The world has no crystal ball to see into the future, but we do have Thomas Frey.
Frey is the founding executive director of the DaVinci Institute think tank and its senior futurist. It’s basically his job to envision how today’s technology will evolve, and to imagine the impacts it might have on society.
One of Frey’s more sweeping predictions: Over the next couple decades, driverless cars could eliminate jobs in up to 128 industries.
Frey published the prediction back in April on his website, Futurist Speaker. In the blog post, Frey describes a reality in which autonomous vehicles will be pervasive in all aspects of transportation, agriculture, construction, and public service.
“It will take a long time for this transition to occur,” Frey tells Business Insider. But once it’s set in motion, the jobs are set to fall like dominoes, he believes.
Frey offers the example of an airport. A huge portion of an airport’s revenue comes from parking. In the era of driverless cars, people will take a far different approach to travel. Instead of driving to the airport, most people will call a driverless taxi to their front door.
“Suddenly, there’s no parking revenue coming in. There’s no shuttle buses. There’s no limos. There’s no taxi services. The rental car world suddenly starts to disappear,” he says. “That’s just a little piece of it.”
In the April blog post, he claims automation will lop off entire industries for a variety of other reasons. All drivers will lose their jobs, he believes, including chauffeurs and construction vehicle operators. As many people transition from “just in case” vehicle ownership to “just in time” rental, Frey says car insurance and financing jobs will die off, too.
He also suspects maintenance jobs will disappear: people who wash your car, change your oil, rotate your ties and change your brakes, and folks who check your alignment and perform emissions tests. For the tests that electronic cars need, most will be performed by the manufacturers, not local auto shops.
Some industries won’t completely vanish; a select group will reduce greatly in size. Frey predicts police forces will downsize because there will be fewer drivers to issue tickets. The lawyers and judges who handle these cases will also be out of a job. As in the airport case, parking lot attendants will see their ranks shrink considerably.
Driverless cars are just one disruptive force in the labour market. Artificial intelligence is quickly eating up customer service jobs, while factories are increasingly hiring robots to do the repetitive tasks once performed by humans.
Such technologies are bound to have their own domino effects. The consequences are still poorly understood — even by people like Frey.
“These are all things we haven’t wrestled with yet,” he says, “but they are going to be coming up very soon.”