Digital Disruption

It has been argued since the Luddites
that man has been in opposition with machines. They were going to: run our lives; lose our jobs; or just control us. This dystopian view perpetuated by George Orwell’s 1984 has filtered down to London’s Black Cab trade.

A simple question: Have computers obviated the need for The Knowledge and are they the latest assault on the trade’s traditions?

[T]he minute you fire-up a sat-nav or use a navigational app on your smart phone the Capital’s 25,000 streets and many of its places of interest are available at the touch of a digit.

And yet in contrast cabbies have spent 4 years learning how to get from A-B and learned all the points of interest along the route.

Do passengers feel more confident being driven by someone who’s invested time, and money, to ensure he – or she – knows where they are going; rather than a driver who takes machine-based directions?

The first point to recognise is that for most cities in the world cabbies are transient (a job undertaken before something better turns up) often undertaken by people with a limited grasp of the local language or geography.

The time it takes to complete The Knowledge ensuring those gaining that coveted green badge not only know their way round London, but have had ample time to gain a comprehensive grasp of the local lingo.

We are now steeped in a world of technological wonders: Uber, Maax, Hailo, Get-Taxi, and Navigation Master. But passengers often give the wrong destination, confuse street names, have preferred routes, or just change their minds.

More probably a street-hail just doesn’t give you time to input the relevant destination data.

The threat to what we regard as the world’s finest cab service comes, not from clever algorithms written by geniuses in California, apps and the like promote and give us work, the threat is lack of enforcement from the very authorities set up to protect cabbies and public alike.

Thirty-years ago it was predicted that machines would do all the work enabling man to work shorter hours and retire early. In reality it had had the opposite effect. We just have more tools at our fingertips.

Photo: London Black Cab by James Barrett (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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