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Computers To Take Human Jobs, Shutdown Global Economy? Get Ford’s Book Free

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Free to download.

I got my copy of The Lights In The Tunnel for free, and now you can too. Martin Ford’s recent book discusses the growing capability of artificial intelligence and robotics to replace workers at all salary levels and what a sharp rise in automation may mean for the global economy. Ford believes that without drastic adjustments to the way the market is structured, automation could bring the whole system crumbling down. In the interest of boosting sales and spreading the message, The Lights In The Tunnel is now being offered free for download as a PDF via its website. As I mentioned upon reviewing the book this past winter, I don’t agree with Ford’s conclusions, but I do think he is one of the few authors spending time exploring the long term and potentially extreme consequences of what automation could mean. That’s important.

Practically every day at Singularity Hub we show you some new amazing feat of automation. Everything from scientists to shish-kabobs is getting a computer or robotic make-over. Yet the global economy still relies mostly upon human labor. What happens when automated systems make up 10%, 25%, 75% of the effective workforce? Some may point to the rise in structural unemployment as a consequence of advances in technology already present today. The Light In the Tunnel proposes that nearer to full-automation, a lack in consumer purchasing power will effectively slow then shut down the global economy. Personally I believe that automated systems will enable an explosive growth in cheap and effective technologies that lead to more workers pursuing creative and cooperative endeavors. Clearly there is room for people with differing opinions here on the Hub. If you’ve been considering these possibilities (and if you haven’t, you should) The Lights In The Tunnel is a good launching point for the discussion. Give it a read, even if it’s only to know why you disagree.

…oh, and if you do like it, help Ford out. Buy the paperback (~$13), or the Kindle version (~$7) to show your support. We need more authors willing to bring critical thinking to discussions about the future.

[image credit: Martin Ford, Acculant Publishing]
[source: Martin Ford]

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52 comments

  • Brian Barnett says:

    I have to agree with you Aaron that Martin Ford’s premise that automation with result in significant unemployment completely ignores the impact automation has had through the entire course of history since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Automation has always resulted in overall increases in productivity, purchasing power, and has driven economic growth that creates jobs. A few advances that were initially seen as a threat to existing jobs include modern farming equipment and production line factories (particularly textile factories). I do agree with Martin Ford that many of the jobs that people hold today will become obsolete. Without a doubt, there will be growing pains involved with the transition of labor from obsolete roles into jobs that haven’t even been envisioned yet. But there have been many people historically who have been concerned when a new technology came that made traditional jobs obsolete, they have been proven short sighted time and time again.

    • Tom Mornini says:

      The difference between then and now is that change is happening at an ever increasing rate.

      Farm workers had time to retrain when human powered agriculture became obsolete. Auto makers had less time, though still enough, when robots began eliminating their jobs.

      At some point, perhaps in the next 5-10 years, this will no longer be the case.

  • Brian Barnett says:

    I have to agree with you Aaron that Martin Ford’s premise that automation with result in significant unemployment completely ignores the impact automation has had through the entire course of history since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Automation has always resulted in overall increases in productivity, purchasing power, and has driven economic growth that creates jobs. A few advances that were initially seen as a threat to existing jobs include modern farming equipment and production line factories (particularly textile factories). I do agree with Martin Ford that many of the jobs that people hold today will become obsolete. Without a doubt, there will be growing pains involved with the transition of labor from obsolete roles into jobs that haven’t even been envisioned yet. But there have been many people historically who have been concerned when a new technology came that made traditional jobs obsolete, they have been proven short sighted time and time again.

    • Tom Mornini says:

      The difference between then and now is that change is happening at an ever increasing rate.

      Farm workers had time to retrain when human powered agriculture became obsolete. Auto makers had less time, though still enough, when robots began eliminating their jobs.

      At some point, perhaps in the next 5-10 years, this will no longer be the case.

  • Desmond says:

    Why can’t the loss of low-wage jobs be a good thing? As long as those unemployed have access to basic needs and education right away, their creativity and ingenuity could be applied to other sectors that won’t be automated as quickly (maybe jobs requiring complex human relations). I don’t know if I believe it myself, but perhaps a movement towards a smaller economy will prompt people to start applying themselves to the social problems our extremely unequal society has. A good example of how not to do this however, is without a decent social net for people to recover and develop new tools (U.S.). The only problem is that those jobs exist now because no one wants to pay for those people’s social net anyway. I guess I don’t see how this will change. Sigh, another utopian ideal

  • Desmond says:

