The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future by Martin Ford

Book Description

What will the economy of the future look like? Where will advancing technology, job automation, outsourcing and
globalization lead?  The book directly challenges conventional views of the future and illuminates the danger that lies
ahead if we do not plan for the impact of rapidly advancing technology. It also shows how the economic realities of the
future might offer solutions to issues such as poverty and climate change.

The author recommends that we check out
http://roboticnation.blogspot.com for more information on robotics and its
potential impact on employment and on society.


It first read it seemed the author understood the ramifications of exponential technological growth. Then I saw his graph
on human being's capability of doing routine jobs. The graph basically flat lines, while technology's ability to do "our" jobs
is increasing exponentially. It seems the author is making the same mistake practically all futurists have made in the
past: assuming human beings will basically remain "as is". As Ray Kurzweil sees it, and I tend to agree, we will merge
with our technology and become something more than human beings. There will be no "us" human beings versus
"them" computers. We will be one.

You see this error in visualizing the future in practically every work of science fiction made. Take Star Trek for example.
There we are (human beings) in the 23rd century flying around in warp drive ships with our technological gadgets, many
of which are already in existence today. But what hasn't changed is us. We're still the same frail creatures in 200 years
that we are today. Sorry, but you can't pick and choose the future. Everything will advance due to exponential growth in
technology...including ourselves. So, there will be no future takeover of "our" jobs by machines. They will become a part
of us, and us of them.

Second, why do we even have something called an economy? By definition, economy is the management of finite
resources. I'm sure if we took a poll of who in the world would like a brand new car every three years and free gas for life,
the results would be nearly 100% everyone. But everyone can't have a new car, and everyone can't have free gas for life.
We do not have the resources to provide that. They are finite.

But what if resources weren't finite? What if they were nearly infinite? Would we even need to worry about this thing called
economy? I'm sure many of you see where I'm going with this. What if we had something akin to the replicators on Star
Trek? Done laughing? Good, because it's entirely feasible that we will have the ability to fashion any object we desire out
of the building blocks of atoms within the next 100 years or sooner. Think exponential technological growth. We already
have the ability to manipulate atoms on a basic level, and we have already begun constructing rudimentary
nanomachines. How long before we can create objects at will? Not nearly as long as you think.

My premise is simply this. If there are no "us" human beings versus "them" computer technology...if there is simply "we",
and if technology increases exponentially (which the author agrees is happening), then scarcity of resources will cease
to exist, and subject of the book is a moot point.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
Thank you for your feedback.
Report abuse | Permalink


Comments
Track comments by e-mail
Tracked by 1 customer

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 22, 2011 2:04:21 AM PST
G Goodman says:
You're forgetting one thing though - the tendency of the human race to expand and consume any spare resources. We
will always perpetuate scarcity by increasing our numbers and our consumption per person. That's human nature, and it
ain't changing.
Reply to this post
Permalink | Report abuse | Ignore this customer
2 of 2 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you?   
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 22, 2011 10:47:26 AM PST
Anthony Scolaro says:
Actually, I think Jeff Byrne is spot on.

I also think that I also think that Martin Ford might agree.

I think the problem Martin Ford is trying to address is not the longer term (more than 50 years), but the transition from a
scarcity driven economy to a an economy where scarcity coudl be eliminated.

The transition will be the hardest part. The technology is on glidepath, human culture is not.
Reply to this post
Permalink | Report abuse | Ignore this customer
6 of 6 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you?   
Posted on Mar 3, 2011 2:51:09 AM PST
RobertH says:
I like reading Ray Kurzweil, but "we will merge with our technology?" Who is we? That may be true for a small elite, but it
won't be true for the millions and millions at the bottom. What would be the point?

As American retail goes 80% self-checkout in the next decade, putting another three million people permanently out of
work, what would be the point of embedding cash registers in those people? None. Their work can be done without them
being there, so they're out of the picture entirely.

