Friday, November 25, 2022

Three Months of Growing Union Activity Where It’s New, And Its Cause

Another characteristic of today’s labor situation - unwillingness to put up with what workers consider unacceptably bad times on the job – keeps unfolding.

To start, “Chipotle workers in Michigan to join teamsters, first for restaurant chain,” by Ken Martin in Fox Business on August 26th, documented workers in a Lansing branch seeking representation “to improve their work schedules, increase wages, and gain the respect from management that they’ve rightfully earned.”  The victorious Teamsters general president issued a clarion call, saying “now is the time for working people in this country to take back what’s theirs.  No matter your industry, no matter your age or how intimidating your employer mat seem, you too can protect your labor with a union.”  That towered over Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer saying that “our employees are our greatest asset,” and those not backing up that stale boilerplate will meet the same fate.

A combination of social media and those on payrolls at a world-famous coffee chain is proving effective, as “Starbucks workers are winning the union fight on TikTok” (Jo Constanz, Benefit News, September 1st).  A video posted there “showing employees staging a walkout after the firing of a coworker got 28 million views,” a massive number even given that company employs 402,000.  More to follow there…

That same day, it happened that “Amazon loses attempt to scrap historic union win,” also by Ken Martin in Fox Business, published September 2nd.  The retailer “filed more than two dozen objections with the National Labor Relations Board” to unionizing workers at their Staten Island warehouse, but they were all denied.  Martin also noted that “other campaigns have kicked off at Amazon warehouses in North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere.”

As well, “4,000 Google contractors quietly unionized, a big win for a labor movement that has struggled to make inroads with Big Tech,” as reported on September 5th in The Washington Post.  They were not technicians, though, but “cooks and servers” at their cafeterias.

Beyond only organizing, we see “Strikes becoming more common amid inflation, tight labor market” (Kris Maher, Fox Business, September 16th).  A Cornell University group found that during the first six months of 2021 there had been 102 strikes with 26,500 workers, but at that point this year it was 180 with 78,000, and 87 more by article time.  The piece did not mention the activities above.

Part of another large company joined the trend, as an “Apple Store in Oklahoma City Becomes Second to Unionize,” by Noam Scheiber in the October 14th New York Times.  Employees there will join the Communications Workers of America, long at AT&T and now also representing at Verizon and The New York Times itself.  They, interestingly, had no issues with pay or benefits but “complained that supervisors’ decisions about hiring, pay and job assignments were often opaque.”  If those views become common reasons for unionization, look out for a tidal wave of that in office parks all over the country.

To show that unions aren’t winning everything, we were informed by the October 18th Washington Post as “Amazon workers vote overwhelmingly against unionizing at a warehouse near Albany, N.Y.”  The vote was 206 for and 406 against.  We were also told, by Steven Greenhouse in the November 3rd Slate, that “Starbucks’ Aggressive Union-Busting Is a New Model for American Corporations,” which, per the author, the company accomplished by closing stores with union authorization, and had since been done by Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, and Amy’s Kitchen.  That, along with Starbucks’ giving “new benefits to its nonunion workers, but not to its unionized ones,” assertions that the Albany election was marked by “intimidation and retaliation on a daily basis,” and Apple “withholding some education and health care benefits” from union employees, seems certain to be settled in court, where new precedents will likely be established.

Yet the coffee chain, per the article above, now has at least 200 unionized locations, and, per Noam Scheiber again in the New York Times, we saw “Starbucks Workers Strike at Dozens of Stores Nationally” (November 17th), caused by “the company’s refusal to bargain in good faith and anti-union tactics like firings and store closings.”  There will be more, unless companies adjust quickly to the times we have been in since the pandemic.  And that statement goes for all of the union activities described here.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Big Ideas - II

On we move from last week’s look at larger propositions relating to jobs and the economy.  Here are five more recently published ones.

Peter Coy, in the September 5th New York Times, reached the philosophical peak with “Work is intrinsically good.  Or maybe it’s not?”  That fair question has been discussed for centuries, maybe millennia.  Coy discussed pertinent survey results showing people tended to think work was good for its own sake, but the idea is certainly critiquable, as the reasons respondents came up with seemed to assume that labor was valuable because it would produce things of value.  The author did not clearly hit the issue of whether work which could not achieve anything constructive was worthwhile, and I don’t think it is. 