    Why can’t the loss of low-wage jobs be a good thing? As long as those unemployed have access to basic needs and education right away, their creativity and ingenuity could be applied to other sectors that won’t be automated as quickly (maybe jobs requiring complex human relations). I don’t know if I believe it myself, but perhaps a movement towards a smaller economy will prompt people to start applying themselves to the social problems our extremely unequal society has. A good example of how not to do this however, is without a decent social net for people to recover and develop new tools (U.S.). The only problem is that those jobs exist now because no one wants to pay for those people’s social net anyway. I guess I don’t see how this will change. Sigh, another utopian ideal

  • Timothy Busbice says:

    I have read Mr. Ford’s book and I agree – hats off to Mr. Ford for starting to pull together what is to become. I have a new term, the “Ford Fallacy” whereas the basic premise of Mr. Ford’s book is that humans in general and governments in particular will be on top of these changes. It is my premise that our demise will be due to the fact that humans in general and governments in particular are always behind the curve and thus machines will take over and win in the end due to our nature and our inability to react in a timely, forward manner. By the time we wake up to the fact that machines are here and more intelligent, more able to do our jobs, will be when the machines are well in trenched. Our actual salvation maybe in the fact that superior beings won’t waste time with inferior beings and thus they may leap so far ahead as to allow humans to regroup, rebuild a society that is ours, even as an underclass. In any event, as shown in recent history, human and government intervention to avert disaster is only to build fortresses after the damage is done. With superior, inorganic beings on the horizon, the ability to build fortresses may not even be possible.

  • Timothy Busbice says:

    I have read Mr. Ford’s book and I agree – hats off to Mr. Ford for starting to pull together what is to become. I have a new term, the “Ford Fallacy” whereas the basic premise of Mr. Ford’s book is that humans in general and governments in particular will be on top of these changes. It is my premise that our demise will be due to the fact that humans in general and governments in particular are always behind the curve and thus machines will take over and win in the end due to our nature and our inability to react in a timely, forward manner. By the time we wake up to the fact that machines are here and more intelligent, more able to do our jobs, will be when the machines are well in trenched. Our actual salvation maybe in the fact that superior beings won’t waste time with inferior beings and thus they may leap so far ahead as to allow humans to regroup, rebuild a society that is ours, even as an underclass. In any event, as shown in recent history, human and government intervention to avert disaster is only to build fortresses after the damage is done. With superior, inorganic beings on the horizon, the ability to build fortresses may not even be possible.

  • Michael 'Skyblaze' Withnall says:

    Does it not occur to anyone that, with near-full automation of all industrial processes, especially with the advent of nanofabrication machines, an economy as we know it may not be necessary? Much as (one of many) Zeitgeist movements intends, with the decentralisation of decision making and manufacture to philanthropic machines, human economy becomes irrelevant – all that remains to be applicable to humans is leisure. Just as money is a promise of goods, with an abundance of goods, and hence no shortage, there is no need for money. Enough for everyone!
    So, assuming social or political collapse does not destroy humanity before science saves it, economy becomes increasingly irrelevant.

    At least, that’s what I think.

  • Matt says:

    He seems to confuse prosperity and currency on a deep level. If machines can do every sort of production better than humans – including maintaining and building the builder-machines – then we’re about to reach post-scarcity affluence, not a death spiral.

    In fact the main danger I can see from super-productive machines is not that everyone would become poorer but that anyone, anywhere would be able to make almost any kind of machine starting with little more than sunlight and software. That could be a mustard gas plant and cruise missile factory just as easily as a fertilizer plant and tractor factory.

    • Tom Mornini says:

      To your first point: Post-scarcity is the eventual solution to the “problem”, but between now and then it’s going to rough on those left behind.

      Second point: Wanting something built, even if you can build anything for free, is not the same as knowing how to build it. But your point stands: there be dragons in the future. :-)

      • Matt says:

        The examples early in his book are of how agriculture, manufacturing, and service jobs regardless of skill and education are all vulnerable to automation. What important workers are irreplaceable by machines and going to be lording it over the rest of us peasants when we’re jobless and trying to buy their labor? The only groups he specifically names as doing stuff after the robots take over are authors, artists, entertainers, and entrepreneurs (presumably in art and entertainment since no other fields of note are unrobotized).

        On page 220, he addresses the post-scarcity argument in a very unsatisfying way. One of his arguments is that health care and housing will remain expensive even as the prices of manufactured goods (said manufacturing no longer employing humans) plummets. But constructing housing is just a kind of manufacturing, and earlier in the book he was making the case that medical care would be automated too.

        His second argument against post-scarcity is that future products will still have intellectual property rights. It will therefore be impossible to reproduce future products at the minuscule marginal cost that the jobless can afford. Someone should tell him about Bittorrent.

