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Lyft exec: Humans won't lose their jobs because of self-driving vehicles

·Chief Tech Correspondent
Lyft VP of Product Tali Rapaport says drivers needn’t worry about artificial intelligence taking over their jobs. Source: Lyft
Lyft VP of Product Tali Rapaport says drivers needn’t worry about artificial intelligence taking over their jobs. Source: Lyft

Despite all the talk of nascent technologies displacing human labor, Lyft Vice President of Product Tali Rapaport says Lyft drivers needn’t worry about becoming obsolete.

“Given how much we plan to grow as a company, the drivers that we have on our platform today, that number is never going down,” Rapaport told Yahoo Finance during an interview this week at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, held in Orlando, Florida.

Lyft does not disclose how many individuals drive for the service, but the popular ride-hailing company did say it gives over 1 million rides a day across 48 states. And although Lyft has yet to expand beyond the U.S., that could very well change in the near future. According to a report in September from The Information, the company could expand into Canada by the end of 2017, and could operate in Australia and New Zealand after that. The company is also reportedly close to hiring an initial public offering advisory firm that could help position it for an eventual IPO.

Like other Silicon Valley companies such as Uber and Waymo, Lyft is investing heavily in self-driving vehicle technology. In September, it announced a new partnership with Ford Motor (F) to develop and test self-driving vehicles and technology, with the goal of eventually putting Ford self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s network. In other words, one day in the not-so-distant future, don’t be surprised if you end up hailing a Lyft, and the Ford car that arrives is driving all on its own.

How human drivers and A.I. could work together

It’s that kind of brisk-moving innovation that has some people worried.

In January 2016, the World Economic Forum released a report predicting AI, machine learning, and other technologies will spur a so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that replaces 5.1 million jobs by 2020. According to the report, jobs across every industry and every geographical region in 15 of the world’s largest economies — Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, the UK and the U.S., among others — will somehow be affected.

But the Fourth Industrial Revolution won’t be all doom and gloom for Lyft drivers.

“We do see real opportunities for drivers to climb up the value chain,” said Rapaport, who like many technologists, contends new technologies will yield new job opportunities.

Rapaport offered two such hypothetical examples. While a Lyft driver currently drives just one car, she foresees a future where that one driver may help to remotely operate 10 cars in some capacity. Those same drivers may also be able to offer what she calls “value-added services,” or services they could perform in addition to remotely operating Lyft cars, such as offering assistance to Lyft riders, who are young, older or have special needs.

Will the transition be entirely smooth for current Lyft drivers who choose to stay on and step up to their new duties? Maybe, or maybe not. But the message from Lyft is clear: drivers have a future with the company — if they want it.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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