Mini review: The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future
This book looks at the impact that exponential technological advance will have on the economy, in particular when automation reaches a sufficient level that it eliminates the bulk of routine jobs and leads to mass unemployment.
• The analogy that the author uses to explain how he says the economy would change over time is a good one – simple, clear and effective. These are the lights in the tunnel, as mentioned in the book’s title.
• There is an attempt to look beyond simply describing the problem. Ford looks at some possible steps that could be taken to allow the economy to continue functioning even when unemployment reaches very high levels. This is brave, especially as the steps sound implausible or unworkable. When you think about it, there is nothing wrong with the steps themselves, it’s just that we have never needed to think in this way before. We have never faced this situation before. If the policies are hindered by anything, it will be political inertia or a desire to keep some sections of the voting populace happy. These policies have to manage the whole of a domestic economy, not just certain entrenched interests.
• The writing itself undermines the points the author is making. There is far too much repetition and referring to points that have already been made. For me, the biggest problem is the massive overuse of the word “obviously.” It is used occasionally where the points are obvious, but most of the time a point is “obvious” simply because it has already been dealt with. Obviously, this can become highly annoying. If the author tidies up the text in some new edition of the book, it could appeal more to a broader audience. A good way to avoid the style issues is to start reading the appendices first – these give a good, concise overview of the points being made in the main text.
Overall, if you are interested in the subject, this is definitely the book to read. If you want an intro to the subject, you could try Race Against The Machine first. It is better written and can be read in an evening, but it does not propose steps to deal with the issues. Both books have Kindle versions that are under £3 – a small price for big ideas.
• The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (also offers a free PDF version of the book, but the font used makes it difficult to read.)
I’m loving my Kindle at the moment, especially as I’ve found an easy way to get content on there. Readability is a browser extension that does a good job of saving a list of any articles that you want to read later. Once you are done, go to their site and you can send the articles to your Kindle. There are also bookmarklets if you don’t want to install any plugins. So far, the articles have come through very well formatted, and with all pictures. This definitely beats stripping out the text and emailing it to yourself…
I’m also enjoying short stories and some digital exclusives such as Facts are Sacred: The power of data (Guardian Shorts). Digital publishing is here to stay, but it is still early days.
Amazon does seem to be pushing the boundaries at the moment, and ruffling some feathers. I think that 2012 will see it attract more attention (ie criticism) as people really come to terms with its position in retailing and web services. It is up there with Google, Apple, and Facebook – and at that level there is no escaping inspection. As a company it has great ambition and the willingness to focus on the long term.
Wow. Godamn wow.
This was the first French film that blew me away. I’d never seen anything like it.
I watched it again today. What a ride…
Not Luc Besson’s best film (that was to come with Leon.)
But not to be missed.
An excellent article from Vanity Fair comparing the current economic mess to the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. One of the arguments is that the economy was weak even before the recession, but this was masked by the property boom. Do we need government spending cuts or investment in the country’s people and infrastructure? It raises the question – are we already going down the wrong path?
A must read.
For a time, the bubbles in the housing and lending markets concealed the problem by creating artificial demand, which in turn created jobs in the financial sector and in construction and elsewhere. The bubble even made workers forget that their incomes were declining. They savored the possibility of wealth beyond their dreams, as the value of their houses soared and the value of their pensions, invested in the stock market, seemed to be doing likewise. But the jobs were temporary, fueled on vapor.
Of four major service sectors—finance, real estate, health, and education—the first two were bloated before the current crisis set in.
As in 1937, deficit hawks today call for balanced budgets and more and more cutbacks. Instead of pushing forward a structural transition that is inevitable—instead of investing in the right kinds of human capital, technology, and infrastructure, which will eventually pull us where we need to be—the government is holding back. Current strategies can have only one outcome: they will ensure that the Long Slump will be longer and deeper than it ever needed to be.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this brief history. The first is that the economy will not bounce back on its own, at least not in a time frame that matters to ordinary people… Monetary policy is not going to help us out of this mess….
…anyone who believes that monetary policy is going to resuscitate the economy will be sorely disappointed. That idea is a distraction, and a dangerous one.
What we need to do instead is embark on a massive investment program—as we did, virtually by accident, 80 years ago—that will increase our productivity for years to come, and will also increase employment now.
Public investments could be directed at improving the quality of life and real productivity—unlike the private-sector investments in financial innovations, which turned out to be more akin to financial weapons of mass destruction.
The second conclusion is this: If we expect to maintain any semblance of “normality,” we must fix the financial system.
…the implosion of the financial sector may not have been the underlying cause of our current crisis—but it has made it worse, and it’s an obstacle to long-term recovery.
…we have poured money into the banks, without restrictions, without conditions, and without a vision of the kind of banking system we want and need.