        The last counter-argument is that advanced nanotechnology that can imitate a Star Trek replicator is far in the future and robots that dominate the economy will be here first. In fact the whole anti-post-scarcity argument seems to address a nanotechnology strawman. We don’t need nanotechnology to provide buildings, legal documents, and medical treatments in the future any more than we do now. Just replace the human workers with robots, as he’s predicted for 200+ pages, and you get the post scarcity world without any nanotech miracles. If there’s no labor involved anywhere in the production chain the marginal cost of production for a TV should be the same whether it came from nanomagic or a macroscopic manufacturing process.

        Finally, since he’s failed to mention any essential kinds of jobs or services that won’t be robotized, I wonder why he even bothers with his elaborate scheme to turn a post scarcity world into a historical theme park reenacting a market economy. The only aspect of the market economy he sees as irreplaceable is consumers with money to spend. But if that’s all that’s left, there is no *there* there. You’re just preserving a few visible aspects of a system that no longer serves a useful purpose. It’s like trying to get society to embrace the internal combustion horse as an alternative to the automobile.

        I actually do think that the majority of jobs now in existence could be automated this century. I agree that it’s probably going to be very painful for a lot of people before we approach a closed-cycle robotic economy. The rest of it I disagree with so extensively that I’d probably need to write my own book to voice it all.

        • Martin Ford says:

          Hi, This is the author.

          I find your idea of a post-scarcity economy interesting, but i really wonder how you think it will emerge.

          You say that the intermediate phase is going to be “very painful for a lot of people”. I think that vastly underestimates it.

          You cannot escape the reality that our current economy and society demand that people have an income and use most of it to pay for fixed costs such as housing. If unemployment becomes overwhelming, we would be looking at the total breakdown of the economy, the financial system and very likley our political institutions.

          You seem to assume that your ideal
          post-scarcity economy would emerge from that destruction. Why do you assume that? Surely it’s more likely that something far more distopian will emerge.

          I honestly doubt that you could even explain your vision in a way that most average people could understand it.

          Do you really think it is a good bet to allow the current system to completely collapse and then assume something better will somehow rise from the ashes? Who will lead that transition? You? Seems like an awfully big risk to me….

          Here are some of my thoughts on this issue. Admittedly, my focus in on the short or intermediate term. But if the short term is catastrophic, then does the long term really matter?

          http://econfuture.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/technology-globalization-consumer-spending-and-purchasing-power-some-thoughts/

          A post-scarcity economy is, I think, a far-future idea. Maybe we will get there, but how? You have to look at things in terms of the real world and the real political enviroment.

          • Robert Searle says:

            I think the answers about unemployment, and automation are not as difficult as they appear if we try, and take the new evolving project of Transfinancial Economics Project seriously. Work as we understand it would be gradually phased out, and other forms of employment
            could easily be created because in TFE .New non-repayable money could be electronically created where, and when necessary taking into account inflation, and the business capacity to produce new products, and services. Moreover, if necessary, instant electronic subsidies, and possible superflexible electronic price controls could be used without seriously damaging the profitability of companies producing goods created by labour and/or by automation…

          • Matt says:

            Hi Martin,

            Thanks for responding. I’m still having a hard time understanding why you are looking so hard to preserve a market economy indefinitely, even after the point where it’s obsolete and the government has to take over the lion’s share of consumer “earning.”

            I agree that if technological advancement proceeds fast enough to substantially increase structural unemployment — and this is likely — that societies will have to increase spending on social safety nets for some time or inevitably pay in other ways (crime, police, prisons, medical epidemics…)

            But at some point, certainly by the time 50% structural unemployment has arrived, there won’t be any need in (developed, at least) nations for the jobless to riot or turn to crime to get their way. They’ll be the largest voting bloc and will just vote for it.

            Also, if we do get to the point where art and entertainment are the main non-robotized jobs, markets and currency as a medium of exchange seem well nigh obsolete. Rather than the government taking money from robot owners to give to people so they can buy more products from robot owners, we can all just be robot owners. It won’t be very difficult if the robots themselves are building the robots.

            Sure, it will destroy the market economy if most goods, services, and real property starts suffering deflation like much of the industrialized world’s economy did for most of the 19th century. But if people still get food, water, housing, manufactured goods, and medical care, it doesn’t sound like a disaster for most people. Mortgage lenders can choose to adjust asset values and repayment schedules to the deflationary reality, or people can walk away from their mortgages and live in new robot-built housing on cheap formerly unoccupied land. The very notion of land ownership probably needs to be adjusted since it is one of the few things robots can’t make more of.

            In fact the robotic transcendence of the market economy seems like an elegant solution to an otherwise intractable problem: what to do about the deep debts and deficit spending so common in Western governments? If futurists betting on robots are correct, by the time the interest payments can’t be met conventionally the global financial balance sheet will be just about obsolete anyway. If the robo-economy is coming then deficit spending now is brilliant rather than suicidal: currency hyperinflation won’t matter in the end because international lending and market exchange of goods will become as politically irrelevant as the pope’s blessing.

