Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future

‘RISE OF THE ROBOTS: TECHNOLOGY AND THE THREAT OF A JOBLESS FUTURE’


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OPENING LINE:

This review was not written by a robot but it may have been edited by one.


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.


THE PLOT:

Throughout the Industrial Revolution, the rise of new technology resulted in the elimination of many types of jobs. However, new technology always resulted in the creation of new types of jobs. In ‘Rise of the Robots’ author Martin Ford convincingly argues that those days are coming to an end.
Whenever the debate over increasing the minimum wage erupts, there is always talk that an increase will force some businesses to stop using human workers where possible and turning those jobs over to machines. Yet Ford points out that it is not just the fast food workers of the world who could soon find themselves squeezed out by machines. Doctors, lawyers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, cooks and teachers are also at high risk of having their jobs eliminated in the not too distant future. Only this time the new technology eliminating these jobs will not be creating new ones to take their place.
Chapter Four starts out with an article recapping a 2009 playoff game between the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox. Due to some structural oddities, I could tell that the article was the product of automation before Ford pointed it out. Even though the article sounded odd in a structural sense, those are the types of issues that can easily be refined over time through improved programming. Journalism is yet another profession that, if not turned over to machines entirely, could see severe reduction in the future. Now you know the reason for this review’s opening line.
‘Rise of the Robots’ asks us to consider what will happen when a heavily populated planet provides access to so few jobs. It is clear that fundamental changes to how the world economy works will need to be made. The great irony of the book is that in the future we may indeed have access to a fleet of driverless cars that can take us anywhere. However, at the same time we may find ourselves with nowhere we can afford to go.


THE AUTHOR:

Martin Ford certainly possesses a resume that makes him incredibly qualified to write about this particular subject.
There are generally two types of books that make predictions about the future. You have those filled with wild optimism and those that are all about doom and gloom. I think authors are afraid to stay on the middle ground because it isn’t as sexy as the extremes.
This actually makes ‘Rise of the Robots’ more refreshing. Ford does not deny that there might be an abundance of very well-made but inexpensive goods in the future. However, his point is that even inexpensive won’t be affordable to a lot of people who find themselves completely without income. It helps that Ford isn’t predicting the future as much as describing things that are happening now and asking questions about what will happen if these rising issues remain unaddressed.


THE NARRATION:

I suppose to hammer home the point of ‘Rise of the Robots’, Brilliance Audio could have made a version of this book read in a synthetic voice. However, the small things I noticed in the performance of Jeff Cummings are why I hope that audiobook narration is one of the last jobs given over entirely to robots and automated technology.
There is a reason I prefer to listen to a human voice read an audiobook over listening to a synthetic voice read an eBook on my iPad. Cummings knows when to make slight vocal alterations to stress particular words and phrases. These vocal shifts are so subtle and so common among humans we don’t always notice them unless we’re looking for them, and yet if they went missing, as is the case with a synthetic voice, it is very noticeable.


THE PRODUCTION:

The track sounds great. There’s a bit of futuristic sounding music to open and close the track, otherwise no music or sound effects are used. All of the chapter stops on the audio track sync up with the actual book chapters, making it easy to find your place again if necessary.
The performance comes through clean and clear with no glitches, audio skipping, dropouts or shifts in volume level. Essentially it is everything you could hope for in an audio track.


CONCLUSION:

‘Rise of the Robots’ addresses some big questions that are going to need to be dealt with sooner rather than later. It is an entertaining book that will be worth revisiting as the technology it describes becomes more prevalent in modern society.


QUICK FACTS:

Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future Martin Ford Jeff Cummings Brilliance Audio Science and Technology 05/05/2015 10 hours, 17 minutes 8.25/10

DISCLAIMER:

A copy of ‘RISE OF THE ROBOTS: TECHNOLOGY AND THE THOUGHTS OF A JOBLESS FUTURE’ was purchased from Audible for review.

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