Mike Nudelman/Business Insider
Travis Kalanick says that Uber needs to move fast on self-driving
cars or face an “existential threat” from foes like Google.
But the CEO’s attitude and ambition may sound an awful lot like a
looming existential threat for another group: the thousands of
people who drive for the ride-hailing startup.
After all, Uber’s engineering director told
Bloomberg that “the goal is to wean us off having drivers in
But Kalanick denied in
an interview with Business Insider that adding autonomous
vehicles to the network will eliminate the need for humans.
Instead, while the percentage of human drivers giving trips may
go down, the absolute number of humans may actually go up,
“If you’re talking about a city like San Francisco or the Bay
Area generally, we have, like, 30,000 active drivers. We are
going to go from 30,000 to, let’s say, hypothetically, a million
cars, right? But when you go to a million cars, you’re still
going to need a human-driven parallel, or hybrid. And the reason
why is because there are just places that autonomous cars are
just not going to be able to go or conditions they’re not going
to be able to handle. And even though it is going to be a smaller
percentage of the whole, I can imagine 50,000 to 100,000 drivers,
human drivers, alongside a million-car network.
“So I don’t think the number of human drivers will go down
anytime soon. In fact, I think in an autonomous world, it goes
up. In absolute figures. Of course, in percentage it’s down.”
Further, Kalanick argues, the rise of autonomous cars will open
new jobs like maintaining the car fleets, jobs that don’t exist
today because there has never been a need. Part of advancing
technology has always meant that some professions become extinct
in the process, he argues:
“You know, there was once a time you made a phone call and there
was a person that, the operator, had to do switching, right? Or
there were literally hundreds of thousands of people employed to
build telephone booths. And then cellphones came and it is a
beautiful thing, but then that created a whole new industry and
all new kinds of jobs.”
It’s a transition that Uber is tackling in a bold and
aggressive fashion, and Kalanick isn’t afraid to mince words
about what it will mean in the future.