“What Role Should Business Play in Society?”  This question was posed by Mariana Mazzucato in the September 19th Harvard Business Review.  It’s not a new one either, and its answers often fall along political lines, with conservatives echoing Nobel economist Milton Friedman’s statement that businesses are only responsible to their shareholders, while liberals call for social obligations of some sort.  The author here looked for a variety of ways companies can have positive social and technological impact beyond their profitability, and decried the likes of stock buybacks, which indeed do not increase income.  I don’t see clear answers here – while we should not be able to demand that corporations follow agendas outside their business objectives, it would be sad to see them turn into investment firms offering nothing to outsiders or even customers – so the resolution is still a long time, and a large amount of thinking and debate, away.

Related to the first idea from last week’s post is “The end of academia’s Gilded Age,” by Tom Cotton in Fox News on September 21st.  This United States senator has written legislation holding universities accountable for their failures, by starting to “disincentivize and penalize colleges that indebt their students in undesirable and unmarketable programs, causing graduates to default years later,” by compelling “colleges to reduce the cost of tuition and to stop hoarding large amounts of endowment money,” and levying “a 20 percent luxury tax on undergraduate tuition above $40,000 and a one percent tax on the richest private college endowments,” those collections to fund “workforce education to help the majority Americans that don’t have a college degree.”  Cotton’s idea implicitly makes a distinction between programs designed mainly for student economic betterment and less vocational ones frankly suiting only those able to afford them.  While not perfect, I endorse the proposals here as steps in the right direction.

In the October 16th New York Times, Tish Harrison Warren told us “How to Fight Back Against the Inhumanity of Modern Work.”  Her complaints were about “productivity monitoring,” and the tendency of people to engage in work activities, such as checking work email accounts, during ostensibly off hours, and she recommended individual selections.  I don’t have much sympathy for workers or their bosses in the latter, as it is a subject for labor-management negotiations and career-choice decisions, but the former can be legislated.  Should it be, and if so, what limitations should be placed on it?  We must decide.

Last is another issue coming up in recent years, whether “Globalism Failed to Deliver the Economy We Need,” by Rana Foroohar in the New York Times on October 17th.  What also might be called capital without borders had been the developed-world standard, until derailed by more repressive governments, what has been called populism, and what might have been the first shooting war between two countries with McDonald’s restaurants.  There is no reason why that system can’t permanently change, as not every public policy decision even in the likes of Western Europe and the United States was consistent with it, and in some cases, such as the Euro currency preventing individual participants from devaluing their money, globalistic measures hurt instead of help the prosperity they are supposed to improve.  Foroohar made a valid case here, but once again, informed decisions will take time – as they will for the others as well.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Big Ideas – I

Since spring, I have been getting employment and economy-related articles that aren’t about specific events as much as conceptual areas which the authors think should change.  What are they saying? How much merit do their suggestions have?

Working in chronological order, we start with “College Became the Default.  Let’s Rethink That,” by John McWhorter in the April 5th New York Times.  I’m looking at my copy of Caroline Bird’s The Case Against College, the classic in the field and now 47 years old.  It has some quaint-looking figures, such as students as of 1973 owing $6.8 billion to lenders – it’s now 256 times that amount – but tells us this issue is nothing new.  McWhorter’s emphasis is on a variety of possible choices, including other educational experiences, going before finishing high school, and immediately working.  It is true that colleges have been getting a free pass for a long time – paying high salaries to professors working in effect part-time, massing endowment nest eggs in some cases higher than the budgets of the states in which they are located while raising tuition much more than inflation, arranging to admit more wealthy and upper-class students by rigging acceptance requirements to favor them, and maybe more than anything else getting credit for their graduates’ success, when they were the smartest and most ambitious young people to start with.  The problem, as McWhorter does mention, is companies requiring bachelor’s or master’s degrees for jobs not requiring them.  I support fewer people going to college, but until it ceases to become necessary when it is not, it remains the prudent thing to do.

Yes, I was one of no doubt many wanting to see “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” (Jonathan Haidt, The Atlantic, April 11th), so I skimmed this article and printed all 24 of its pages.  The author said “the story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit,” and saw communities, epitomized by but hardly limited to the two main political sides, fragmenting and disappearing largely due to the effects of social media.  If this is familiar, you may have read Allan Bloom’s 1987 The Closing of the American Mind, or Mark Bauerlein’s 2008 The Dumbest Generation” – this one’s not a new concern either.  His solutions, “harden democratic institutions,” “reform social media,” and “prepare the next generation,” are mixed – that our guardrails continue to hold makes the first one valuable if necessary, but the others may not be implementable.

