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.

Good points:

• 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.

Bad points:

•  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.)

• econfuture | Future Economics and Technology – Dispatches from the Economic Landscape of the Coming Decades (the author’s blog.)



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  2. Stewart A. Denenberg

    As I commented on the Fiscal Times Blog:
    For an even more chilling prospect of the future of fast food workers, see the “Sonmi 451” chapters in “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, 2004. Read the book first; there is no way to satisfactorily make the movie from the book.

    I like the author’s suggestion to examine the appendices first.

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