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Warning Meat Puppets: Robotic Trucks Drive Across Europe In Demonstration Of What Is Possible Today

Bob Gourley

An operational fleet of robotic trucks just demonstrated their safety and efficiency by autonomously moving across Europe.

In an article titled "A fleet of trucks just drove themselves across Europe," Joon Ian Wong writes that:

About a dozen trucks from major manufacturers like Volvo and Daimler just completed a week of largely autonomous driving across Europe, the first such major exercise on the continent.

The trucks set off from their bases in three European countries and completed their journeys in Rotterdam in the Netherlands today (Apr. 6). One set of trucks, made by the Volkswagen subsidiary Scania, traveled more than 2,000 km and crossed four borders to get there.

The trucks were taking part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, organized by the Dutch government as one of the big events for its 2016 presidency of the European Union.

This is a critically important trend to track for many reasons.

And why shouldn't it? Robotic transportation on our highways will save lives from fewer accidents, save fuel from more efficient driving, reduce traffic jams by smarter routing, and drive extra costs out of the transportation of the goods that people and business need and want. This will be great for our overall economy and quality of life.

There are reasons to think through the impact of robotic trucks and solutions to issues, of course. One of the most important topics we should address is how to assist the job transition of truck drivers.

Of all the industries being disrupted by Robots and Artificial Intelligence, trucking is perhaps the one that will have the biggest and fastest impact on the work force. There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States.  There are also a large number of adjacent jobs and services supporting those truck drivers that will be changed as these robots roll out.

Robotic trucks are coming fast (trying to make a pun there). And they are coming so fast we will feel like we got hit by a Mac Truck. As for me, I don't want to slow down this transformation at all for the many positives it will bring to all of humanity. But I absolutely want society to think through how to care for, offer training to and support the millions of people who will be negatively impacted by this trend.

In Neuromancer, William Gibson wrote about a concept of the Meat Puppet, a person controlled by software. Later, Futurama used the concept as an insult for all humans. Today the common usage of the term has shifted a bit. It is being used as a slang for a person who is about to have their job taken over by a robot.

Ask yourself some questions:

  1. Are you a meat puppet? Will your job be taken over by a robot? If so, what are you doing to responsibly re-train yourself and orient your career?
  2. Do you have empathy for others who are in the position of being a meat puppet? What do you think society can and should do to help in their transition as robots and AI take their jobs?

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder of Crucial Point and publisher of CTOvision.com