I also was interested in why “It’s Time to Stop Living the American Scam” (Tim Kreider, The New York Times, July 7th).  This piece harkened back to Craig Lambert’s 2015 Shadow Work, about which you can read my two-post review and agreeing viewpoint in this blog, dated June of that year.  Kreider focused more on workplaces, but, although it bears repeating and is still a real problem, he gave us only a subset of Lambert’s 7-year-old issue.  The only long-term solution here is for the market to speak, with people stuck with shadow work either paying for alternatives or simply refusing to do it. 

As I posted on May 20th, my view on electric vehicles is negative, and so was glad to see “Electric Cars Too Costly for Many, Even With Aid in Climate Bill,” by Jack Ewing in the August 8th New York Times.  Along with their perpetual driving-range problem, apparently their costs are staying high, cited here as being an average of $20,000 more than the mean for “all new cars,” since they have been hit hard by raw-battery-material shortages and pushed up further by high demand.  They may have established a niche, but I nonetheless see electric vehicles useful for limited-distance applications such as buses, but otherwise not becoming the norm, until they have the likes of reliably-available half-hour charging times and high-three-figure daily mileage ranges.

What has changed about the nature of labor?  Per the Washington Post Editorial Board on September 4th, “Out of office:  The pandemic and the new meaning of work,” plenty.  The relatively short editorial touched on high demand for employees, many “seeking fulfilling lives,” quiet quitting as a phenomenon and misnomer, and the home-office conflict.  People who “proved in the pandemic to be resilient and adaptable” can expect to “be tested anew in a future of work that looks far different from the past.”  Or resembles how it looked in some, yet-unknown postwar decade.  The role of remote work has been a pendulum ever since George H. W. Bush was elected president, and while its swing has been disturbed, it will go back to moving back and forth.

Expect at least five additional ideas next week.

Friday, November 4, 2022

October: A Mixed Employment Report, AJSN Latent Demand Unchanged at 16.0 Million, and Two Things Still Clear

This morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary was not supposed to be especially critical or revealing – did it turn out that way?

We gained 261,000 net new nonfarm positions, well over the published consensus 200,000 estimate and still far more than our population increase could absorb, but most of the other numbers were unfavorable.  Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment both increased, 0.2% to 3.7% and 0.1% to 3.4% respectively, with 300,000 more officially jobless people and 100,000 additional, or 1.2 million, out for 27 weeks or longer.  The two measures showing how common it is for Americans to be either working or at the front line of not working, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, both lost 0.1% to reach 62.2% and 60.0%.  Average hourly private nonfarm payroll wages were $32.58, up 12 cents but once again less than inflation.  Improvers were the count of people working part-time for economic reasons, or doing that while thus far unsuccessfully seeking full-time employment, down 100,000 to 3.7 million, and the number employed, which, oddly in conjunction with these other results, rose 141,000 to 159,144.000. 

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the measure telling how many more positions could be quickly filled if all knew they were easy and routine to get, differed less than 8,000 from the previous month’s, as follows:


The largest increase came from the count of unemployed, offset by reductions in those discouraged and those wanting work but not available for it.  The share of the AJSN from those officially jobless grew 0.8% but stayed below one-third, reaching 31.6%.  Compared with a year ago, the AJSN has lost 1.3 million, about 90% of that from lower unemployment.

On the Covid-19 front, we saw great improvements from mid-September to mid-October.  Compared with September 16th, the seven-day average of new cases on October 15th fell 39% to 38,079, hospitalizations were off 18% to 26,679, and deaths dropped 16% to 375.  Helped by the new improved booster, the same measure of daily vaccinations soared 75% to 522,283. 

So what do we make of this still-crucial hodgepodge?  Lots of the results above worsened if not massively, but we once more gained employment, added many jobs, and have unemployment in the six-month 3.5% - 3.7% range – not a bad rut.  The two facts we cannot reasonably debate are that we are regularly getting more positions and have unemployment wildly inconsistent with being in a recession.  Although it was smaller, it was still indisputable that the turtle took another step forward. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Home or Office? – III

The series from last month continues, with plenty more reports and views from the past month.

