Uber, the thunderous on-demand chauffeur startup, released two big pieces of news today. First, it boasted that it's creating a bevy of high-paying jobs. Then, Uber's CEO praised the arrival of driverless cars. You can't be a job creator and a job destroyer.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's contempt for our species is long and well-documented—see the above video, via Recode, for the latest example. The man is, really, just an asshole. That's not really the worst thing, or even a particularly bad thing, on the infinite ladder of bad and worse things—the world is riddled with more or less benign assholes. But Kalanick's assholitude is focused so precisely on his customers, it takes an almost sadistic bend—why start a company based on serving people, and then sort of treat them like schmucks?
But even if a tech firm like Uber doesn't care much for customers, it has to take pride in being a job creator, a support beam of of the new American economy. Right? This is why this conversation at a session of this week's Recode Code Conference was puzzling:
"The reason Uber could be expensive is because you're not just paying for the car — you're paying for the other dude in the car," Kalanick said at the conference. "When there's no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away."
"The other dude in the car" is a strange way of describing your employees, but that's exactly what employees are in the sham "sharing economy"—just some "other dude" you're matched up with for a fleeting transaction. And for Travis Kalanick, the sooner we can rid ourselves of these other dudes, the more money for us, the dudes we are. The "magic" Travis speaks of is the elimination of the Uber drivers Uber seems so proud of today. Just like the taxi industry Kalanick is currently fighting to dismantle, he would love to someday dismantle the human fleet he's assembling right now—the same swarm of on-demand drivers he's using to battle Big Taxi.
Realizing the consequence of his words, maybe, Kalanick tweeted the following after his conversation with Recode's Kara Swisher:
Drivers on @uber_nyc making $90k/yr Driverless car is a multi-decade transition. Let's take a breath and I'll see you in the year 2035
— travis kalanick (@travisk) May 28, 2014
Even if it does take decades for robot cars to supplant humans behind the wheel, the fact remains: Uber is a company with a decades-long vision for its business. And it's a business that's making taxis obsolete today, and people obsolete tomorrow.