Truck Tech

Truckers Aren't Terrorists

Blog commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior Editor

August 24, 2017

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Truck drivers -- and many other workers -- have good cause to be worried about the rise of autonomous technology. Photo:
Truck drivers -- and many other workers -- have good cause to be worried about the rise of autonomous technology. Photo:

So, it couldn’t be cargo hijackers. Or terrorists. Although there was a mention of bored teenagers.

But according to science writer Simon (or “Simson” – they’ve got his named spelled two different ways) Garfinkle in an opinion piece in MIT’s Technology Review, out-of-work truckers may one day be so angry at losing their jobs, they might either hack an autonomous truck’s control system, or “bedazzle” its lane-tracking and safety cameras with a laser pointer to deliberately cause accidents.

Now, before we get too deep into this, let me say right up front that the article in question is worth a read and contains a great deal of useful information – particularly if you’re worried about the threat of vehicle hacks today or in the future -- provided you’re willing to overlook the fact that the author clearly thinks truck drivers are a greater threat to our collective security in our autonomous future than terrorists.

When I go around the country speaking about autonomous vehicle technology, the number-one question I get asked is about the potential for hackers to take over a truck and either divert its load or cause a crash. Rarely do any of the folks asking the question specifically mention certain groups of people – but if they do, it’s usually teenagers or criminals. Out-of-work truckers and Teamsters aren’t who fleet managers are worried about.

On a certain level, I do understand what Mr. Garfinkel is concerned about. I’ve written extensively about the disruptive nature of autonomous technology in our society today and the impact it will have in the future. Still, we’re a long way from truck drivers losing their jobs. Although the truth is, almost any occupation you can think of is being threatened by robots today. I mean, I make it a point to go to an actual human cashier when I’m checking out of a store instead of using the self-serve stations. I’m not dumb; I used to have a minimum-wage job. So, I’m quite sure there are times when the cashier would prefer it if I used the self-station so they didn’t have to fool with me. And that’s ok. We all know somebody in that corporation is watching the use rate on those self-serve scanners. And as soon as they hit a certain number in terms of usage, people are going to start losing their jobs.

At some point soon, we, as a society, are going to have to start talking about how we’re going to deal with the rise of autonomous technology. People need jobs. Governments need taxes. And businesses need customers with money to buy their products. My sense is that we’re going to have to regulate this in some way – create incentives for businesses to keep certain numbers of actual human employees. Otherwise, the temptation for many corporations to use as many robots in as many jobs as possible is simply going to be too great for them to resist.

But the idea that truckers and teamsters and taxicab drivers are going to get so unhinged by losing their jobs – which are, frankly, hard as hell to do and don’t exactly bring in mega-bucks – is absurd and shows a high degree of bias on the part of the author.

There are a large number of workers with both college degrees and blue collar jobs who are quite rightly worried about the impact the autonomous age will have upon their ability to earn a decent living and provide for their families. Lumping them in with terrorists and criminals belittles both them and their concerns and does nothing to address a looming problem that is growing more ominous every day.

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Author Bio

Jack Roberts

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Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.


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