          • Joseph DeLassus says:

            I’ve been following this issue of technological unemployment since the 80s and have been dismayed that hardly anyone mention it despite it’s relevance to critical forces shaping the future. The economists dismiss it with the old Luddite story, the media generally ignores it and the politicians dare not mention it. Sometimes it almost seem like a conspiracy of silence. Hopefully the book will focus some attention on this most important issue that is already upon us.

  • Matt says:

    He seems to confuse prosperity and currency on a deep level. If machines can do every sort of production better than humans – including maintaining and building the builder-machines – then we’re about to reach post-scarcity affluence, not a death spiral.

    In fact the main danger I can see from super-productive machines is not that everyone would become poorer but that anyone, anywhere would be able to make almost any kind of machine starting with little more than sunlight and software. That could be a mustard gas plant and cruise missile factory just as easily as a fertilizer plant and tractor factory.

    • Tom Mornini says:

      To your first point: Post-scarcity is the eventual solution to the “problem”, but between now and then it’s going to rough on those left behind.

      Second point: Wanting something built, even if you can build anything for free, is not the same as knowing how to build it. But your point stands: there be dragons in the future. :-)

      • Matt says:

        The examples early in his book are of how agriculture, manufacturing, and service jobs regardless of skill and education are all vulnerable to automation. What important workers are irreplaceable by machines and going to be lording it over the rest of us peasants when we’re jobless and trying to buy their labor? The only groups he specifically names as doing stuff after the robots take over are authors, artists, entertainers, and entrepreneurs (presumably in art and entertainment since no other fields of note are unrobotized).

        On page 220, he addresses the post-scarcity argument in a very unsatisfying way. One of his arguments is that health care and housing will remain expensive even as the prices of manufactured goods (said manufacturing no longer employing humans) plummets. But constructing housing is just a kind of manufacturing, and earlier in the book he was making the case that medical care would be automated too.

        His second argument against post-scarcity is that future products will still have intellectual property rights. It will therefore be impossible to reproduce future products at the minuscule marginal cost that the jobless can afford. Someone should tell him about Bittorrent.

        The last counter-argument is that advanced nanotechnology that can imitate a Star Trek replicator is far in the future and robots that dominate the economy will be here first. In fact the whole anti-post-scarcity argument seems to address a nanotechnology strawman. We don’t need nanotechnology to provide buildings, legal documents, and medical treatments in the future any more than we do now. Just replace the human workers with robots, as he’s predicted for 200+ pages, and you get the post scarcity world without any nanotech miracles. If there’s no labor involved anywhere in the production chain the marginal cost of production for a TV should be the same whether it came from nanomagic or a macroscopic manufacturing process.

        Finally, since he’s failed to mention any essential kinds of jobs or services that won’t be robotized, I wonder why he even bothers with his elaborate scheme to turn a post scarcity world into a historical theme park reenacting a market economy. The only aspect of the market economy he sees as irreplaceable is consumers with money to spend. But if that’s all that’s left, there is no *there* there. You’re just preserving a few visible aspects of a system that no longer serves a useful purpose. It’s like trying to get society to embrace the internal combustion horse as an alternative to the automobile.

        I actually do think that the majority of jobs now in existence could be automated this century. I agree that it’s probably going to be very painful for a lot of people before we approach a closed-cycle robotic economy. The rest of it I disagree with so extensively that I’d probably need to write my own book to voice it all.

        • Martin Ford says:

          Hi, This is the author.

          I find your idea of a post-scarcity economy interesting, but i really wonder how you think it will emerge.

          You say that the intermediate phase is going to be “very painful for a lot of people”. I think that vastly underestimates it.

          You cannot escape the reality that our current economy and society demand that people have an income and use most of it to pay for fixed costs such as housing. If unemployment becomes overwhelming, we would be looking at the total breakdown of the economy, the financial system and very likley our political institutions.

          You seem to assume that your ideal
          post-scarcity economy would emerge from that destruction. Why do you assume that? Surely it’s more likely that something far more distopian will emerge.

          I honestly doubt that you could even explain your vision in a way that most average people could understand it.

          Do you really think it is a good bet to allow the current system to completely collapse and then assume something better will somehow rise from the ashes? Who will lead that transition? You? Seems like an awfully big risk to me….

          Here are some of my thoughts on this issue. Admittedly, my focus in on the short or intermediate term. But if the short term is catastrophic, then does the long term really matter?

          http://econfuture.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/technology-globalization-consumer-spending-and-purchasing-power-some-thoughts/

          A post-scarcity economy is, I think, a far-future idea. Maybe we will get there, but how? You have to look at things in terms of the real world and the real political enviroment.

