I recently read “The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment” by Martin Ford, and even though I’m already quite familiar with the topics covered, it was sobering to have all of the information together in book form.
Until now I’ve read a few books about the singularity and the threats posed by super-intelligent machines, but that’s all still in the fairly distant future. Rise of the Robots discusses major problems that will arrive within the next 10 and 20 years, and in many cases are already happening: Automation will soon put a huge proportion of the population out of work permanently and create wealth inequality like we’ve never seen before.
The important take away is that the production of goods is starting to rely only on capital and not on workers, meaning that anyone with a lot of financial resources can set up a factory or a datacenter and produce tons of goods and services with very few employees. This is easily visible when you look at the tiny amount of workers employed by tech giants like Google and Facebook – most of their infrastructure is already automated and requires very little human oversight. It’s very important to remember that the number of new jobs created by automation is a tiny fraction of the jobs being replaced, and not even engineering and science degrees will guarantee a decent job anymore.
One particularly relevant point to me was that the internet itself – ”the great equaliser” - is a great source of inequality. The new digital jobs being created: eBay seller, blogger, YouTuber, indie game developer, etc… are extremely unequal, with only a tiny number of people actually making a decent living doing these. It’s a winner-takes-all situation, but the platform owner always gets his cut.
The book also sold me on universal basic income, as I don’t see any other way things can turn out well once 30% or more of the population is unemployable through no fault of their own. Fast food and transport industries are upcoming targets for automation, and they currently employ a massive number of people. Those jobs are over, and the economy as we know it can’t function without money in the hands of consumers.
Anyway, I strongly recommend the book, especially if you don’t follow tech news and don’t yet realise how for automation has advanced in recent years. It’s an easy read with clear explanations and is not overly technical or longer than it needs to be. There’s a many more eye-opening examples in there that I haven’t mentioned here.