I know resources are mathematically finite but practically infinite. The bigger constraint is how well we know how to
convert matter into energy and vice-versa in a controlled manner. From building a fire to building a nuclear plant, that's
the bottom line. I'm sure we will eventually achieve Star Trek replicator technology, but that's probably a good 100 years
away.

There's a much bigger problem to deal with in the immediate next-two-decades future. We haven't achieved a replicator
yet, but automation is already creating permanent unemployment. That's why we have such persistently high
unemployment. What are we going to do about that? Most people can't even imagine 40% unemployment, but we could
easily be at that level in 20 years.
Reply to this post
Permalink | Report abuse | Ignore this customer
7 of 7 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you?   
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2011 2:54:59 AM PST
RobertH says:
Precisely, Anthony Scolaro. You understand exactly. How much misery will have to be endured before we come out the
other side? And if we resist making the necessary changes, social unrest could even turn our world upside down.
Reply to this post
Permalink | Report abuse | Ignore this customer
4 of 4 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you?   
Posted on Mar 21, 2011 10:09:33 PM PDT
DDH says:
The problem with Kurzweil's view is that he bases it upon the assumption (paradigm) that biological process, particularly
that which produces mind, correlates in detail with the way computers work. That is, Kurzweil has a garden-variety
engineer's world view, and it only corresponds to living processes in very superficial ways. Kurzweil couldn't be more
wrong.

In truth, we do not know how human thought processes work. We're not even close because we insist on using only
culturally available models (as history shows: imaginary spirits, various kinds of engines and, now, computers of various
wrinkle) and fail to ask the kinds of questions that that peers might ridicule. Note, too, that processor speed is no
panacea.

In fact, we do not know how life works (the mechanism remains elusive) and have no sufficient definition of life (which
hinges on knowing its method of organization and function) because we have no overarching theory of what life is.
Disciplines of the so-called "life sciences" have no common language with which to discuss its various aspects across
its length scales. There should be no surprise that Kurzweil doesn't know of what he so tediously and immodestly
speaks.
Reply to this post
Permalink | Report abuse | Ignore this customer
0 of 1 people think this post adds to the discussion. Do you?   
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2011 1:57:43 PM PDT
Anthony Scolaro says:
DDH, so, I will submit that we do not need a biological equivalent of the mind. I think Ford is at the same point. The
automating equipment does not have to be a biological equivalent. It just has to do some of the job. And through
continuous improvement, it will do more and more for less and less. This is how our computer age has been going for
30 years!
Reply to this post
Permalink | Report abuse | Ignore this customer
Do you think this post adds to the discussion?   
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2011 12:10:30 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 28, 2011 12:11:49 PM PDT
Jeffrey Vanek says:
G Goodman, Would humans necessarily increase their numbers without totalitarian natalist ideologies that insist on
marriage, forbid abortion, contraception, and sex that isn't about reproduction? Under capitalism, there's a clear
imperative: labor creates value, so the cattle (us) must be bred. Marriage is husbandry. Once there's no value in human
labor, there's no imperative to be fruitful and multiply in competition with other nations. Humans will achieve a new level
of freedom. We won't become accustomed to using each other or breed and train ourselves to increase the wealth of
investors.

Mr. Jaynes' review should be taken with a grain of salt for two reasons.

1) He admits he hasn't even read the book -- he only "skimmed" it. If he had read it, he might have discovered that the
author addressed his objections quite thoroughly.

2) His argument is essentially, "These types of problems have always worked themselves out in the past. Therefore, they
will always work themselves out in the future." This argument, of course, is nonsense. When conditions change,
outcomes can differ.

The changing condition that this book focuses on is the fact that machines are fast approaching humans in terms of
*mental* labor capacity, not just *physical* labor capacity. In the historical examples that Mr. Jaynes cites, machines took
over much of our physical labor so that we were then free to turn to more valuable mental labor. But once machines take
over much of our mental labor, then what do we turn to for employment?

