The Speculist: Fast Forward Radio -- The New Economy Part 1


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Fast Forward Radio -- The New Economy Part 1

How long before a robot gets your job?

Phil and Stephen begin a three part series on the New Economy with Special Guest Martin Ford. Ford's new book, The Lights in the Tunnel, takes an in depth look at current trends in technology and globalization and examines what the likely economic impact will be in the coming years and decades.

  1. Globalization. Collaboration. Telecommuting. Are these the forces that will shape the workplaces of the future? Or is there something bigger lurking?
  2. How will job automation impact the economy in the future?
  3. How will the offshore outsourcing trend evolve in the coming years?
  4. What impact will technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence have on the job market?

And most importantly, what should we do next? Listen and find out!

Click "Continue Reading" for the show notes:

About Our Guest

mford.pngMartin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm. He has over 25 years experience in the fields of computer design and software development. He holds a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Martin is also the author of "The Lights in the Tunnel: Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future."


Martin blogs at Econfuture. That's ""

  • Here are some incredible videos of state-of-the-art automation. It appears that human factory jobs are on the way out.

  • But its not just factory jobs. Thanks to exponentially improving AI, mental jobs will be automated.

  • There may not even be human jobs in the military. Our guest mentioned the book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

  • Martin's point: if most jobs are automated out of existence, who will have money to buy the products the robots build?

  • Martin states that in order to save the demand-side of the economy, the government tax those companies that automate and then redistribute wealth to consumers.

    He would have incentives built in to the system. The amount of your check would depend on how well you are living - as defined by the government.

    This idea, obviously, is provocative. The chatroom was lively this week.

  • Stephen countered with two ideas: Why shouldn't everyone own stock rather than get a check from the government?

    And what about the role of 3D printers? If I'm producing goods in my own home, wouldn't my need for money to buy goods made outside the home be reduced?

Our music this week is "Wake Up" from the band Esteban. Hear it in stereo at Music Alley.


Will try to catch the show but just in case, ask Mr. Ford if he thinks fully independent (even if networked together) robots are more likely in industrial/service settings or human-operated mecha via tele-presence instead (not only traditional industrial work but FedEx-type delivery driver, book store sales clerk, restaurant wait-staff, etc)?


We covered your question.

This is certainly an important topic. I'm very interested in reading his book, but from what I hear on the show he doesn't make the case to me for dramatic redistributionary schemes. This is an old argument and I think we need better in these truly unprecedented times. Anyone interested in this subject should check out Henry Hazlitt's classic "Economics in one Lesson". The appropriate section for this topic is entitled The Curse of Machinery.

My god, was this discussion frustrating to listen to. What Martin describes has already happened.

In 1880, about 70% of U.S. jobs were in agriculture. Now about 3% are. Those jobs were lost to efficiency, productivity and automation improvements. In 1970, IBM employed about 400,000 people, now they employ about 150,000. Most of those lost jobs are clerical jobs that MS Office and email have eliminated. If Martin's economic theories held water, his doomsday would already have arrived. Simi

If Martin lived in 1900 and saw 70% of U.S. jobs dissapearing, he would feel the same way he does now about world wide manufacturing jobs. If his foresight was as deficient then as it is now, he would not know that IT Guy, Pizza Delivery Guy, High School Football Coach, Newscaster, Taxi-Driver, Drug Dealer, Barista or Electrical Engineering jobs would be coming to replace them. New types of jobs will come along.

What's more, if productive labor is so cheap as to be almost free, that means more money can be spent on design. If labor costs approach zero, you can but a new product for the cost of material, which means most people will need less money to maintain their standard of living.

5ive --

In fairness, in the book (and I think in our discussion, too) Martin acknowledges that this is not a new trend and not a new argument. His point is that Luddite arguments that were wrong in the past eventually become tue in the face of accelerating technological development. Your point about the offsetting benefits of the decreasing cost of goods was discussed in part two of the series with Cory Doctorow. We'll also be exploring that further next week in part 3.

"What's more, if productive labor is so cheap as to be almost free, that means more money can be spent on design. If labor costs approach zero, you can but a new product for the cost of material, which means most people will need less money to maintain their standard of living."

An excellent point. Kurzweil says something similar, that the radical drop in prices in computers and communications devices are in essence deflationary, and are rarely taken into consideration by economists.

Once information technologies take hold in all other areas of our economy, radical deflation will hit them, too. Especially as 3D printers are upgraded to nanotech replicators.

At that point, economic scarcities will vanish forever and our guest's worries about loss of jobs will vanish with them.

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