Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Driverless Cars, Even in Limited Roles, are Conking Out

Even with vastly reduced expectations, autonomous vehicles are falling short.

In the August 9th New York Times, Yiwen Lu told us “San Francisco Balks at Expanding Driverless Car Services on City’s Roads.”  She called them “a jarring sight” “that “has become common” there.  Cruise, which was offering taxi rides, and Waymo, whose autonomous cars I saw tested in Arizona four years ago, wanted to charge customers “throughout the city, round the clock.” Although none thus far had been “blamed for any serious injuries or crashes,” there had been incidents in which the vehicles, on roads, “simply shut down and won’t move.”

In a piece from Atlantic ten days later, Anna Wiener reported that “Robo-Taxis Are Legal Now,” because of a California Public Utilities Commission vote to approve the autonomous vehicle increase above.  It didn’t take long for the people against it to seem vindicated, as a week later “a driverless Cruise car, carrying a passenger, collided with a fire truck,” apparently  not yielding to it when traffic controls alone indicated it would not need to, and “a couple of hours later… another driverless Cruise car was involved in an accident, after it responded to an oncoming car by braking and stopping short.”  The next day, the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles asked that Cruise cut its maximum-allowed number of autonomous vehicles running there in half, and, per “Cruise Agrees to Reduce Driverless Car Fleet in San Francisco After Crash,” on August 18th and also in the New York Times by Yiwen Lu, that request was granted. 

In October came another mishap there.  As Julie Angwin wrote in “Autonomous Vehicles Are Driving Blind” (The New York Times, October 11th), earlier that month “a woman suffered traumatic injuries from being struck by a driver and thrown into the path of“ a driverless car.  As well, “San Francisco’s fire chief… recently testified that as of August, autonomous vehicles interfered with firefighting duties 55 times this year.”  Angwin blamed a lack of “federal software safety testing standards for autonomous vehicles,” and expanded her concern to artificial intelligence in general.

Another permutation was the subject of “Remote Driving Is a Sneaky Shortcut to the Robotaxi” (Sean Lightbown,, October 18th).  “On the busy streets of suburban Berlin, just south of Templehofer Feld, a white Kia is skillfully navigating double-parked cars, roadworks, cyclists, and pedestrians.  Dan, the driver, strikes up a conversation with his passengers, remarking on the changing traffic lights and the sound of an ambulance screaming past in the other direction.  But Dan isn’t in the car.”  Dan is a “teledriver,” working for “German startup Vay.”  That capability had been used to back up driverless vehicles during testing and could now be used to cover “driver shortages at airports, harbors, or in the trucking industry” with “a bank of remote drivers available around the world.”  It could allow, for example, intercity truck driving by people not needing to be away from their families, with longer hours per vehicle as one remote driver could take over for another.

The self-driving situation discussed before worsened soon thereafter, as “Cruise’s Driverless Taxi Service in San Francisco Is Suspended” (Yiwen Lu and Cade Metz, The New York Times, October 24th).  It was made by the state DMV, due mainly to the accident earlier that month, in which the pedestrian was “trapped under the driverless car,” which then “tried to pull over” and “dragged the pedestrian until it stopped.” 

Four weeks later, another piece by Lu in the Times summarized events in “’Lost Time for No Reason’:  How Driverless Taxis Are Stressing Cities.”  One involved two autonomous vehicles, each blocking a side of the road which “added seven minutes” to an ambulance run.  San Francisco had seen “more than 600 self-driving vehicle incidents… from June 2022 to June 2023,” and Austin, another though smaller hub for driverless taxicabs, had 52 “incidents” between July 8 and October 24.  Cruise has now “suspended its autonomous vehicle operations,” and its CEO resigned on November 19th. 

The future is not entirely hopeless for self-driving taxis.  Lu reported that Nashville and Seattle, still on track to allow them, had started training for firefighters on dealing with them, and Phoenix, after three years of allowing “autonomous taxi services,” has 200 with few complaints.  That is good, since their developers clearly have things to learn about different locations.  The promise of autonomous vehicles is still great – we still have over 30,000 annual human-caused road deaths every year – so we should all hope that 2023 will go down as the worst year for their technology. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Job-Seeking Now – What’s Happening? What’s Changing?

There are good and bad things about looking for work in 2023.  It may be that unemployment has been below 4% for a year or so, and there are almost a record number of job openings, but it’s still not easy, and getting hired is not routine.

