The Maritime Trades Department, its port councils and its affiliates reiterate our belief that while advances in technology are an exciting, necessary and valuable part of life, the top priorities with any such development should be how it deals with safety and how it benefits workers.
Safety should not be a hard sell, especially when it comes to inventions like self-driving cars and self-guided ships. It’s not hard to imagine the potentially catastrophic consequences of automation-related mishaps on our roads, rivers and oceans.
Yet, it was only a month ago that a new directive from Washington made it optional for automakers and tech companies to submit safety assessments to the U.S. Department of Transportation. As one spokesman from a consumer watchdog group put it, “This isn’t a vision for safety. It’s a roadmap that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety.”
We don’t claim to be experts on the nitty-gritty details of these emerging technologies. But, it doesn’t take an engineering degree to understand that they’re complicated, and that there’s a lot at stake. It also doesn’t require a glass-is-half-empty outlook to realize that things can go wrong, even with well-known, well-financed businesses at the helm.
For example, think back several years to the infamous mishap with one of the earliest generations of iPhones. Following massive investment and presumably exhaustive research and development, it turned out those devices were great – except if you wanted to use them to make phone calls. In that case, you had to hold your hand so it wasn’t covering certain parts of those otherwise brand-new, expensive gadgets.
Not everyone was amused, as evidenced by the class-action lawsuits from customers that followed.
While there were consequences for this mistake, at least they weren’t fatal. But the same likely cannot be said if there’s an equivalent oversight with self-driving cars on the roads or uncrewed ships on the waterways if they crash into a dock. Or, for that matter, with drones, which are becoming so common, you may soon be able to have one delivered by another drone.
Our bottom line is that we not only embrace technological progress, we promote it and facilitate it. However, we want it to happen safely, and, where automation is concerned, we hardly view it as antiquated to state a close eye should also be kept on where workers fit into the new equation.
Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao put it this way: “Smart technology will still require human interaction to function at its best. But the new jobs being created will require higher skills and digital literacy. So, education and skills training will be more important than ever before. We need to help ease the transition.”
Which brings up the other concern – jobs. Namely, what happens to the long-haul truckers, the taxicab drivers, the ships’ crews who lose their jobs when the proposed technology removes them?
As we noted in our “Automation” statement passed at the 2016 MTD Executive Board Meeting, the International Labor Organization wrote that technology and change are inevitable. But a policy for such change should include “ensuring that the benefits of new technologies based on extraordinarily advanced knowledge and capacities are widely diffused, both within and between nations, rather than becoming the basis of even greater divisions, which could dangerously deepen already existing conditions of advantage and disadvantage.”
Eighteen months ago, the MTD argued for common sense and caution. After all, if Equifax can be hacked, what’s to stop someone from taking over the controls of an LNG tanker sailing without a crew?!
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils continue to work to make sure that the new technologies being introduced into our industry are done with safety in the forefront of planning; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils continue to stand for our members and other workers to make sure they reap the benefits of such change and are not cast overboard.
Passed 2017 MTD Convention