A careful and courageous examination of automation and its possible impact on society.

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RISE OF THE ROBOTS

TECHNOLOGY AND THE THREAT OF A JOBLESS FUTURE

Noted technological maven and futurist Ford (The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, 2009) returns with more reasons for working men and women to fear for their futures.

Imagine a world in which the want ads, if they appear at all, simply read: “Humans Need Not Apply.” That nightmarish scenario might be enough to cause all but the idle rich to lay awake at night. The most terrifying thing about the author’s fearful forecast, however, is that this dystopian future—where shrewdly sophisticated and ruthlessly cost-effective robots eliminate the need for those anachronistic things once called “jobs”—sounds much more inevitable than incredible. For both scientific and economic reasons, which Ford outlines with a comprehensiveness that borders on chilling, there is simply no way in this relentlessly capitalist society to avoid being replaced by a robot. In the labor pyramid to come, even some of the lucky few occupying the white-collar pinnacle will not be safe. Ford’s argument is frightening because it does not offer even a whiff of alarm or hysteria. Instead, the author’s discourse feels as dispassionate and merciless as the circuitry silently running inside his subjects’ metallically whirring bodies. Humankind's inescapable predicament appears so bleak that the only alternative to total societal collapse that Ford can identify is to fashion a system in which the great majority of the working class receives “a basic income guarantee.” Elected officials—from President Barack Obama all the way down to a small-town mayor—may steadfastly bang the drum for more education and training as the way out of the unemployment morass, but Ford clearly demonstrates that free market forces and consumer demand (already on display in Amazon’s increasingly automated warehouses) will soon make it nearly impossible to continue employing large numbers of human beings in the workplace.

A careful and courageous examination of automation and its possible impact on society.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-05999-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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