          • Robert Searle says:

            I think the answers about unemployment, and automation are not as difficult as they appear if we try, and take the new evolving project of Transfinancial Economics Project seriously. Work as we understand it would be gradually phased out, and other forms of employment
            could easily be created because in TFE .New non-repayable money could be electronically created where, and when necessary taking into account inflation, and the business capacity to produce new products, and services. Moreover, if necessary, instant electronic subsidies, and possible superflexible electronic price controls could be used without seriously damaging the profitability of companies producing goods created by labour and/or by automation…

          • Matt says:

            Hi Martin,

            Thanks for responding. I’m still having a hard time understanding why you are looking so hard to preserve a market economy indefinitely, even after the point where it’s obsolete and the government has to take over the lion’s share of consumer “earning.”

            I agree that if technological advancement proceeds fast enough to substantially increase structural unemployment — and this is likely — that societies will have to increase spending on social safety nets for some time or inevitably pay in other ways (crime, police, prisons, medical epidemics…)

            But at some point, certainly by the time 50% structural unemployment has arrived, there won’t be any need in (developed, at least) nations for the jobless to riot or turn to crime to get their way. They’ll be the largest voting bloc and will just vote for it.

            Also, if we do get to the point where art and entertainment are the main non-robotized jobs, markets and currency as a medium of exchange seem well nigh obsolete. Rather than the government taking money from robot owners to give to people so they can buy more products from robot owners, we can all just be robot owners. It won’t be very difficult if the robots themselves are building the robots.

            Sure, it will destroy the market economy if most goods, services, and real property starts suffering deflation like much of the industrialized world’s economy did for most of the 19th century. But if people still get food, water, housing, manufactured goods, and medical care, it doesn’t sound like a disaster for most people. Mortgage lenders can choose to adjust asset values and repayment schedules to the deflationary reality, or people can walk away from their mortgages and live in new robot-built housing on cheap formerly unoccupied land. The very notion of land ownership probably needs to be adjusted since it is one of the few things robots can’t make more of.

            In fact the robotic transcendence of the market economy seems like an elegant solution to an otherwise intractable problem: what to do about the deep debts and deficit spending so common in Western governments? If futurists betting on robots are correct, by the time the interest payments can’t be met conventionally the global financial balance sheet will be just about obsolete anyway. If the robo-economy is coming then deficit spending now is brilliant rather than suicidal: currency hyperinflation won’t matter in the end because international lending and market exchange of goods will become as politically irrelevant as the pope’s blessing.

          • Joseph DeLassus says:

            I’ve been following this issue of technological unemployment since the 80s and have been dismayed that hardly anyone mention it despite it’s relevance to critical forces shaping the future. The economists dismiss it with the old Luddite story, the media generally ignores it and the politicians dare not mention it. Sometimes it almost seem like a conspiracy of silence. Hopefully the book will focus some attention on this most important issue that is already upon us.

  • kevin says:

    His position doesn’t even make sense. If wage-workers can no longer earn wages, the owners of the automated capital can still turn their industrial production toward providing goods for eachother. The economy itself wouldn’t collapse, it would just become inhospitable for wage workers.

  • kevin says:

    His position doesn’t even make sense. If wage-workers can no longer earn wages, the owners of the automated capital can still turn their industrial production toward providing goods for eachother. The economy itself wouldn’t collapse, it would just become inhospitable for wage workers.

    • Khannea Suntzu says:

      Essentially – if a sizeable percentage of the world would be banned (or utterly ineffective) from making an income, wouldn’t the result be favellization of most of the world?

      Now if those in power would see this coming, they’d be rightfully concerned with uprisings, with democracy and with empowered voters. I can almost map out what those in power (i.e. those with too much money) would do. It would entail a set of media strategies, populism, crackdowns, austerity and.. oh..

      Oh… wait…

  • Mike says:

    I don’t disagree that there will be employment dislocation due to technological change, and that this dislocation would accelerate as technological change accelerates. That’s nothing new.

    Massive increases in productivity brought about by AGI would make society far wealthier. This increase in wealth will far outweigh problems the caused by rapidly shifting employment needs. Consequently, far more resources would become available for retraining (and augmentation), and people wouldn’t have to work as much.

    I continue to believe that there will be more opportunities than ever due to new technologies and the nearly infinite number of ways to combine and use them creatively to satisfy human needs and desires.

    The #1 threat to employment this side of the singularity is SOCIALISM, not the rise of AGI. It’s happening NOW as the US slides towards socialism under Obama.

  • Mike says:

    I don’t disagree that there will be employment dislocation due to technological change, and that this dislocation would accelerate as technological change accelerates. That’s nothing new.

    Massive increases in productivity brought about by AGI would make society far wealthier. This increase in wealth will far outweigh problems the caused by rapidly shifting employment needs. Consequently, far more resources would become available for retraining (and augmentation), and people wouldn’t have to work as much.

