The impact that exponential technological advance will have on the future of the economy really came into focus for me five years ago when I read “Race Against The Machine” and Martin Ford’s first book “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” in quick succession. The two were both were very cheap, unprofessional looking e-books and the writing could be improved. They were pedalling ideas that were outside of mainstream thinking. People where just coming to terms with the bombshell that was the Great Recession.
Fast-forward to today and the ideas have come to the attention of the general public. Back then we had a chess champion beaten by brute-force computing and IBM’s Watson beating humans at a quiz show. Now we have self driving cars, a Go champion beaten by a computer program using machine learning and dire warnings from important figures in science and technology warning of the risks of artificial intelligence to the future of the human race.
Also, in the meantime both books have had an upgrade and big improvements in quality. “Race Against The Machine” became “The Second Machine Age” and “The Lights in the Tunnel” became “The Rise of the Robots”.
Although the message is largely the same as the earlier book, the author’s writing is much improved, the arguments are clear and supported with data, there is little repetition in subject matter and the book is kept short (350 pages / 10 hours).
This book won the prize for Best Business Book of the Year 2015 and it is easy to see why. However, I do wonder – as this book has come to the attention of the business community – whether a large part of the book’s audience will actually take heed of what is being said especially in regard to the issues of income inequality and productivity if large scale automation is undertaken. They certainly cannot now say that they have not been warned. Will business leaders believe that the message applies to others but not to themselves?
A note on the narration as I listened to the audiobook version: sometimes these business books end up being read by a default-American-voice which can sound very bland and unenthusiastic. In the worst cases, this can actively detract from the content of the book (The Second Machine Age is a victim in this regard). When I heard the voice of the narrator for this book I was initially concerned. In the end Jeff Cummins does a good job, adding intonation and a relaxed tone which matches the style of the text.
In conclusion, this book should be read by everyone. I would go as far as saying that the book is an addictive read (or listen). If you have not thought about the subject before, it will really give you something to think about. You may be persuaded at least that the author has a point or you may be convinced he is right. He sounds right to me.