Consumerism will impel us toward a marvelous machine-made world, according to this ambitious treatise on economics and technological change.
Amblee, a software engineer, spotlights a handful of simple economic principles that he feels will mold the shape of things to come. Chief among them are the eternal desire for cheaper, better, more convenient goods and services; the drive for globalization and automation; and the need for cheap energy, the lack of which he believes is the primary cause of recessions. From these rather generic notions, the author derives tech-heavy prognostications of varying plausibility. Sensibly, he foresees remote testing equipment and computer programs performing routine medical diagnoses; less sensibly, he sees insurance companies making people wear monitoring devices that will pressure them to eat healthier food. Software linked to all-knowing financial databases will eliminate distortions in stock prices and bank lending, he contends, and thus forestall asset bubbles and end the business cycle. At restaurants, “dining tables will become digital, offering world information” that will enable us to work while we eat. Everything converges toward a future that offers “more quality, more precision” and “timelier service,” one where the main jobs will be “robot design, robot assembly, software development for robots, and so on,” and where “life will be so easy and comfortable you will wonder how people used to stand in long lines just to pay!” Amblee’s book reads like a mash-up of Adam Smith and Isaac Asimov rendered in the stilted prose and bewildering flow-charts of a marketing textbook. His forecasts are bold—living in “space cities,” we will be impervious to global warming and asteroid impacts—but often uninformed and naïve, more like arbitrary conjectures than careful analyses. (His solution to the energy crisis—self-replicating robot armies building solar power plants everywhere—ignores the complexities of resource and land constraints, power-grid stability, clouds and nighttime.) Amblee puts his finger on important trends, but his vision of a frantically competitive, callow, materialistic, “eco-free world” won’t convince everyone.
A clouded window onto a future that robots will love.