    I continue to believe that there will be more opportunities than ever due to new technologies and the nearly infinite number of ways to combine and use them creatively to satisfy human needs and desires.

    The #1 threat to employment this side of the singularity is SOCIALISM, not the rise of AGI. It’s happening NOW as the US slides towards socialism under Obama.

  • CKofAZ says:

    With increasing automation and rising standard of living the form of government that will be required will be much different than anything we have today. Socialism may be to the right at that point. With food, housing, clothing, energy, and eduction are provided at virtually no cost and no need for the public to support the government via taxes a whole new game will be played with a whole new set of problems.

  • CKofAZ says:

    With increasing automation and rising standard of living the form of government that will be required will be much different than anything we have today. Socialism may be to the right at that point. With food, housing, clothing, energy, and eduction are provided at virtually no cost and no need for the public to support the government via taxes a whole new game will be played with a whole new set of problems.

  • Wal says:

    I totally agree with Mr. Martin. and I have been thinking the same before I even hear about his book.

    It’s surprising that some people are still arguing. Forget what automation did in the past, it’s quite different this time. Computers are getting smarter and they will gradually do more things that currently require human intelligence. There’s no way every one of us will change careers or new jobs will be created. Actually, I’m sure eventually computers will even compete in the areas that we think are safe like entertainment and art.

    Sadly, it’s obvious that many people will only believe when the disaster actually happens, and it will be too late then.

    It has never been more important to think about the future like now. If you don’t think about the future now, you might not survive tomorrow.

  • Wal says:

    I totally agree with Mr. Martin. and I have been thinking the same before I even hear about his book.

    It’s surprising that some people are still arguing. Forget what automation did in the past, it’s quite different this time. Computers are getting smarter and they will gradually do more things that currently require human intelligence. There’s no way every one of us will change careers or new jobs will be created. Actually, I’m sure eventually computers will even compete in the areas that we think are safe like entertainment and art.

    Sadly, it’s obvious that many people will only believe when the disaster actually happens, and it will be too late then.

    It has never been more important to think about the future like now. If you don’t think about the future now, you might not survive tomorrow.

  • Ali says:

    Hi Matt, Those were some brilliant rejoinders. Thank you for that.

  • Ali says:

    Hi Matt, Those were some brilliant rejoinders. Thank you for that.

  • Joseph DeLassus says:

    We probably will have a respite from the effects of advancing technology on employment as the baby boom starts to retire in great numbers over the next several years. Still the issue will not be resolved by that temporary demographic trend.

  • Joseph DeLassus says:

    We probably will have a respite from the effects of advancing technology on employment as the baby boom starts to retire in great numbers over the next several years. Still the issue will not be resolved by that temporary demographic trend.

  • Valkyrie Ice says:

    Having just finished this book let me add this to the discussion.

    I do not believe that a COMPLETE collapse of the economy will occur, but even a 50% collapse will result in massive suffering. That suffering will indeed spark changes in the entire social structure, economic structure, and political structure, but it is also likely to spark massive violence. The civil unrest in Russia following the collapse, and even the civil unrest in the US during the 60’s might be a good example. While humanity itself will survive, a lot of unnecessary loss of human life is likely to occur.

    The thing to understand is that the market, in all it’s permutations, is a product of two distinct human biological drives. The drive to survive (needs) and the drive to seek social status to improve mating success (wants) Everything that is created by humans is for one of those two drives. Food, Shelter, Medical care, Security, and Education are NEEDS. Everything else is a status symbol of some sort and thus a WANT.

    We have an economy based on physical wealth, i.e. material goods. Since needs are currently seen as “marketable commodities” they are as subject to the drive to seek status as everything else, and thus poverty exists as the lowest social pecking order. So long as the economy of scarcity exists, and needs remain a commodity, then we will never “conquer” poverty.

    An economy of abundance will divorce the market entirely from NEEDS, leaving only a market of WANTS. It will do this by removing material goods from our concepts of wealth, thus removing material goods from our status seeking behavior.

    As I see it, an economy of scarcity cannot be sustained in an economy of abundance, but because we as humans are driven by status symbols, those who have alpha status will invariably seek to hang on to those symbols as strongly as possible. That is the essence of our current situation.

    The sole solution that avoids massive social upset, including violence, is one which weans humanity off of using material goods as status symbols, which means using government to provide all human needs while transitioning to a economy of abundance (100% automation) as quickly as possible. This isn’t “preserving the forms for historical sake”, it’s simply enabling a transition to take place with less disruption and violence, and will quickly translate into a new economic model based on non-material wealth if done properly, via “cash cards” especially if Mr Ford’s “educational incentives” are used.

