Driverless cars will lead to increased worker productivity

Dan Neil writes about the inevitability of driverless cars and brings up an interesting benefit: Americans will suddenly have more time on their hands.

The one brilliant part of the U.S. economic profile is productivity. It turns out, Americans are a little nutty when it comes to work.

If autonomy were fully implemented today, there would be roughly 100 million Americans sitting in their cars and trucks tomorrow, by themselves, with time on their hands. It would be, from an economist’s point of view, the Pennsylvania oil fields of man-hours, a beautiful gusher, a bonanza of reverie washing upon our shores.

In the history of human civilization, has there ever been a society to offer so much uninterrupted head space to so many? Europe’s medieval monastic tradition created scholars, true, but only a relative handful…

It’s possible that all these suddenly idle driver/passengers will waste their gift, texting, watching TV or worse. But many of them, like me, would beaver into work, happy to get a jump on the day.

And here’s the best part. I always get my best ideas in the car—in solitude, watching the unwinding of the road, hearing the thrum of the tires. You know that space, right?

Hurray – more time to work! Neil might be excited about this but I first think of all the opportunities for mixing the boundaries of home and work even further. Thinking more broadly, is productivity something we want to continue to chase as a society? Do Americans really need to be working more?

On the other hand, this could be a big boon for several sectors. Think about media companies: Americans would then have on average something like 40-60 minutes more per day to consume television shows, websites, podcasts, music, etc. Or perhaps it could give rise to all sorts of services and car add-ons; I’m thinking of the Honda Odyssey commercials from a while back showing moms going to the minivan to relax and get a facial.

 

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