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  • Rise of the Robots

  • Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
  • Written by: Martin Ford
  • Narrated by: Jeff Cummings
  • Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (25 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In a world of self-driving cars and big data, smart algorithms and Siri, we know that artificial intelligence is getting smarter every day. Though all these nifty devices and programs might make our lives easier, they're also well on their way to making "good" jobs obsolete. A computer winning Jeopardy might seem like a trivial, if impressive, feat, but the same technology is making paralegals redundant as it undertakes electronic discovery, and is soon to do the same for radiologists. And that, no doubt, will only be the beginning.

In Silicon Valley the phrase "disruptive technology" is tossed around on a casual basis. No one doubts that technology has the power to devastate entire industries and upend various sectors of the job market. But Rise of the Robots asks a bigger question: can accelerating technology disrupt our entire economic system to the point where a fundamental restructuring is required? Companies like Facebook and YouTube may only need a handful of employees to achieve enormous valuations, but what will be the fate of those of us not lucky or smart enough to have gotten into the great shift from human labor to computation?

The more Pollyannaish, or just simply uninformed, might imagine that this industrial revolution will unfold like the last: even as some jobs are eliminated, more will be created to deal with the new devices of a new era. In Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford argues that is absolutely not the case. Increasingly, machines will be able to take care of themselves, and fewer jobs will be necessary. The effects of this transition could be shattering. Unless we begin to radically reassess the fundamentals of how our economy works, we could have both an enormous population of the unemployed-the truck drivers, warehouse workers, cooks, lawyers, doctors, teachers, programmers, and many, many more, whose labors have been rendered superfluous by automated and intelligent machines.

©2015 Martin Ford (P)2015 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.

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Not worth the read

It’s full of left wing ideas and promotes ideas such as climate change and income inequality and reaganomics as reasons why there might be displacement in the workforce in the future. Was disappointed in this read.

3 people found this helpful

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Let me save you 10 hours

Martin Ford: “we’re all f***ed give up now. Every nation is getting old and unequal, and I’m going to enjoy making you sad.”

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  • Honestly
  • 2015-07-25

Robots yes, economics no

What disappointed you about Rise of the Robots?

I naively thought this book would be more about the details of new technology and what jobs will be replaced but at least 50% is about the economics of robotics and frankly, the author gets this wrong. I think most readers will not find this economics part much of a problem but as someone who studied economics for many years and worked in the financial industry and technology sector, there is deeply wrong conclusion the author makes:

The industries that introduce the most automation and replace the most jobs are the same industries that improve productively the most (since labor is almost invariably the most expensive part of any process). This is also the area of our lives which improve the most (except for the immediate quality of life decrease for the people who work in that industry when it becomes automated). For example, since the mechanization of textiles, the cost of clothes as a percentage of poor people's incomes has dropped ENORMOUSLY in the past 300 years. Even people living at subsistence levels in parts of Africa and Asia have more clothes at higher quality, with greater variety then anyone could have ever dreamed of in 1700. As productivity rises, the purchasing power of people's incomes must rise at a greater rate (since it cost less to produce a given good or service with the new process). Even if incomes fall, quality of life can still go up if purchasing power of the falling incomes is more than compensating. The greater the output of mankind, the more wealth overall. If technology causes the incomes of the very skilled to rise disproportionately, you can just raise taxes a bit on them and reduce taxes or even create a negative tax rate for the poor (so you report your income and instead of paying the government say 15%, the government sends you a check for 15%). There will always be jobs at some low wage because although robots might be highly efficient, they are still not free. Electricity, maintenance, materials costs, R&D costs, construction costs, sales taxes, etc. In a world where robots can make almost anything very cheaply, people just do the things they are comparatively good at (and unless robots become people, these areas will always exist). By definition, if robots and people are different, they will have different capacities and different comparative strengths. People will just move to "design" and other creative jobs. The world does quite well without people operating our telephone switchboards (now done by software) and it will get along even better when no one has to make hamburgers or sew t-shirts. Hamburgers will be much cheaper and so will t-shirts. People will design new, even tastier hamburgers and new, even cooler t-shirts but robots will be making them.

The guaranteed income can be recipe for disaster and there are many people in this world who would just stay home to have sex, do drugs, and make babies. Over time this group would increase as the genes for laziness and baby making become more prevalent in society and other people realize they can do this a well (and don't like the idea of free-loaders having all the fun). I think its better if you make some kind of productive work a requirement via a negative tax rate if necessary. This way everyone contributes unless they are truly unable (disabled) or in school (which should be very cheap).

Ultimately, this is a complicated topic so I don't fault the author too much but I think there is clearly a flaw in the economic logic. I agree information technology is a general purpose technology as is narrow artificial intelligence. There have been other general purpose technologies however, and the main difference is that they affect many more areas of our lives and improve the world to much greater degree. These include the wheel, writing, electricity, democracy, the corporation, property rights, mathematics, etc. All these things have made our lives better on average while changing the returns to different types of labor and capital intensity of different industries. Robotics is just another (but potentially more profound and effective) way of creating what everyone wants. Efficiency has been the name of the game since the first technologies perhaps more than 1 million years ago in the form of fire and sharp stones. Only increasing efficiently will make tomorrow better than today. Just maximize on efficiently and then tax appropriately to spread out the returns in a reasonable way.

