The announcement that experiments will take place with driverless lorries on UK motorways ought to be a cause for celebration. Once again, human ingenuity is pushing out the frontiers of technology.
But the general reaction in the media has been one of anxiety and concern. Wholly contradictory arguments have been advanced against them.
Driverless cars it is argued, for example, do not mean that you can summon one to your front door and be taken to and from the pub with impunity. The drink driving laws, the opponents of progress pronounce with confidence, will still apply to the humans being transported. Yet it is also claimed that the concept of responsibility for accidents involving driverless cars does not yet exist. Until it is, they cannot legally be used.
As with the introduction of railways, the law around a revolutionary technology will take some time to evolve. But the idea that a man should walk in front of the train carrying a red flag was soon given short shrift. The new technology was far too convenient to have it impeded in this way.
The opposition to driverless cars and lorries seems almost Luddite in its intensity. People currently employed in and around the activity of driving vehicles will become unemployed. Where will the new jobs come from?
I am writing this in a country house hotel in Aberdeenshire. In the room is a magazine dedicated to weddings. This, a eulogy to expensive popular culture, tells us a great deal about how the labour market evolves.
Many of the activities around modern weddings involved jobs which were either completely non-existent only a few decades ago, or only catered to a tiny number of ultra-rich individuals.
The adverts for venues, for example, usually stress that a dedicated wedding co-ordinator will be assigned to you during the planning stages. And a dedicated wedding events manager will ensure the day itself goes smoothly. Bridalwear experts can be hired to advise on the choice of costumes. People can, and do, pay substantial fees to be told that “if you plan to marry at the height of summer in Spain, a heavy material such as velvet is inadvisable”.
Special courses of dance lessons are available so that the bride and groom can perform a “full-on choreographed, fabulous first dance”. The potential activities around hen and stag events know no bounds. An adventure activity day is offered involving “Segways or zorbing”.
Specific fitness courses are offered to ensure that not only the bride and groom but their entire supporting cast look suitably “toned and sculpted”. Even your faithful pooch can be groomed for the occasion, and look glowing through consuming organic dog food. What a pity there was no advert for vegan canine sustenance.
This is a snapshot of how innovation impacts the economy. Technology enables a product or service to be provided more cheaply and at a higher quality. Some people directly involved lose their jobs. But everyone else is made better off, and their extra spending creates entirely new types of jobs.