The Miserable Lives of Cyborg Truck Drivers
How AI and automation can make a job worse than before
A few months ago I wrote a post arguing that “AI and automation may not steal your job — but they’ll probably make it suck.”
This is a new way I’ve recently been thinking about the age-old question of how tech affects labor. People (including me) used to worry that automation and AI would only replace workers. More automation == less jobs.
But as I put it in that previous post, if you look at a few industries that have been heavily affected by automation and AI — such as transcription, food delivery, ride-hail, and warehouse-shipping jobs — you find the picture’s a bit different. Employment in those sectors has gone up. More labor has been needed, year over year.
But the jobs themselves are crappier than before, because AI and automation introduced ruthless efficiencies that put the humans on a miserable hamster-wheel.
I recently ran across more evidence of this grim trend, in this New York Times piece by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein: “How Life as a Trucker Devolved Into a Dystopian Nightmare”.
“Many associate trucking with freedom,” as Kaiser-Schatzlein notes. That may have been more true in previous decades. But these days, truckers are “hemmed in by low wages, long hours and an unbelievable level of automation and surveillance.”
For example …
Once, when his truck’s cabin heater broke, Mr. Knope was forced to sleep in freezing temperatures for several days while traveling across northern Ohio and New York because an automated system made sure his engine was turned off at night. The company told him there was no way to override the system.
Lovely. Truckers also have “electronic logging devices” that monitor precisely when they’re driving, because truckers generally aren’t paid by the hour, they’re paid by how many miles they’ve driven. Truckers are divided about those devices. About half don’t mind them (or appreciate the fact that the devices automatically record their mileage, a task that used to be done by hand), while many of the rest find the tracking annoying, and feel it limits their own control over how they work.