Talking Tech with Truckers: AI, Magic Genies and COVID-19

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Steve is a frequent guest on Sirius XM’s Road Dog Trucking Radio, discussing a variety of tech-related topics with host Mark Willis and drivers nationwide. Following is a lightly edited excerpt of his June 30 appearance.

Mark: Some of the drivers over the the last few years have said they welcome new technology—bring it on. You know, optimization. They want to get the most bang for the buck, if you will, when it comes to the digitization of freight. Many have said they miss the old days—they miss the days of the paper logs, they miss the face‑to‑face conversations with the people at the docks and things like that. With Artificial Intelligence, it sounds like a lot of folks are getting on board but how do you convince the old school guys that may have to cross that bridge?

Steve: The way I think of it is that there are things that people want to do and are better at doing than machines are. And there are many things that machines are good at doing. I don’t think AI takes the place of discussions with customers, talking on a dock, maybe helping or watching a truck loaded or unloaded—machines don't do a great job of that, of talking with people, of keeping an eye out. If we use the AI to help us with the grind, that gives you more time to do the good stuff. One of my favorite quotes is by Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I think that’s funny and true. Arguably, AI is the most advanced technology today. I want to hear your listeners, if they had a magic genie that could help them and it’s AI, what would they have it do?

Mark: Let’s go to the phones. First up is Rich in New Jersey.

Rich: Well, I sort of have an artificial genie. On active radar, there’s that beep telling me I’m too close to the vehicle in front of me. In a major city, traffic can be very heavy. It’s telling me constantly that I’m too close and activates the automatic braking. It could be a little bit less sensitive. We are drivers and we understand our brakes and our distancing from the vehicles around us. If you’re not prepared, it shouldn’t fall back on the equipment. It should be more of the driver’s responsibility to pay attention around them.

Steve: Hi, Rich. Let me just come at it from this angle. A lot of times I hear people say, “Here's the problem I have with my AI-based self‑driving stuff.” What you’re saying is totally legit. These are products made by companies competing for your business. There is a lot of market push to make these things better and better, and companies are looking for input from real drivers. Anytime a real driver can loop in and say, “Here's the situation. It’s happened to me more than a couple times. This isn’t me hallucinating, and I think there might be safety involved,” the companies have every incentive in the world to fix that, to improve it, to listen to you—and if they don’t, they're going to be out of business and someone else is going to eat their lunch. I think that’s one of the great things about how technology works in America. All these for‑profit companies are competing against each other, trying to earn your business.

Mark: Rooster is on the phone in Nebraska. Artificial Intelligence, are you seeing more of it out there?

Rooster: Well, I’ve been using some of the stuff when it first came out and new generations are getting better as it goes along. Some of the navigation stuff and some of the speed limit stuff, it keeps you alert. You’re out here in the middle of nowhere on a two‑lane road, it kind of reminds you of things. It’s an attention‑getter. It’s like anything else, you know? Things come with improvements.

Steve: There’s a lot of money trying to make your job better. Besides just helping you drive, are there other things that listeners could say, “Hey, if there really was a magic genie that could help me see the future, this is what would put more money in my pocket.”

Mark: Let’s go to Anthony in Illinois. You’re on with Steve Sashihara. What do you think about AI helping you out there on the road?

Anthony: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m in my third‑generation truck here, a 2020. I love what it's really doing. It is learning. I was told that it has a little bit of a learning curve on its own. When you drive this truck, it gets used to the driver, though when you have two different drivers as a team, it kind of messes things up a little bit. There are some sensitivities, distance alerts, as that one driver was explaining in New Jersey, they do get annoying, especially in the city. Out in this country, not so bad. If I had a genie that could do anything for me in this truck, it would be communications between shippers and receivers—I can make it at that time, or this load will have to wait until after my 10‑hour break or whenever I can get through it. If you can find a way to make that genie work with weather in some way, I know that's a big one—give a little bit of a prediction for what we can do as drivers on the road and we’ll try and make the deliveries—get in, get out—and make our wait time disappear.

Steve: I love what you're saying, Anthony, this is the concept that’s actually going to put money in your pocket.

Mark: Steve, do you see AI playing a role in helping us navigate through the COVID‑19 pandemic?

Steve: I definitely think so. Could better intelligence, better forecasting, help you position your truck in the right market better, maybe to take the right loads? Maybe during COVID for some of the loads you might take, the shippers will go out of business. We already use AI for credit scoring—perhaps it can help answer if the shipper or broker is OK.

Mark: Where do you see AI going forward in the trucking industry? You mentioned predictability as to where the best loads are going to be. Could this also be used, say, in a back office setting for those that are working remotely?

Steve: Yes. It is surprising how little situational awareness all the players in the industry have whether you’re a shipper, receiver, a dispatcher, a driver, or in the back office. Giving the whole network more visibility—that’s good for everyone.

For more than 30 years, Princeton Consultants has worked with many leading transportation companies in trucking and across modes. We welcome conversations about potential opportunities for AI and emerging tech; email us to set up a call.