    Simply put, while I am not as pessimistic as Mr Ford, I recognize that his “solutions” are not PERMANENT SOLUTIONS, but Transitional solutions, intended to aid in the shift from a material “Scarce” economy to a non-material “Abundant” economy.

    Now, as an artist, I have NO CONFIDENCE that my job will remain untouched, as art is indeed a vast collection of “rules of thumb” which are open to computer automation. I use a program called manga studio, which automates an enormous amount of the drawing process. I can use 3d models to position characters, objects, even complete back grounds, so the probability that a computer could soon analyse my art style, drawing techniques and sense of aesthetics and use those to create a comic or animation based on my entering storyboard data is not far fetched at all.

  • Valkyrie Ice says:

    Having just finished this book let me add this to the discussion.

    I do not believe that a COMPLETE collapse of the economy will occur, but even a 50% collapse will result in massive suffering. That suffering will indeed spark changes in the entire social structure, economic structure, and political structure, but it is also likely to spark massive violence. The civil unrest in Russia following the collapse, and even the civil unrest in the US during the 60’s might be a good example. While humanity itself will survive, a lot of unnecessary loss of human life is likely to occur.

    The thing to understand is that the market, in all it’s permutations, is a product of two distinct human biological drives. The drive to survive (needs) and the drive to seek social status to improve mating success (wants) Everything that is created by humans is for one of those two drives. Food, Shelter, Medical care, Security, and Education are NEEDS. Everything else is a status symbol of some sort and thus a WANT.

    We have an economy based on physical wealth, i.e. material goods. Since needs are currently seen as “marketable commodities” they are as subject to the drive to seek status as everything else, and thus poverty exists as the lowest social pecking order. So long as the economy of scarcity exists, and needs remain a commodity, then we will never “conquer” poverty.

    An economy of abundance will divorce the market entirely from NEEDS, leaving only a market of WANTS. It will do this by removing material goods from our concepts of wealth, thus removing material goods from our status seeking behavior.

    As I see it, an economy of scarcity cannot be sustained in an economy of abundance, but because we as humans are driven by status symbols, those who have alpha status will invariably seek to hang on to those symbols as strongly as possible. That is the essence of our current situation.

    The sole solution that avoids massive social upset, including violence, is one which weans humanity off of using material goods as status symbols, which means using government to provide all human needs while transitioning to a economy of abundance (100% automation) as quickly as possible. This isn’t “preserving the forms for historical sake”, it’s simply enabling a transition to take place with less disruption and violence, and will quickly translate into a new economic model based on non-material wealth if done properly, via “cash cards” especially if Mr Ford’s “educational incentives” are used.

    Simply put, while I am not as pessimistic as Mr Ford, I recognize that his “solutions” are not PERMANENT SOLUTIONS, but Transitional solutions, intended to aid in the shift from a material “Scarce” economy to a non-material “Abundant” economy.

    Now, as an artist, I have NO CONFIDENCE that my job will remain untouched, as art is indeed a vast collection of “rules of thumb” which are open to computer automation. I use a program called manga studio, which automates an enormous amount of the drawing process. I can use 3d models to position characters, objects, even complete back grounds, so the probability that a computer could soon analyse my art style, drawing techniques and sense of aesthetics and use those to create a comic or animation based on my entering storyboard data is not far fetched at all.

  • Attila says:

    This is a lot of the same issues Jacque Fresco talks about from the Venus Project, as robotic automation become the favorable choice, jobs will disappear since service jobs is the main type of job available, other types of jobs might start to grow, but it wont be enough for 6 billion to keep busy, so work hours would have to decrease to let in more workers, or provide an income for all to live off of, or better yet just get rid of the monetary system all together and work on a resource based economy.

  • Attila says:

    This is a lot of the same issues Jacque Fresco talks about from the Venus Project, as robotic automation become the favorable choice, jobs will disappear since service jobs is the main type of job available, other types of jobs might start to grow, but it wont be enough for 6 billion to keep busy, so work hours would have to decrease to let in more workers, or provide an income for all to live off of, or better yet just get rid of the monetary system all together and work on a resource based economy.

  • Srabble says:

    per economists, global demographic trends will reduce the labor pool and adversely effect GDP growth. how much do the trends discussed by Martin Ford offset the supposed crisis? don’t less jobs/less humans help address the problems of resource depletion and environmental degradation? Roger the disruption of all these trends, but isn’t their nexus an overall gain? Is there anywhere I can look for a serious treatment of how they intersect?

  • charles000 says:

    This is a dichotomy that has been brewing for a long time, which many authors, long before Ray Kurzweil or Jayme Canton began giving their “optimistic” futures scenarios, have been quietly recognizing and articulating (myself included).

    A very harsh reality is fast approaching, in that it’s not just accelerating resource consumption and population growth mapped against a planetary civilization life support capacity which has fixed limits, but that the relevancy of large sectors of current populations are already crossing that forbidden boundary that no one wants to openly discuss, but many are already aware of.