Oldest is Trey Williams’s September 28th Yahoo Finance “Employees worry they’ll be fired first in layoffs if they’re working remotely.”  Yes, being out of sight and out of mind is a real situation, and it’s easier than some might think to be almost forgotten, or put unconsciously in a lower category.  This piece also named a recent GoodHire study finding that of those over 25, the share of those saying they would most like to work from home fell, since last year, from 68% to 44%.  Only one data point, but could it be the beginning of a trend?

Next, it’s “Remote work could be the reason you don’t have a job in 10 years,” by Jane Thier in the September 29th Fortune.  I haven’t really understood why information technology jobs, for example, haven’t already largely gone to lower-paid foreigners, as most can be done from anywhere, and predicted that in my 10-year-old book Work’s New Age.  This article quoted an MIT professor apparently newly taking the same view, saying that increased work from home will prompt companies to consider “outsourcing those kinds of jobs that didn’t used to be outsourced.”  There must be more than that, though, as certainly people knew of that possibility decades ago and have only rarely acted on it, meaning they had other reasons for not following through. 

We visit the sunny side of the non-office street with Deanna Cuadra’s October 17th Benefit News “5 reasons why hybrid work is a win-win for employers and employees.”  That variety, featuring mandatory office appearances but less than five days per week, could indeed become the great compromise, but that would come from business decisions using current information more than from new insights.  We already know these five factors, which invoke commuting costs, home quietness advantages, possible use of coworking spaces, work-life balance, and the aforementioned career bias, but there are others such as facilitated quiet quitting making the opposite case.

Suspect productivity, something I encountered in the 1990s, is the subject of “Microsoft’s remote-work-friendly CEO puts his finger on the big problem with working from home,” in Fortune on October 17th and also by Jane Thier.  Here’s a 20,000-person, 11-country survey claiming that while 87% “say they’re more productive when they work remotely or in a hybrid setup,” but also that “85% of employers say it’s difficult to have confidence in their workers’ productivity levels when they’re not in-person.”  I am glad to see someone acknowledging in print this elephant in the room – the businesses which deal most effectively with it will have the best working-from-home results.

And now, “Remote employees are working less, sleeping and playing more, Fed study finds” (Chris Matthews, MarketWatch, October 18th).  This “new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York” found that “younger Americans using the saved commuting time to engage in leisure activities like eating out, exercising or attending social events,” and those over 30 “spent more time on childcare, home maintenance and meal preparation.”  This does not mean actual work hours differ, but the lines around it at home are often thin or blurred entirely.

One leader in an industry claiming happiness with working outside offices spoke up in “United Airlines CEO says hybrid work has caused ‘permanent structural change’ in leisure travel demand” (Aislinn Murphy, Fox Business, October 19th).  The executive, Scott Kirby, called it “one of three industry tailwinds,” as with hybrid work “every weekend could be a holiday weekend,” and such arrangements “untether (workers) from the office and give them the newfound flexibility to travel far more often than normal.”  Does this mean people agreeing to appear two or three days in person might take non-business trips on the others?  Do their companies actually allow that, or is this tacit recognition that time spent at home may not include full amounts of work?  Nobody I know of is talking.

Perhaps, though, that party could end, as considered in Paul Davidson’s October 20th USA Today “A forced return to office?  As job market cools, companies may regain upper hand with workers.”  I have thought that remote hours should be treated as a perk, a privilege for certain employees that could be offset elsewhere, and, if the advantage in the job market shifts back to employers, they may pull it back. 

If you can set your home office anywhere, what location would you choose?  Michael Kolomatsky, in the October 20th New York Times, took a quantitative stab at that in “The Best Cities for Remote Work.”  The author’s components were “workspace” for suitable residences, “amenities” for “larger yards and convenient food delivery,” “connectivity” for Internet quality, “affordability,” and “earning potential.”  Topping the list of “large cities” was Plano, Texas (a Dallas suburb), followed by Frisco in the same state, Tampa, Atlanta, Seattle, Durham, Austin, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Charlotte.  The ten worst were all in California, mostly southern.

Finally, we have “Remote Work Is Here to Stay.  Lean In, Employers.”  This opinion piece, by Jessica Grose in the October 22nd New York Times, took the view that its advantages are too strong for it to go away.  It read like one side of a debate.

So, the issue of home or office is still evolving.  As the Temptations put it over half a century ago, round and around and around we go, where the world's headed, nobody knows.  By decade’s end, we may still not, and even if we do, it will eventually change.  That is how business usually functions, and this issue will not be an exception. 

