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.