It’s hardly a great time to be trying.  At least it wasn’t six months ago, according to “Why job searches suck right now” (Adrienne Matei, Insider, May 22nd).  “Applicants are sending out hundreds of job applications and hearing nothing back.  Ghost jobs, AI resume screening, and a lopsided economy are making the job search miserable.”  Also, “economic instability, opaque hiring processes, and the destabilizing rise of technologies like generative AI have converged into an environment where it’s hard for job seekers to feel like they have even a basic sense of what’s going on,” and “finding a job right now isn’t only tough, it’s deeply weird.”  As I wrote 12 years ago, job openings do not mean job hiring – apparently, per Matei, that is true now more than ever.  Some fields have also been recently economically damaged, especially “real estate, media, and tech,” and, overall, “discombobulation is par for the course.”

Another recent work-searching problem was the subject of “Want a Job?  Cool, There are 17 Interviews” (Alison Green, Slate, May 23rd).  One respondent said that for a single position he had already had seven, with apparent interviewer coordination and competence issues, as he was repeatedly asked the same questions.  The high mark, though secondhand, was a friend of a respondent claiming she had had 29 (!) half-hour interviews, and was not hired, without the position being filled.  As well, remote interviews have made it possible for them to be scheduled one a day, and sample work assignments, some even to be completed before any interviews, are getting common and lengthier. 

How can people apply artificial intelligence to the job search itself?  In Benefit News on October 17th, Deanna Cuadra gave us some insight in “How to use AI to write a great cover letter.”  The way is to “pick the right AI tool,” and some even specialize in cover letters; “know how to prompt AI” by asking it the needs, priorities, and responsibilities the advertised position is likely to involve; “don’t let AI fears hold you back”; and consider adding your own changes to the tool’s output.  On November 6th in, Caitlin Harrington, in “This AI Bot Fills Out Job Applications for You While You Sleep,” told us about “software engineer Julian Joseph,” who used LazyApply’s Job GPT capability, which, after he provided “some basic information about his skills, experience, and desired position,” applied to 5,000 jobs on his behalf.  He got “around 20” interviews, and one job offer. 

After knowing of employers cutting off unsuccessful candidates without any politeness, I can’t say I was sympathetic to read, also from Cuadra in Benefit News, November 13th’s “Job candidates are still ghosting employers – and the interview process is to blame.”  Not the marathons described above, but “a poor interview experience,” and, even now, “over one-third of candidates have experienced discriminatory interview questions, most commonly around their age, race and gender.”  Also, per a Greenhouse study, “19% of job seekers have changed their names on their resumes, with 45% doing so to sound more white, 42% to sound younger and 22% to sound like the opposite gender,” with age discrimination the largest perceived problem.  As for the ghosting, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

To end with something positive, we read in Fox News on October 16th that “US companies increasingly eliminate college degrees as a requirement amid “out-of-control” school costs.”  Those cited as announcing “plans to reduce the number of jobs that require college degrees” were Walmart, IBM, Accenture, Bank of America, and Google – not minor firms.  The real reason likely is a lack of candidates, as needing higher education, a dramatic shift from pre-1970 policy, was more of a way to thin the field than anything needed for work.  This is a positive trend, and I hope that other artificial barriers, such as certifications for the like of hairdressers, will also go away.  It is time.  And it is also time for employers to treat those seeking to work for them with the kind of respect they expect themselves.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Electric Vehicles – Still Controversial, and No, Not Poised to Take Over

The past couple of years have been huge for electric cars, trucks, buses, and other transportation devices.  Per David Wallace-Wells in “Electric Vehicles Keep Defying Almost Everyone’s Predictions,” on January 11th in the New York Times, there were “almost 30 million” in existence, tripling in two years as has their market share.  In Germany and Norway, they made up 55% and 80% of new vehicles, and China almost sextupled their percentage in two years, to 20.3%.  Also, “there are 10 times as many electric scooters, mopeds and motorcycles on the road as true electric cars.”  In all, per Wallace-Wells, “as with everything else on climate, it’s not one story unfolding but many, and all at once.”  Back to that later.

Other things that have happened in this area are hardly as overwhelmingly positive.  As Greg Norman wrote in Fox Business on January 3rd, “Tesla fined $2.2M for exaggerating driving range of its vehicles:  report.”  The problem was in winter, when “the actual driving range” dropped by up to half.  In Atlantic on January 4th, David Zipper opined that “Electric Vehicles Are Bringing Out the Worst in Us.”  His concern was that “automakers’ focus on large, battery-powered SUVs and trucks reinforces a destructive American desire to drive something bigger, faster, and heavier than everyone else.”  That problem has been worsened by their “huge batteries,” resulting in, for example, a Chevrolet Silverado weighing a ton and a half more in its electric version, that and other differences often serving to neutralize environmental benefits.