 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Artificial Intelligence is Pushing Against Its Boundaries

Over the past several months, articles chronicling the state of AI had something in common.  What is it?

The first, by Nico Grant and Cade Metz in the June 12th New York Times, “Google Sidelines Engineer Who claims Its A.I. is Sentient,” described a sad situation where a worker’s views, though milder than those of many in the field of consciousness, got him placed on leave and, after the article was published, fired.  Some eminent observers in that field think that consciousness, about which we know very little, may come from computations, making it inherent even to $5 pocket calculators.  Blake Lemoine, the engineer, could be right, and none of us know that he isn’t.

Yes, now as always “We Need to Talk About How Good A.I. Is Getting” (Kevin Roose, The New York Times, August 24th).  The author ran down recent artificial intelligence achievements, from generation of art of sorts based on requests giving its subject, to one able to “predict the three-dimensional structures of proteins from their one-dimensional amino acid sequences,” and in the process solving “what’s known as the “protein-folding problem,” which had vexed molecular biologists for decades,” and recently making “predictions for nearly all of the 200 million proteins known to exist – producing a treasure trove of data that will help medical researchers develop new drugs and vaccines for years to come.”  Roose claimed that “the conversation in Silicon Valley is starting to shift,” as experts “now believe that major changes are right around the corner, for better or worse.”  He said “regulators and politicians need to get up to speed,” AI companies should communicate better about what work they are doing, and “news media” must improve at explaining it – all constructive ideas.

The sentience would be helpful to fulfill “One Man’s Dream of Fusing A.I. With Common Sense,” by Steve Lohr in the August 28th Times.  His startup, Elemental Cognition, is working to develop artificial reasoning along with the pattern recognition AI systems have excelled at.  This company trains them through “machine learning algorithms” to change human-language document contents into “a form a computer can interpret.”  A strong potential growth area, with success promising but uncertain.

I have been predicting that foreign workers would greatly reduce both jobs and pay for American computer programmers, but will automation instead be their demise?  As shown in “Coding Made AI – Now, How Will AI Unmake Coding?” (Craig S. Smith, IEEE Spectrum, September 19th), it seems quite possible.  The author held that while programming and software development “appears poised to remain a very human endeavor for the foreseeable future,” at the same time “coding as we know it may indeed be doomed.”  It’s easy to imagine, within a decade or two, giving human-language written instructions to an AI system and asking for it to create a program, letting the facility use its own chosen methods, not necessarily computer languages as we know them, to do that, and consistently getting excellent results.  As AI develops, “hand-coding software programs will increasingly be like hand-knitting sweaters.”  If that happens, it would be impossible not to expect the number of positions to vastly decline.

On the applied section of artificial intelligence known as robotics, we have reached a historic point, as a certain “Robot Fast Food Cook Costs Less Than Half a Human Worker” (John Koestler, Yahoo Finance, September 28th).  Now available to rent for about $3,000 per month, The Wingman might be the first restaurant robot fundamentally cheaper than employees.  If it succeeds under sustained production pressure, it could be used by tens of thousands of eateries nationwide, replacing workers in its wake – and every effort to mandate or just implement higher wages will only speed the transition.

This concern is described further in “Nouriel Roubini:  Why AI poses a threat to millions of workers” (Daniel Howley, Yahoo Finance, October 18th).  The interviewed author reminded us that people in fields from not only the obvious algorithmic ones but, as above, in the arts, will not only be thrown out of work but will have shaky prospects elsewhere.  Nothing’s new here but the scope, and indeed, if I need to “create a script or a movie, or make a poem, or write… or paint, or even (write) a piece of music” that does not need verve, I may soon not need human creators at all.  That driverless cars have stalled does not mean that all automated interfaces will do the same.

So what ties these six pieces together?  All are about artificial intelligence’s forward progress.  They combine for a huge, underreported news story.  AI is moving ahead in real life – we need to prepare.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Driverless Technology as of Fall 2022: Bleak, but Redirected

It’s been five years since the world was expecting an end, or nearly so, to people driving “meatmobiles,” a briefly-used name for human-controlled vehicles.  Since then, for various reasons from legislative balking to overreactions about driverless deaths, it has not seemed that way at all.  However, there are still useful pieces being written.  What has come out over the past four months?

