Why Not Solve A Real Problem, Uber?

Screenshot_6I love the idea of Uber, since I’m not a traditional taxi driver working within the old paradigm, but it upsets me that the ultimate goal of this company is to join the rush to replace human drivers with robots. As a Sci-Fi guy, I ought to be thrilled as pie over the prospect of autonomous robot cars taking us where we want to go–visions of retro-futuristic transparent capsules whisking us through tubes from one place to another come to mind–but I’m weary of the profit-driven philosophy of eliminating good, honest workers from the dynamic.

skytran_stationI’m also wondering: how long before these robot cars are hacked by some Ukrainian 14-year-old who takes one on a demolition derby joyride through downtown at lunch hour?

I jest, but not really. It would be great, if the goal was to lift us all into some sort of morally elevated “post-economics” economy where folks are freed from the necessity of earning money and able to pursue livelihoods as passionate pursuits rather than life or death struggles for shelter and sustenance, but we all know that robot Yelp cars are not being made so poets can be poets, singers can sing songs, and scientists can toil, free from funding concerns, to right the wrongs of a few centuries of egregious consumption.


Uber robot cars are being made so taxi drivers can lose their jobs, and their former salaries can land in the oversized pockets of wealthy investors. There is no thought or concern for 53695250.cmsthe welfare of the displaced, and that’s a bad thing. Uber cars are also not going to do a damned thing about the real transportation problem, which is that too many of us have too many cars, a problem we can only fix with improved mass transit or, preferably, birth control. Lots and lots and lots of birth control.

Now, you’re thinking: listen to the mealy-mouthed socialist ranting about economic justice; but you’re wrong. I’m a money grubbing materialist just like the rest of you–the difference is that I’m fundamentally lazy and just unwilling to do a lot of the stuff I’d need to do in order to have the cool stuff I covet. The result is the same, however: a life mostly unencumbered by commerce.

What is bad about Uber, and all the other technologists laboring diligently to trade manpower for money, is that none of them exist in a vacuum and when these advancements reach widespread implementation the cumulative effect will be staggering, as the wages of first tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, pool in the pockets of a few score of speculators and “innovators.” Now, if you believe in the gospel of trickle-down economics, you may not be concerned, but the years have shown me that those pools are deep, with almost unlimited capacity, and only a fraction of what goes in actually drips out.

When Henry Ford began implementing his assembly line factory in the early 1900s some of his fellow industrialists were put off by his insistence on paying his workers a salary far closer to a living wage than was common at the time. They argued that other workers would demand similarly “unreasonable” treatment, but Ford shrugged them off, not out of any great fondness for the utterly replaceable men whose sweat and blood comprised the building blocks of his fortune. No, he simply recognized that if he wanted to sell his automobiles there would need to be sufficient prosperity in the middle class for enough people to be able to actually buy them.

It is happening already, though we don’t see it. Take two primary extraction industries whose howls of government persecution and vilification at the hands of tree-hugging liberals, if you will. I won’t bother with the details here, but I invite you to compare the number of coal mining jobs lost to environmental regulation with the number of reductions caused by automation in that industry as well as the significant effects of competing energies–largely natural gas–in which increased efficiencies, many of them labor-saving, have resulted in more competitive pricing. On the west coast, ten times as many jobs in the timber industry have been lost to automation as have been lost to environmental concerns, like the infamous Spotted Owl.

That’s where we’re heading with each labor-killing step towards automation: an economy in which the only viable industries will be built around servicing the super-wealthy, a flawed and dangerously unstable prospect. I can’t be alone in thinking that we’d be better off incentivizing technology that elevates people and creates jobs–and solve real social and environmental problems, rather than rewarding those who revolutionize the time-honored tradition of filling our pockets with the contents of others’.



About JunkChuck

Native, Militant Westsylvanian (the first last best place), laborer, gardener, and literary hobbyist (if by literary you mean "hack"). I've had a bunch of different blogs, probably four, due to a recurring compulsion to start over. This incarnation owes to a desire to dredge up the best entries of the worst little book of hand-scrawled poems I could ever dream of writing, salvageable excerpts from fiction both in progress and long-abandoned. and a smattering of whatever the hell seems to fit at any particular moment. At first blush, I was here just to focus on old, terrible verse, but I reserve the right to include...anything. Maybe everything, certainly my love of pulp novels growing garlic, the Pittsburgh Steelers and howling at the moon--both figuratively and, on rare occasions, literally.
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3 Responses to Why Not Solve A Real Problem, Uber?

  1. jilldennison says:

    Excellent, thoughtful post, and I fully concur! I see far more potential for disaster than positive outcomes and have been arguing against “driverless” cars since I first heard of them. Not that most human drivers are always that skillful, but still … Anyway, you make some excellent points here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JunkChuck says:

      Thanks. The unnecessary-ness of this sort of thing, and the resources devoted to develop it, staggers me. Especially every time I’m swearing at one of those almost unusable robotic check out machines at the grocery store that keeps seizing up and instructing me to “please wait for assistance.” Visions of Uber robot cars hurtling towards bridge abutments while calm synthetic voices urge patience.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jilldennison says:

    Haha … I am so glad to know that I am not the only one who has troubles with the “self check out” robots at the grocery! I usually end up yelling at them, even though I’m fairly certain they do not hear me, nor care that I my happy mood has vanished! And I don’t even use the gps in the car, because it tells me to go somewhere and then tells me to make a u-turn right in the middle of a busy highway! Sheesh. I am, obviously, not a techno-savvy person. 🙂


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