Truck Drivers Have to Think, Too

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Making a point I noted some time ago, but from a different perspective, a commenter at Marginal Revolution explains part of why automation is not the threat that snobbish academics and pandering politicians would have us believe it is to "low level jobs" (as they like to think of them):

Photo by Rhys Moult on Unsplash.
For example, truck drivers don't just drive trucks. They also secure loads, including determining what to load first and last and how to tie it all down securely. They act as agents for the trunking company. They verify that what they are picking up is what is on the manifest. They are the early warning system for vehicle maintenance. They deal with the government and others at weighing stations. When sleeping in the cab, they act as security for the load. If the vehicle breaks down, they set up road flares and contact authorities. If the vehicle doesn't handle correctly, the driver has to stop and analyze what's wrong -- blown tire, shifting load, whatever.
There is much more for anyone who sees a truck on the highway and thinks driving is the whole job for the man in the cab -- not that automating that task is easy. That said, the following stands out: "When you see how hard it is to simply digitize a paper process inside a single plant (often a multi-year project), you start to roll your eyes at ivory tower claims of entire industries being totally transformed by automation in a few years."

It is interesting to consider the above in light of how much academics dislike being written off as irrelevant. To the degree that their fields are relevant to daily life it's part of the territory to the degree that the connection between their thinking and daily life is indirect or non-obvious. To the degree that many people disdain abstract thinking, it's a justified annoyance. But to the degree that they don't keep in touch with the world they're supposed to be studying, as seen here, it's unjustified. More, it is a sign that they need to re-think how they are working.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

When I was a kid I spent time each summer on my grandfather's farm. He was an old-school farmer and machinist. When something broke down, he either repaired the part, found one lying around, or, in one case, built a part that was no longer manufactured. This taught me that NO job was mindless. Even something as simple as feeding pigs required some thought. Sure, you CAN just throw them food--but if you call them and give them a treat, you get them used to coming when you call. And that makes putting them back in the pen, should they escape, much simpler. You CAN just hoe weeds without really thinking about it--or you can look at what kinds of weeds you have. Some are edible. Some are useful, just not there. Some indicate problems with soil nutrient content or drainage. And they're all useful for compositing. Even the most apparently mindless tasks require a great deal of thought.

Any job looks easy at the 1:1,000,000 scale. But the devil is in the details.

What distresses me most is that ostensibly intelligent, educated people are thinking like this. They should KNOW there are many details to these jobs not included in the job description. Have they never worked a summer job? Have they never mowed a yard? Or built a patio in their back yard? Or....well, LIVED?!

Gus Van Horn said...


Your grandfather reminds me of my grandmother, who ate pokeweed salads and, at least during the Depression, squirrels.

In addition to academics, I often wonder similar things about designers of software, web sites, and packaging: One would think sometimes that they have no experience using what they design.