The Speculist: Forbes Weighs in on Job Loss via Automation


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Forbes Weighs in on Job Loss via Automation

Forbes has published an excellent series of articles grouped together as "Your Life in 2020." You'll want to read the whole series - its excellent.

I thought I'd quote from one article, "Your Job in 2020."

Many dismiss this rather pessimistic view [that automation will lead to widespread unemployment] by pointing to the fact that, while technology eliminates jobs, it also creates new industries and employment sectors. This argument glosses over the fact that new technology-based industries tend to be capital intensive: they do not employ large numbers of people. Compare McDonalds ( MCD - news - people ) with Google ( GOOG - news - people ): In 2008 McDonalds employed 400,000 people with revenue of $59,000 per worker. Google had just 20,000 employees--each of which brought in, on average, over a million dollars in revenue. The question we have to ask is: What happens when McDonald's begins to look more like Google?

I thought it was remarkable how close this is to the discussion that Phil and I have been having (here, here, and even here). Then I saw the byline - this article was written by Martin Ford, the author of "The Lights in the Tunnel" who recently visited with us on FastForward Radio. To a large extent Martin Ford and Cory Doctorow got this discussion started on FastForward Radio.

Its not a topic that optimists like Phil and I naturally gravitate toward. We have a lot more fun talking about the awesome future that awaits us: a future that is richer, healthier, and more free. Or, as Phil memorably puts it - "in the future we'll all be sexy immortal billionaires with super powers." And really, who wouldn't want to be Tony Stark?

But the more I think about it, it seems obvious that we are destined to live through an awkward adolescence. The transition from the old human-powered industrial model to a robotics/AI-powered model is probably going to be rough.


This is why I keep asking, How do we get there from here.

Nice to see Forbes treating the topic seriously.

You guys (you're just one of the guys, Sally :)) always have.

As I mentioned before, I disbelieve it simply because the nature of economics. The most scarce thing humanity has always had is labor. Always.

If there anything I think I can predict right, it's that we have no idea how much we don't know. And the things we don't know are going to get trickier to nail down.

Working in software development, and having seen the tremendous changes in computing power in the last 20 years, I am very aware of how more power just enables you to start asking more questions.

I also believe that the average person is much smarter than 100 years ago, and that this will keep being so.

1) Please don't stop focusing on the good stuff. There are a host of sources of dystopian possibilities. The Speculist Duo and similar outlets of optimism are going to be needed, until a sufficient number of posthumans show up on the scene.

2) We are already going through tough times, but information technologies are advancing exponentially, and as transhumanists we know our primary hope lies there.

There really ARE reasons to hope that a better world is waiting for us. It isn't just our imagination.

Congratulations. The influence of the Speculist and FFR is growing. It has now reached the WSJ. Onward and upward.

What will large successful corporations do when their revenue streams begin to dry up due to widespread unemployment? If they no longer have access to large amounts of currency, will they begin producing hard products like food, appliances and housing for their stockholders, managers and employees?

Ah gee thanks, Will.


Oh, and I meant Forbes, not WSJ. Sorry.

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