Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick shared his vision of the ride-hailing service's future and it doesn't include human drivers. After disrupting the taxi industry, Uber is gearing up for greater changes, including automated vehicles."A reliable ride is number one to Uber," said Kalanick during an on-stage interview with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Salesforce's Dreamforce conference. "We'll do whatever needs to be done to get as many rides in the system to provide a quick pick-up at as low a price as possible, and get passengers safely from point A to point B."
Kalanick also touted the benefits of being an Uber driver. Uber gives drivers more flexibility and better opportunities to earn a living compared to traditional taxi companies, Kalanick claimed. "We like to say, we give riders high fives and we give drivers hugs," he said. But drivers shouldn't get too comfortable.
Uber's CEO said the perfect future is one in which every car is an Uber car. Kalanick also noted that 30,000 people die in car accidents on a yearly basis. In contrast, driverless cars hold "a lot of promise" in reducing that number. "What if that number were zero...and there was no more traffic?" he asked.
Uber has made it clear that it's investing in a driver-free world. Last year, the company launched the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh to do research on autonomy technology and vehicle safety.
Uber has a network of about 160,000 drivers. When Benioff asked about the impact of automated cars on drivers, Kalanick skirted the issue. "As a tech company you have to say, 'am I going to be part of the future or be resistant to it?' We're a tech company. We embrace the future," he said.
Kalanick added that new technology provides an opportunity for "optimistic leadership" and "new vocations" but didn't specify how that would enable drivers to stay employed.
In a separate discussion at Dreamforce, Andrew McAfee, an MIT research scientist and author of The Second Machine Age, noted that fears of automation ultimately killing a company's customers by destroying jobs have been around for decades.
"If we play our cards right, I believe we'll see a productive economy that's free from material wants," McAfee said. "But the problem is still how will we get money? No one knows. The disappearance of the [customer] base should keep us up."