With Uber’s autonomous-car ambitions barreling full-steam ahead, it’s understandable that drivers who work for the company would feel anxious about their futures. But Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s newly installed chief executive, is here to allay those fears—or at least try to.
“Ten years from now, are we going to have more drivers than we have today? I absolutely think so,” Khosrowshahi said today at the New York Times DealBook Conference.
That may sound counterintuitive for a company obsessed with self-driving technology, but Khosrowshahi insists the math holds up. How? Because Uber’s growth will offset the effects of automation, he says, at least for the near future. In 10 years, Khosrowshahi estimates that 70% or 80% of Uber rides will be autonomous, which means that at least 20% or 30% of rides will still require drivers. But because Uber’s network will likely be 10 or 20 times larger than it is today, that 20% or 30% will require a larger pool of drivers.
Of course, this formula doesn’t take into account that Uber is only one company, and that the effects of automation are likely to be felt far and wide across numerous industries that require drivers today. Economists have been working overtime to try to predict how this profound shift will impact labor demand, but it’s safe to say that the consequences—intended and unintended—will be significant.
Khosrowshahi was responding to a question from Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who asked what the Uber chief would say to a driver who is worried about becoming obsolete.
“I would tell a driver, do your math,” Khosrowshahi responded, before making his case for why the demand for drivers will increase.
Take it with a grain of salt, though. In that same interview, Khosrowshahi also attempted to deflect Uber’s wide-ranging labor disputes by claiming that drivers actually “don’t want to be employees.”