General AI is whole other ball game. This is the equivalent of an alien coming to earth. You might not even have to worry about he economy or jobs at that point. Presumably, this AI could become very powerful and it will decide the fate of humanity, not humanity. Our very existence will depended upon what this AI decides to do with us.

What could Martin Ford have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Please address the flaw in economic thinking.

Which scene was your favorite?

When he talks about all the new robots that will do people's jobs. This was quite interesting.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Rise of the Robots?

Cut down the economics sections and focus on the robotic technologies.

87 people found this helpful

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  • GARY ORR
  • 2015-06-17

written by a progressive with an agenda

although I agree that technology may cause widespread unemployment, I doubt that the only solution is having the government pay every person a minimum salary. the author also make wild assumptions about climate change that really have nothing to contribute with the storyline

27 people found this helpful

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  • Mike
  • 2015-06-30

Great content and this mechanization IS coming!

If you could sum up Rise of the Robots in three words, what would they be?

Focus on creating value

What did you like best about this story?

This really makes you sit back and think. If (when) we have all this technology come on board I will make sure I am at the top of the food chain and not a cog in the wheel. This isn't the buggy whips makers protesting when the car came around. The disruption will be like the buggy whip makers (most of the middle class) seeing Google's automated car constructed by 3D printers and Uber already being in place rather than the Model T beginning to roll of the assembly line. The masses will be running for cover. The authors pitch a national minimum income is really the only solution with no wages for the mass of unemployed folks. Not politically popular but not many options. Very eye opening content.

Any additional comments?

Nope. Batten down the hatches and start making moves now to profit from this rather than be a victim.

22 people found this helpful

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  • John Gathly
  • 2015-08-05

Previous reviewer is wrong

Any additional comments?

There is a reviewer above who thinks that he knows something about economics. He thinks cheaper t-shirts is important, while massive global poverty and climate destruction, the result of global capitalism are not important to mention. As if it's all been uphill, and no one has been left out. The fact that near slaves make those cheap t-shirts doesn't occur to him. It all works out in the wash, if you're completely ignorant of the entire world.

Greater automation, especially robots, while in the hands of an owner class, will only create massive economic inequality, because the owner class will now own slaves, only slaves that never die, never complain, never strike, never ask for wages, and will work for you forever. To think that won't have an effect on a system that relies on people selling their bodies on the open market for wages competing against indestructible, programmable slaves is a level of ignorance that shocks me. He goes on and on complaining about the authors flawed perception of economics, when he clearly doesn't know the very very very basic simple facts about supply and demand. Alternatively, if ownership wasn't limited to the capitalist class, robots would usher in a new era of human leisure and personal development, because the fruits of automaton labor would not be merely the benefit of a tiny ruling class, but the entire human race instead.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Frank from Virginia
  • 2015-10-01

Thought provoking

Great thought provoking discussion of automation. However, it could have been shortened by a third. His ideas in the last chapter are really out there in terms of feasibility and logic. Well worth the listen though.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Jeremy
  • 2015-08-31

Good start

It has a great start but falls off once the author starts making recommendations to fix the potential future issues. Seems like there is a lack of analysis within those chapters

13 people found this helpful

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  • M.C.A.D. Burger
  • 2015-06-22

Great analysis

Hare the nasal sound of the narrator. First 75% is analysis, which is great. Did not like the conclusions that much. Overall a great book that sets you thinking.

13 people found this helpful

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  • A. Yoshida
  • 2017-02-19

A little dull in parts

While the book has a lot of good information, there were parts that were boring (too many facts and numbers) and parts that lacked focus (philosophical droning about how technology can create a dystopian society). During the Luddite Movement in the 19th century, people feared that machines would eliminate jobs. Yet here we are 200 years later, we enjoy the use of all kinds of machines. Instead of speculating on the range of possible futures, the author should have focused on an ideal future merging humans and technology and the factors needed to make that happen.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Eric
  • 2016-11-14

A very insightful look to the future but then the author goes socialistic

This book will really make you think about trends now taking place behind the scenes.

I couldn't believe the social babble the author then fabricated at the end of this book. The naïveté that you can give entire groups of people a salary and not have an offsetting inflationary cost and lack of overall motivation is very naïve. I don't see this author as an economist more of a technologist.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Nick van Rensburg
  • 2015-07-07

Thorough and sober analysis

Thorough and sober analysis. A must read for anyone interested in jobs and the future

5 people found this helpful

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  • caldwell, joseph
  • 2020-12-19

rise of the robots

an in-depth look at how technology is affecting the economy and work opportunities . quite pessimistic but also suggesting solutions
i found it important and illuminating.