    No, this is not politically correct, nor does it bode well with many of the futurism events and publications I have personally been involved with, but as I often suggest in my various examinations of this impending (and already occurring) paradox, “truth has a way of becoming manifest over time”.

    Planetary scale sustainable equilibrium is very much dependant on the economic feasibility of supporting the populations who exist upon it, and yet, even at this very moment, economic health is measured in terms of accelerating growth metrics, matched against an ever increasing population which has relatively little or no chance of existing in a world where technology makes their very existence irrelevant.

    Sorry folks . . . that’s just the way it is.

    • Petar Posavec says:

      The thing with diminishing resources and ‘overpopulation’ is mostly coming out ignorance and reliance on a socio-economic (read, ‘monetary’) system that induces artificial scarcity.

      The system is using ‘cheap’/’cost effective’ materials and means of production (rare Earth minerals as well) to drive current economy.
      For over a century now, we had the ability to create/synthesize superior synthetic materials in abundance that would in turn create light years more advanced technology (to top it off, the current economic model intentionally creates technologically INFERIOR products for the purpose of long term profits – which is why you see constant revisions of existing techs on a regular basis coupled with planned obsolescence) not to mention necessary materials needed for tools, construction (you name it) using least amount of energy and raw matter in the first place.

      Recycling tech was perfected in late 19th century (giving us ability to recycle heavy metals in addition to other materials – such as dis-assembly of existing matter into base elements and reconstitute it into something else, or convert it into alternative energy sources).
      The entire world could have transitioned to Geothermal for baseload electricity production (along with heating), using Wind as supplement – by 1929.

      The globe has been producing enough food to feed 10 billion people on an annual basis for just over 30 years (using outdated agriculture).
      For 50 years now, we had the ability to create fully automated vertical farms using hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics to grow food regardless of weather conditions, make those structures energy efficient and design them to also produce energy.
      1 acre sized fully automated vertical farm 44 stories high can feed just over 612 000 people (with 10 different vegetables per person on a daily basis).
      At least 50% of food is intentionally DESTROYED because it cannot be sold, or its ‘cost prohibitive’ (or cost inefficient) to ship it to those who need it.

      If every person on the planet had an apartment 1000 feet size-wise, you could fit the ENTIRE population of Earth (all 7 billion) into a state of Texas (with remainder of the planet being vacant).

      We live on a planet that is 71% covered in water.
      For over 100 years we had the technology to extract potable water from the sea.
      And in the recent 50 years we had atmospheric water generators capable of extracting water from … the atmosphere.
      If every person on the planet was as wasteful with water as the average American, we’d need to extract 0.03% of water from the atmosphere on a daily basis, all of which regenerates once every 8 to 9 days naturally.

      Today, we have the ability to automate 75% of the global workforce with the technology we have right now.
      In less than 10 years it would be possible to automate about 99% (or VERY close to 100%) of the global population.
      But, we mainly need to automate food, water, housing, electricity and transportation (all of which can be done today).

      Money became useless over 100 years ago when it stopped representing resources.

      Do the math people and educate yourselves.

      • Petar Posavec says:

        One other thing I wanted to say is that most of production industry today is ALREADY automated.
        And we had for some time now machines that make other machines, maintain themselves, etc.

        Technology/resources/energy is the least of our issues – human behavior (which is shaped by the environment we live in) is, and that CAN be altered with relevant general education of the global population (which in turn would negate the ‘need’ for governments and people in positions of power in the first place – who incidentally are actually useless as is, seeing how we never lived in a democracy and for the moment most of the planet has a poor illusion of one which is nothing more than glorified dictatorship spread out between select group of people who share common interests – same thing as having 1 man in power, only now you ‘think’ that this distribution of power will somehow reduce corruption [which is running rampant throughout the globe]).

        You also continuously seek justice in a system which is fundamentally unjust.

        Technological ability, resources and energy alone won’t fix the problems.
        As I said, today we have access to extremely advanced technologies (not the pitiful child toys currently in wide spread use which aren’t even being used properly) that could easily be used to fix most worlds problems, but we need to educate the population first and foremost – otherwise, the ‘transition’ will likely entail some horrifying experiences for most of the population.

  • Bikkhu says:

    Well, three years later and structural unemployment is here, almost 30% young people unemployed and no one (except Martin Ford) can see the true cause. FED is trying to fight the change with QE, which doesn’t help but stopped the change (temporarily). That’s the (r)Evolution, baby – how sing Pink Floyd in Wall. No positive effects for 90% people, some for 9% and rest for 1% richest. The employment is at 30 years low, company profits at all time high. It already started, hold your hats, we’re going to go downhill fast cause no one seems to do anything which could help.

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