The first was “Self-Driving and Driver-Assist Technology Linked to hundreds of Crashes, U.S. Data Shows,” by Neil E. Boudette and Cate Metz in the June 15th New York Times.  This one dealt mostly with the widespread spinoff from fully autonomous cars, “advanced driver-assistance technology” in conventional ones.  Per the authors, “over the course of 10 months” there were 392 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “cataloged” accidents, with six people dead and five “seriously injured.”  Almost 70% of them involved Teslas and three-fourths of the rest were with Hondas.  A good point from a former Department of Transportation officer was that we don’t have a “baseline” for this information, so don’t really know if it’s high due to developing technology, excessive in general, or a reasonable tradeoff. 

Is it meaningful to say that “Driverless cars shouldn’t be a race” (Shira Ovide, The New York Times, August 11th)?  Apparently, companies and their observers are using that as a metaphor, for this wide-open and once highly promising area which requires standardization and benefits massively from cooperative seller attitudes and pooled efforts.  It’s especially damaging when undue fear of autonomous vehicles is a problem anyway, and the image of a road race without drivers is jarring.  So let’s go with “building the future,” or some such, instead.

There have been a few driverless mini-rollouts, and one was “Lyft Unveils Self-Driving Car Service in Las Vegas (With Caveats)”, by Cade Metz, once again in the Times.  It’s in a limited sort of structured area, that city’s Strip, which in its most developed parts has a relatively small set of turnoffs, has a minimal number of pedestrians on the road itself, and for various reasons is not as chaotic as it once was.  But the “caveat” that “reporters are not allowed to use these services without a driver behind the wheel” says something about Lyft’s confidence, and it isn’t good.  We’ll see how long this one lasts.

“As Driverless Cars Falter, Are ‘Driver Assistance’ Systems in Closer Reach” (Lawrence Ulrich, The New York Times, September 16th)?  We already have them, but here’s some mention of where this technology might be headed, that instead of moving toward being “entirely driverless,” it might become “more like a no-nonsense chaperone,” including monitoring drivers’ eyes and alerting them if they “look away for more than a few seconds.”  That may be the right way to go now, and perhaps later in this decade, when enough have unlearned the idea that partially autonomous systems can allow them to stop driving, emphasis can be returned to work-saving functionality.

One of the largest players in driverless technology late last decade is still around, but, per the content if not the title of “Chipmaker Nvidia launches new system for autonomous driving” (Reuters, as published in Fox Business, September 20th), its debuting DRIVE Thor platform is designed to “centralize autonomous and assisted driving,” following a trend in deemphasizing fully driverless vehicles.  The product is supposed to “replace numerous chips and cables in the car and bring down the overall system cost.”  Expect other companies to position their merchandise similarly.

Back we go to the New York Times, where Cade Metz again, of all people, wasn’t happy to be “Stuck on the Streets of San Francisco in a Driverless Car” (September 28th).  His go in a GM Cruise vehicle seemed to provide a combination of driving “gingerly” and “cautiously” and “skidding to a stop in the middle of a crosswalk,” precipitating a pedestrian giving the empty driver’s seat a familiar one-finger gesture.  It didn’t end well, as “the car detected a possible accident and pulled over,” after which, though it was “a false alarm,” “the car wouldn’t budge” and his “ride was over.”  Sad that these things are still happening.

The worst, though, was a, October 9th piece in Futurism, claiming that the “Godfather of Self-Driving Cars Says the Tech Is Going Nowhere.”  That view was from Anthony Levandowski, who founded a pertinent Google division, now Waymo, as one of its “key engineers.”  Among his non-cheerleading statements were “you’d be hard-pressed to find another industry that’s invested so many dollars in R&D and that has delivered so little,” “the industry still amounts to little more than a bunch of glorified tech demos (paraphrased),” “it’s an illusion,” and “why are we driving around, testing technology and creating additional risks, without actually delivering anything of value?”  The time and money, described elsewhere in the piece as “nearly twenty years and some $100 billion,” haven’t been lacking, but have solved neither the general problem of not knowing when to ignore “slight changes in the environment” nor the specific one of not effectively executing “the elementary move of cutting left across traffic when there’s no light to make it easy.”

Is Levandowski, who had serious problems within the industry later in his career, correct?  If not, we need to see autonomous vehicles indefinitely usable beyond the smallest and most protected of niches.  If not, the action will continue to be in technology that helps drivers, who, along with the jobs of the professional ones, aren’t going away.