Friday, January 20, 2017

Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford

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When acquired by FB for billions of dollars Watsapp employed 55 employees, Youtube had 150 odd employees when acquired by Google. Most firms are now less manual resource intensive. How is this possible?

In "Rise of the Robots" Martin Ford paints a bleak picture of our economy and future job prospects. The rampant unmitigated use of automation has eaten millions of jobs. Thanks to the growing greed of corporations and some political parties, labor unions around the world have either been disbanded or weakened to such an extent that they are completely impotent. Organized unions were meant to protect the rights of workers but their disarmament spelled doom for the average worker.

Automation has permeated all walks of life and work. Machines have taken over human jobs in almost all areas, their existence is now ubiquitous from Banks, Manufacturing, Fast food joints to bots writing articles and conversing with humans over a chat window etc. Low skilled jobs, where repetitive work is needed is easily automated and companies save millions of dollars using automation. who wants to deal with whimsical, moody sometimes sick human beings? With the advancement in technology, no job is safe. Highly skilled jobs are also a target for automation.  Moore's law states that computing ability doubles every two years, just take a moment to think about this, it took several millennia for us to develop the brain power that we have today. Computers, on the other hand, have acquired the same capability and capacity in a few decades. It is almost a certainty that machines will soon match our abilities in all areas and then surpass us!
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It is estimated that by 2030 we might have something called a Singularity, a super-intelligence whose abilities will surpass humans several times over and will also be conscious of its own existence. Several thinkers, scientists and technology leaders like Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have expressed trepidation over the rise of AI. They believe that a self-aware AI might spell doom for the human race but some other scientist and technologists also think that our new robot overlords might just turn out to be benevolent. They back up this claim by taking the example of humans and how intelligent entities tend to shun violence but then what could explain the rise of humans and extinction of countless other species?

 The rise of the robots is already causing rampant unemployment, those few jobs that are left are either very low paying or outsourced. In the future, we could see a techno-feudalism rising where those who are super rich will control all resources and live in segregated societies protected by machines while the masses will rot away.

The book is a warning which if not heeded will lead to our quick demise. I can provide examples from my own industry where automation is the only thing that my company and other's in the Industry focus on. They want to move away from expensive manual labor and use automation to automate jobs and processes. I can see that in a few years only a handful of human resources will be employed while the others languid in misery. The author comes up with some solutions:

1. Automation will lead to windfall gains for some elite individuals, tax them heavily and redistribute the wealth in the form of minimum income guarantees.

2. Spruce up labor laws and unions

3. Give tax breaks to frims which employee people like manufacturing and tax then IT firms

I would recommend this book strongly to everyone. The book asks a lot of questions and most of them remain unanswered. We as a society need to discuss how are we going to deal with this tectonic change.

Don't know why this image pops into my head everytime I think of Robots and humans. This one is titled The Last Human

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