Interview: Federico Pistono, Author of “Robots Will Steal Your Job But That’s OK”

Photo taken by Sabrina Conforti

The author of “Robots will steal your job, but that’s OK,” is taking it to the next level. Back in January we spoke with the computer scientist/artist/social activist, Federico Pistono, about how automation is changing the economic landscape, making higher education increasingly essential to be competitive. His book, which is on pre-order right now and will be released this November, questions the premise that today’s widespread unemployment is necessarily a symptom of the economic downturn and suggests it may be a sign that we’re being pushed to an economic choke point by technology unprecedented throughout history. How do we know it will be at once a thought-provoking, inspiring and more than a bit unnerving book? Just take a look at the edited (and much shorter) version of our interview with Pistono.

On the verge of his book release, Pistono has traveled from his home in Verona, Italy to attend the Graduate Student Program at Singularity University. We spoke with him about his experience here so far, and how the SU environment is shaping the way he thinks about the future.

Why did you choose to attend SU?

I spent the past 6 years of my life trying to make a positive impact in the world. I started two non-profits, one cooperative, and a social movement. We organized conferences on sustainability, fought for human rights, collected signatures to push for policies that promoted transparency in government, freedom of speech, environmentally conscious decisions, public health, we helped shape new economic models and build technologies for energy production, recycling, water
harvesting, sustainable organic food production, and much more.

They were intense, fun, and socially rewarding years. But I realized that without substantial financial investments and strong connections, I could only have a so much of an impact. I thought Singularity University would allow me to take it to the next level, and tangibly help more than a billion people in 10 years or less. That is my goal.

How has the session (so far) supported or challenged your conclusions in “Robots…”?

I had long discussions with many of the students, teaching fellows, and speakers that came to visit. This really helped me a lot. It was a perfect testing ground to see if my thesis was fallacious, if there were things that I had not considered, or something that I misinterpreted. I took note of the conversations that we had and advice I received, which I integrate in the final draft of the book. The Graduate Study Program will end on August 26, so the release of “Robots will steal your job, but that’s OK” on November 5 seems to go well with the timing.

Just yesterday, we had Andrew McAfee speaking, author of the book “Race Against the Machine”, which I read back in October of last year. I agreed with his analysis, but I was very discontent with his proposed solutions, that lead me to write my own book on the subject, to try and give a different perspective. I had lunch with him and discussed in details some of the issues involved in part 3 of my book (solutions). We agreed on many things, but sometimes we seemed to be talking past each other, as if two different world have collided. It was very interesting.

How do you think SU can/will/should help bring some of the changes you mention in your book?

SU’s mission is to help 1+ billion people in 10 years or less. Many seem to be very supportive of the Open Source, DIY innovators, hacker movements, and anything else that could help people live better lives. I think we have many goals in common, and by investing and promoting in activities that empowers groups of individuals to become more self-reliant, more resilient, and more cooperative, we can help humanity move forward in the right direction.

[image credits: Sabrina Conforti]
video: Federico Pistono

Peter Murray
Peter Murray
Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.
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