Author: John Crews
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Reviewer: Ian Stirk
Concern about the future of jobs for you and your children, should make this a compelling book, how does it fare?
Books about the advance of technology and the loss of jobs are increasingly popular. Earlier technological advances led to some job losses, but subsequently created more and better jobs. Recent thinking suggests this time no replacement new jobs will be created, leading to mass unemployment.
This book aims to show how robots/Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take over the jobs in most major industries, and discusses some likely outcomes, including how you can take advantage of the situation.
The book is targeted at the general reader, but has much to excite the technically aware. No specific technical skills are needed to understand this book. It’s relatively short, divided into three main parts (sections), composed of 27 chapters, in 134 pages.
Below is a section-by-section exploration of the topics covered.
Part I The Coming Automation Revolution
The book opens with the premise that future AI will be able to “observe, learn, reason, and think like humans”. Additionally, having the ability to sense the surroundings, and move, will enable intelligent robots to replace people in their jobs. Next, the section looks at some history, placing the coming automation revolution (i.e. robots and AI) in the context of previous changes (e.g. agricultural revolution). By examining the impact of previous changes, it’s possible to gain some insight into what to expect from the coming automation revolution.
In the previous revolutions, more and better jobs were subsequently created (i.e. The Luddite fallacy). It’s stated in the forthcoming revolution there will not be other jobs for people to go to. Some questions this raises are examined, including the need for governments to provide a basic income for displaced workers. Having other forms of income will be advantageous, and the book discusses these later.
There’s an interesting chapter on how you would build a smart robot, for which current technologies are insufficiently advanced. This leads on to a discussion where some argue AI will not be able to be creative – however the author supplies examples where AI can create new art, music, and solve engineering problems. (But I wonder, is creating new versions of existing concepts/things really ‘intelligence’?!)
It’s suggested future AI may follow the similar development as of a child, having a small set of innate responses, and learning as it develops. The AI’s initial ethical values will be those given by its creators. The advantage of being the first to create a truly general AI (i.e. human-like intelligence), could be stated simply as ruling the world, forever.
As for a timescale, the author says “By 2040 any job in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, mining, education, healthcare, government and more can be, and most will be, done by smart robots”. In the past it was the blue-collar jobs under threat, the argument has now moved to include white collar jobs.
Overall, this section provides an interesting overview of previous revolutions and their impact, together with a view of what AI of the future might be capable of and its impact on jobs. The gap between what we have now, and how to achieve what we expect in the near future (2040), is largely glossed over.
Part II Advanced Automation by Industry
This section concentrates on the impact of the future automation revolution on various major industries, namely:
Finance and Insurance
Research and Development
In many ways, this section differentiates it from other similar books. Each industry is examined in a very practical sense, discussing how the business works today, together with the advantages that automation might bring in the near future (e.g. targeted use of fertilizer for crops). For each industry, the discussion is supported by dollar costs, and projected potential savings from using AI. The existing state and use of smart robots is given whenever possible.
Although only two to six pages of discussion are provided per industry, it does provide a convincing narrative for the forthcoming changes. Some of the proposed uses of smart robots may seem farfetched today, but are nonetheless interesting.
Part III Preparing for the Automation Revolution
Having looked at how the major industries will change, this section looks at some consequences and provides approaches on how you might take advantage of the changes. It opens by looking at the government response. With fewer people in work, buying less, tax revenue may decrease. Mass unemployment may lead to the election of officials that reflect these non-workers. It is suggested the federal government will pay a universal basic income – with the money derived from a tax on smart robots.
The section continues with a look at other periods of economic decline in the recent past, from a classic economics viewpoint. The end result of deflation combined with increasing uptake of AI will result in a decreasing number of people in jobs. Next, ways of investing to take advantage of the automation revolution are discussed. Some companies will still prosper in these times (e.g. AI robot companies). The author suggests some stocks (e.g. Alphabet, IBM), but also warns big companies have failed dramatically in the past – so it’s important to follow the method of evaluating the companies suggested rather than blindly investing in the named companies.
Similarly, investing in government bond (a relatively risk-free investment), real estate, land, commodities and other investment vehicles are briefly examined. Increased leisure time should also make various forms of entertainment profitable. Having this extra investment income, to supplement any universal basic income, will prove advantageous.
The author next looks at some investments to avoid, these include:
Lenders – since many people will default on their loans
Insurance – since there will be fewer accidents
Nursing homes – since caring robots will live at home
Hotels – since very few people will travel/work
A helpful table reiterates both the recommended investments and the investments to avoid.
There will still be a small number of people that will have jobs, and some of these are discussed (e.g. athletes and movie stars). Some potential outcomes from having a jobless society are discussed.
This section provides an interesting discussion of some possible outcomes of job losses, together with some details on how you can take advantage of the situation.
This book is well written, easy to follow, has an easy flow between sections, and is overwhelmingly an interesting read. It opines on how jobs will be lost to automation and that, unlike previous automation changes, replacement jobs will not be found, leading to mass unemployment. All the major industries are examined, and example automation changes are given. The book ends with some approaches on how you can take advantage of the coming automation revolution.
A world where people lose their jobs and can’t find other work makes this a compelling topic. Books on the forthcoming automation revolution and jobless society are very much in vogue (e.g. see my recent reviews of Rise of the Robots and The Fourth Industrial Revolution).
The concern that automation will create a jobless society is an old one. In the past it has always proven to be incorrect, with new technology subsequently creating more and better jobs. However, there is a growing consensus that we are approaching a time when new jobs will not be created. The author suggests the year 2040; the true date may be further in the future, perhaps much further.
The elephant in the room is of course how to achieve general AI, this is glossed over in the book. AI is often compared to the working of the human brain, however people forget the brain’s workings are currently largely unknown. Even the term intelligence can be difficult to define (What is intelligence? Is a spreadsheet intelligent? Is an autonomous car? Is a bacterium?). Some potential approaches to creating general AI are given in Nick Bostrom’s book. Superintelligence - but be warned, it is not an easy read. Others suggest it may not be possible to create general AI. For an eclectic range of views on this subject, I’d recommend What to Think About Machines That Think. Perhaps just having more innovative and invasive computer systems will be sufficient to create a jobless society (i.e. no need to use the word ‘intelligence’).
Obviously people are concerned about how they or their children will make a living in the future. Additionally, for many people, work defines who they are. Irrespective of the automation revolution, perhaps we need to re-evaluate ourselves, what we have, why we have it, especially in a global setting. Maybe we should celebrate the freedom to explore leisure pursuits.
For me, a minor niggle is the book is too prescriptive, stating too often what ‘will happen’ rather than what ‘may happen’.
While the book’s thesis seems plausible, it is only one view, albeit a common view - other views exist. Who’s to say the current populist political turmoil will not arrest the development of general AI. Or perhaps general AI will prove to be impossible. The future’s a big place, with many potential pathways...
Overall, an interesting read on a fascinating topic. Recommended.
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