alternative" source of San Francisco city news. Here is its more probing report on what this action by the Public Utilities Commission really portends: 

The Chronicle got this much right:
The new era of robotaxi service could prove to be more transformative and disruptive for San Francisco — and the country — than when the first Uber and Lyft rideshares arrived on city streets last decade.
But the issue goes much further, if that’s even possible. 
One of the impacts of Uber and Lyft was much greater congestion, as people decided to ride in cars instead of taking transit. That has been Uber’s goal all along; the company noted in a public filing that it seeks to replace urban public transportation with Uber cars, something that hardly anyone other than me has reported on.
The driverless cars, even if they’re electric cars, are still cars. They still create more carbon emissions than, say, electric Muni buses or BART trains, which hold a lot more people. 
Next: Robotrucks. From the Teamster’s Union:
“Public safety decisions should not be made by regulatory bodies that are in the pocket of Big Tech. This is blatantly obvious given that Commissioner John Reynolds, who was the lead attorney for Cruise right before his appointment, did not recuse himself from today’s ruling. It’s critical that decisions affecting the safety of California drivers and pedestrians are made by our elected officials. 
“That’s why the Teamsters support Assembly Bill 316, bipartisan legislation that would require a trained human operator behind the wheel of AVs weighing over 10,000 pounds. As state regulators carelessly approve the expansion of AVs in California, it is critically important that AB 316 becomes law.”
We are seeing, right now, on the streets of San Francisco, a critical public policy issue that government at every level is failing to address: What do we do when technology displaces human beings in jobs that aren’t really suitable for “retraining?
What are we going to do to make sure the companies that make money by getting rid of human employees pay the displacement costs that they are creating?
In past industrial revolutions, technology destroyed jobs but also created new ones. Still, for a lot of workers, it sucked: Independent craftspeople and farmers were forced to become factory workers.
This time around, I’m not so sure.
In a perfect world, the robots would do a lot of the work, and the humans would work 10 or 20 hours a week, and earn what they are now paid for a 40-hour week.
That requires major, major, government intervention. It would require that governments mandate that the companies making money off this technology share the profits with the people whose lives they damage.
That’s the regulatory decision that matters. And nobody is talking about it (emphasis added).

Let me talk about it (if only briefly). 

Business value, and business profits, are produced by those who invest their money in the business, and also by those who invest their work. Both the "owners" and the "workers" contribute to business success. However, it is the "owners" who are "in charge," and thus it is the "owners" who get the biggest say in determining how the profits are to be divided. 

There is nothing new or unexpected in this statement. Corporations are the major players in our economy, and those who "own" the corporation not only get to manage the corporation and its business, they actually are the corporation. It is simply taken-for-granted that the corporate owners have (and should have) a much greater say over how the profits from a profitable business are divided up. It is no surprise that the the "owners" generally decide that the "owners" are the ones who most need to be rewarded, when business success is achieved. Generally, the owners think that their contributions are more important than the contributions of the workers. And if they can eliminate the workers, thus reducing costs and thus increasing profits, so much the better. Pay attention to the current UAW strike against the nation's major automakers, where this approach to dividing up the profits is being challenged.

Tim Redmond, who wrote the article for 48 Hills, is correct in stating that, "major, major, government intervention" would be necessary to change this situation. I think that Redmond is also correct in noting that the latest "revolution" in the world of work is actually different from earlier major changes that have affected the economy and that have determined how we work. 

Now, the "owners," who generally control most of the available money, are interested in eliminating the need for workers completely. It's not so much, any longer, a debate about the correct "split" to be provided to the "workers." Now, the "owners" will be seeking to eliminate the need for "workers" in the first place. Money buys machinery, powered by artificial intelligence, to eliminate any need for "workers" at all. 

"Major, major government intervention," which is what Redmond says is necessary, means "politics." That is where Redmond suggests we focus our attention. We do, actually, live in a "political world," in which the rules that govern, the rules that decide who gets what, and what happens, can be changed. 

About time for a change, don't you think? The United Auto Workers certainly do. Their current strike is based on the idea that workers should "share" in the profits, when an enterprise is successful

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