Economically speaking—that is, in the most brutal terms—truckers are disposable. Almost anyone can become a professional driver with a month or so of training, and most don’t stick around for long; median pay is about $40,000 per year, and the work is often unhealthy, painful, and lonely. Software engineers, on the other hand, are some of the best-paid, hardest-to-hire employees in the modern economy. The variety that Seltz-Axmacher employs—specialists in AI and machine learning—are even better paid and even harder to hire. Google has been known to pay its self-driving car engineers millions or even tens of millions. Starsky’s coders don’t make that much, but the point remains: In its cabs, side by side, are representatives of some of the most and least promising careers in America.
Self-driving tractor trailers are replacing truck drivers, but truck driving is an under-paid, unappealing job. In this respect, it’s a perfect place for AI, but it doesn’t address the 3.5 million Americans who drive trucks for a living and need income.