Monday, April 24, 2017

The Big Payoff

The big payoff for driverless vehicles is with driverless trucks, not driverless cars, especially driverless "Ubers". By driverless trucks, I specifically mean long-haul trucks.
A typical long-haul trucker drives 10 hours a day, meaning the truck is idle the other 14. Some downtime is needed for refueling, weigh stations, etc., but it is reasonable that driverless long-haul trucks will double the productivity of human driven trucks, quite literally overnight.

There has been a shortage of people willing to work as long haul truckers, even given it pays a middle-class income without the need for excessive education or training. This has caused labor costs to rise.

There are currently over 1.5 million long-haul truckers and estimates are the need for long-haul truckers will approach 2 million in the next 5 years.

There are about 250,000 taxi and limo drivers, and they make less than long-haul truckers. Uber and Lyft have exposed there is much greater demand for car services than originally expected, and the capital-less model of ride-shares works well for that demand. The flood of ride-shares has depressed wages for both taxis and ride-shares. But more importantly, self-driving Ubers will be a capital intensive model and will have all the flexibility of a taxi, and none of the flexibility of a ride-sharing service.

The long-haul truck driver replacement market is a $100 billion addressable market, about 10 times that of the taxi driver replacement market.

Follow the money.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Did Expertise Die?

I saw a recent Facebook post of Dr. Tom Nichol's commentary on PBS about The Death of Expertise.

For some unknown reason, Nichols blocked me on Twitter, so I cannot provide this opinion directly. That is his loss.

But Nichols accurately posits the rise of the public Internet has created the side effect of everyone thinking they individually are an expert. However, individuals believing themselves to be experts is only half of the equation. The other half is the discrediting of the true experts, and I believe that happened about a decade or more before the rise of the public Internet. There is a third point, which is the rise of the well known pseudo-expert, and in some cases the celebrity pseudo-expert, such as Jenny McCarthy in the Anti-Vaxxer movement, and Rosie O'Donnell in the 9/11 Truther movement. Celebrity pseudo-experts provide credibility to lay pseudo-experts such as the producers of the original "Loose Change" 9/11 Truther film.

But back to the second point, the discrediting of true experts, or "when expertise died".

In 1989, while in college, I had a roommate who was a journalism major. At that time, they were teaching journalism students expertise is a subject was inherently biasing, and that the opinions of an expert in a subject must be balanced with an opinion of someone who was not an expert in the subject.

He later worked on a story on management, and interviewed an expert in the subject, who happened to be a management professor I worked for as a graduate assistant. He had to then find rebuttal information not from another management professor, but from someone completely unrelated. To me, this was surreal, because I knew both the interviewer and interviewee, and had no reason to question the good intentions of either.

But later it all made sense to me. I grew up watching expert reporters: Jules Bergman, ABC's science reporter; and Irving R. Levine, NBC's economics reporter. I also noticed those expert reporters completely disappeared in the 1980s. Except for the doctors the networks use as medical correspondents and the aviation expert they bring in for airplane crashes, there are no expert reporters any more. I also remember every time in the 1980s we launched a Space Shuttle, the various national news anchors would state the Soviet Union's public statement opinion about the purpose of the mission, as if it was as valid as NASA's stated mission objectives, or as if NASA's stated mission was as invalid as the Soviet's opinion. This latter point goes straight to my original point about my what my roommate was taught: NASA is an expert on their space missions, their opinion must be balanced. Was the Soviet statement credible? Was it valid? Was it simply propaganda? It didn't matter. Was NASA's statement credible? Was it valid? Was it simply propaganda? It didn't matter. To the media, the Soviet position was just as valid as NASA's position. Propagandists at the Kremlin were just as valid as rocket scientists in Houston.

From a purely pop-culture standpoint, I think we tended to believe Jules Bergman on science issues because his name sounded similar to science fiction writer Jules Verne's. I think we believed the bespectacled and bow-tied Irving R. Levine because he fit our visual of what a college economics professor should look like. They were journalists, and not scientists or economists, and they fit a persona, but they were experts in their field as far as journalism went. They had connections, they could get a meeting with the real experts, they had developed a working expertise on their subject, and they had credibility with the public. But they are gone now, and have been for about 40 years.

So I think before we blame the general public, driven by curiosity, and enabled by the Internet (be it WebMD, Wikipedia, or "FakeNews"), we need to consider nature abhors a vacuum, and realize the television media created a vacuum when it cut out those quirky expert reporters, and promoted skepticism and outright distrust of expertise.