Debunking the Fear of Job Loss through AI: A Case Study of the Logistics Industry

Read any given news outlet lately, and you'll see the speculation and fear over automation and the job-destroying power of AI. While the change that AI will bring is all but a certainty, human beings aren't going to be replaced any time soon. Take a dive with me into the logistics industry over the last few years, from automated self-driving trucks to digital in-game recruiting billboards for IRL jobs. Our examination of logistics here will illustrate what we expect from several other industries in the coming years as they are changed through automation and artificial intelligence.

Pre-Demic: Logistics before the Storm

Back in 2017, the trucking industry was buzzing with speculation. A report from Goldman Sachs[1] had everyone talking about electric AI-driven commercial trucks that could take over their jobs. Adding fuel to the fire, Elon Musk dropped hints about a Tesla vehicle that could revolutionize the logistics industry.

Vaporware speculation from Elon Musk, the one thing he does manage to produce regularly

Fast forward to 2019, and the logistics industry still needed to find an equilibrium. A boom and bust cycle had kicked off, driven by an oversupply of capacity. Too many trucks and not enough stuff to haul. This got truckers worried, and who can blame them? Many started looking for other gigs, thinking the future of trucking was on its way out the door[2].

This imbalance continued into 2020, just before the pandemic hit. At this time, the logistics industry was anticipating a watershed moment of some sort anyway - they had prepared the best they could for the oncoming storm by reducing budgets and their workforce. Unfortunately, the pandemic would demand from them what they had just willingly given away.

Pandemic: Everything Sucks Because of Supply Chain Issues

Real-life truckers were needed more than ever, and the smaller labor pool could not meet the sudden demand. The surge in online shopping and the necessity of goods transportation during lockdowns led to an increased demand for truck drivers, contradicting the initial fears of job loss due to AI.

In the face of this sudden demand, the industry had to think on its feet. States like Texas, among others, lowered the age for getting a CDL license. This move, while it did bring fresh blood into the industry, also had its drawbacks. The roads were now filled with greenhorn commercial drivers, and the risk of accidents was a genuine concern. Dig a little, and you can see that there's practically a child labor cottage industry shipping our goods across the country[3].

Next time you see a semi-truck hogging the left lane, completely clueless, you can now breathe 'easy' knowing that it's just some dropout kid, busting ass and strung out on meth. Totally normal shit. I'm not even going to touch on the subject of how serial killers are far more prevalent in the truck driving industry for a variety of reasons and, FURTHERMORE, maybe putting a bunch of columbine-eyed, grim-futured young folks behind the wheel of 65~80k lbs. of chaos is maybe not the best idea.

I digress. Texas has unlocked a recent achievement in bad driving lately[4]; it's safe to say it's the wild west out there. Throwing robots at the problem is not going to solve it. Additionally, having AI drivers would not have prevented what is happening.

Had we adopted AI and been able to roll it out, big if, we would have been in the early launch development period when the pandemic hit. We still would have had supply hiccups; no way around it.

Post-Demmy and what we can expect from AI

It will still need your meaty mitts pulling the levers for the next decade. After that, who knows?

I want to reference a couple of points from that CNBC article I linked earlier before we close:

Job losses due to autonomous vehicles: The Goldman Sachs report predicted that U.S. drivers could see job losses at a rate of 25,000 a month, or 300,000 a year. However, according to a TechCrunch article[5] from January 2023, Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, laid off a significant portion of its staff, indicating that the transition to autonomous vehicles might not be as smooth as predicted. This is going to be a rocky transition at best, and we can expect sluggish adoption from many other sectors as well.

Impact on other occupations: The Goldman Sachs report also predicted that occupations like secretaries, cashiers, bank tellers, waiters, and real estate agents could be at risk of automation. According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2023[6], while automation is indeed transforming jobs across industries, it's also creating new roles and opportunities. I can personally attest to some of this, as I am currently using these tools to improve the customer process in the real estate industry; as many others would agree, it will be some time before we can use these tools to their maximum capacity.

Meanwhile, the trucking industry is still looking for help. I play a lot of niche video games in my spare time, one of them being American Truck Simulator. They've recently teamed up with Schneider National for an innovative recruiting campaign - addressing the hobbyists directly and asking them to join the workforce[7].

Use these new AI tools as they pop up. They will become a regular part of life that we can't live without in much the same way smartphones have. We should simultaneously bring the lessons we've learned from handling smartphones. Don't become too immersed in the constant, available flow of hand-held information, as it can negatively twist your mind and emotions. Similarly, don't rely too much on the temptation to let the AI do the gruntwork of thinking for you; you may find yourself guided to conclusions that don't have your best interests in mind.


[1]: Goldman Sachs. (2017). Autonomous vehicle job loss.

[2]: Freight Waves. (2019). Commentary: 2019 was a winless season for trucking.

[3]: Custom Truck. (2023). States are lowering CDL age limits but the battle to lower interstate driving age restrictions at a federal level continues.

[4]: Forbes. (2023). Best Car Insurance Companies.

[5]: TechCrunch. (2023). Waymo lays off staff as Alphabet announces 12,000 job cuts.

[6]: World Economic Forum. (2023). Future of Jobs Report 2023.

[7]: Steam. (2023). American Truck Simulator - In-game Dynamic Billboards.