A Pearcy - For point 1 I think you substantially overestimate the ability of computers to take over jobs. I can think of no high
skill jobs where a computer is likely to replace a person and few low skill jobs either. Plumber, carpenter, grocer,
mechanic - people will not be replaced. A person is a remarkably flexible entity - a computer is really only good at very
narrow tasks, like toll collecting and call centers, where tasks can be very strictly defined. So we lose those jobs, which
were basically worthless, to the machines. So what.



For point 2 you are still missing the essential point. You presume that machines may reach the point where they replace
humans in most jobs. I don't see it, but lets assume that it happens that machines are able to cheaply replace all the
functions that people currently do. In that case, all the basics of life will be available very cheaply and people will live in
relative abundance even if they don't produce very much. What I think is far more likely is that machines will replace a
narrow subset of low value jobs (and by the way, of the functions you list above only microprocessor design has a
chance of replacement in the next century) and humanity will benefit as a result.

This "machines take our jobs" notion is incredibly luddite and you seem smart enough to understand that. Machines
taking our jobs only means that what used to be expensive to do is now cheap. That's good.


> "Plumber, carpenter, grocer, mechanic - people will not be replaced"
I agree with this specific point to an extent, as does Mr. Ford. Housekeeper is another job that would be difficult for
machines to fully do. A machine could, however, easily stock shelves like a grocer does. And as cars become more
advanced and migrate further from internal combustion to electric motors, computers will do more and more of the
diagnostic and repair work. Instead of hiring a mechanic's assistant, you use a computer. These jobs are not as safe as
they may seem.

> "I can think of no high skill jobs where a computer is likely to replace a person"

Then I'm afraid you're not trying very hard. I worked in high tech for 14 years before becoming an entrepreneur. During
that time, the software we used to design and layout integrated circuits increased astonishingly in not only its speed and
capability, but also its "intelligence" in helping us to make the right choices. I can easily say that on several occasions we
chose to spend several $100k or more on new software programs, and that doing so meant that we did not need to hire
another person (or two or three) to help. More significantly, during the recent economic downturn, we laid off many
engineers while continuing to purchase more sophisticated and intelligent programs. The company has now returned to
pre-recession revenue levels, but the laid off employees will never be re-hired. THEY HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY
MACHINES.

Keep in mind, too, that a machine does not need to do *everything* that a human does in order to take that human's job.
It only needs to do certain tasks well. Say you are a circuit design manager with a staff of 10 human designers. Now a
new software program comes along that can make everyone 30% more efficient at designing circuits, and it's price tag is
one year's salary for an engineer. Well, you can buy the program, fire one engineer, and show your director that you made
your group 17% more productive for no additional cost after one year and significant savings in future years. It's a no
brainer. But that poor 10th engineer was REPLACED BY A MACHINE.

> "by the way, of the functions you list above only microprocessor design has a chance of replacement in the next century"

You are very mistaken. Machines *already* fly commercial aircraft -- it's called "autopilot" -- including handling takeoffs
and landings. It's easy to envision soon only needing one human pilot on board instead of two. And someday, when
human confidence in machines is high enough, not needing any human pilots. And the other function I mentioned --
investing in the stock market -- is also already dominated by machines that can place hundreds of trades in a fraction of
a second. A trading manager can now do with a machine more than he could do with a staff of 20 humans. So why
continue to hire humans?

> "lets assume that it happens that machines are able to cheaply replace all the functions that people currently do. In that
case, all the basics of life will be available very cheaply and people will live in relative abundance even if they don't
produce very much."

Finally you are beginning to understand the point of the book! Now you need to recognize that not everything will be cheap
(for example, healthcare, mortgages, vacations), but even if everything were fairly cheap, you would still need *some*
income in order to purchase things. What will be the source of that income for *everyone* if there are no jobs for half or
more of the population? That's what Mr. Ford's book is really about.

Mr. Jaynes, I strongly encourage you to actually read the book before you continue to criticize it. It seems like you're quite
interested in the subject. You'll find that he answers all of your points, and does so better than I have.