That same month, we saw “Wyoming lawmakers push for electric-car ban and to limit sales by 2035” (Natalie Neysa Alund, USA Today, January 17th).  They cited an insufficient number of charging stations, problems with “critical minerals” in their batteries, and economic damage to oil-company employees.  Contrarily, California’s government has announced an end to allowing new gasoline-powered “cars, pickups and SUVs,” to take effect in 2035.

On the issue of metals, on September 16th, The Economist issued an article, “Keep digging,” which cited the Energy Transitions Commission think-tank as projecting that, in pursuit of a “carbon-neutral world,” requiring among other things “a 60-fold increase in the fleet of electric vehicles,” demand for copper, nickel, cobalt neodymium, graphite, and lithium will increase from 50% to 600%, outstripping current mining capability.  As excavating mines, per this piece, takes from 4 to 17 years, that is more timely a problem than it may seem.

How is the market for electric vehicles looking now?  This month, two contributions seemed almost to disagree.  Bloomberg’s Big Take on November 8th described “The global fight over EVs,” with that organization predicting that “all forms of EV sales will hit $8.8 trillion by 2030 and $57 trillion by 2050.”  The other article was “Automakers Delay Electric Vehicle Spending as Demand Slows,” on November 7th in the New York Times; “in recent weeks, General Motors, Ford Motor, and Tesla cited slower sales,” though the share of electric vehicles in US new-car purchases rose year-over-year in July through September from 6% to 8%. 

We’re still seeing growth, but it may have limits.  Electric cars certainly have their American niches, but there are real reasons why they may not conquer the automotive marketplace without coercive policies or outright bans.  First, with weight problems and American electricity coming 35% from fossil fuels, they are not nearly as environmentally beneficial as they may seem.  Second, battery life has only fundamentally improved when they are gigantic, and we are nowhere near having one with a 500-mile range, fitting in an ordinary car trunk, mass-produced, and acceptably inexpensive.  Third, with auto insurance companies charging extra for multiple vehicles, having an electric car for short trips and a gas-powered one for longer ones seems impractical.  Fourth, though there have been real improvements in the number of charging stations and their reliability, in many places the infrastructure is not good enough, and seems, nationwide, to be at least a decade away.  Fifth, prices are still too high.

The best applications for electric vehicles are those that run for consistently limited mileage and can recharge daily during off-hours, such as city buses, taxicabs, school buses, and local delivery trucks.  Another worthy development is hybrids, which combine the reliability of liquid-powered vehicles with low emissions and high fuel economy.  It may turn out that demand for privately-owned electric cars will level off, especially in some areas.  If that happens, we should not be shocked – it will be the market, and other aspects of reality, speaking. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Finally, a Lousy Jobs Report, With AJSN Showing Latent Demand Almost Unchanged

For months on end, when I pulled the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary, I have seen strongly positive results, exceeding industry expectations and displaying the United States doing even better on the jobs front.  Not this morning.

The number of net new nonfarm payroll positions was 150,000, favorable for a country needing less than that to maintain the same position.  Although that was below the published 180,000 and 190,000 estimates, it was the best number I saw today.  Adjusted unemployment rose 0.1% to 3.9%, with the unadjusted version staying at 3.6%.  The number of employed gained only 7,000 to 161,676,000, while the count of those claiming no interest rose 419,000 to 94,830,000.  At 6.5 million, there were 100,000 more unemployed, the same gain for those out for 27 weeks or longer, to 1.3 million.  The two measures of how common it is for Americans to be either working or one sought offer away, the employment-population ratio and the labor force participation rate, worsened 0.2% and 0.1% to reach 60.2% and 62.7%.  Average nonfarm payroll hourly wages gained 12 cents, more than inflation, to reach an even $34.00.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the statistic showing how many additional positions could be quickly filled if all knew they would be easy and routine to get, lost 55,000 as follows:



Latent Demand %

Latent Demand Total









Family Responsibilities




In School or Training




Ill Health or Disability








Did Not Search for Work In  Previous Year




Not Available to Work Now




Do Not Want a Job




Non-Civilian, Institutionalized, and Unaccounted For, 15+




American Expatriates








Increases in those unemployed and discouraged were more than offset by a drop in those wanting work but not looking for it in the previous year.  The share of the AJSN from officially unemployed people was 34.0%, up 0.4% from September. 

Compared with a year before, the AJSN gained 175,000, with a 440,000 rise from people unemployed mostly offset by the drop in those not searching for it and elsewhere.

So, when we did well on net new jobs, why must I give this morning’s report a thumbs down?  Because not only were all the other figures I track worse, but unemployment rates were helped by the increase in those leaving the labor force and claiming no interest.  Perhaps we are reaching a plateau.  As before, that wouldn’t be bad, but it wouldn’t be progress either.  The turtle took a breather and stayed right where he was.