Book Review: Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK by Federico Pistono

Published: October 23, 2012

“Very interesting and informative. Full of stats and specifics that allow you to form an opinion based on the evidence.”

fourandahalfstars

What Is ‘Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK’ About?

You are about to become obsolete. You think you are special, unique, and that whatever it is that you are doing is impossible to replace. You are wrong. As we speak, millions of algorithms created by computer scientists are frantically running on servers all over the world, with one sole purpose: do whatever humans can do, but better.

That is the argument for a phenomenon called technological unemployment, one that is pervading modern society. But is that really the case? Or is it just a futuristic fantasy? What will become of us in the coming years, and what can we do to prevent a catastrophic collapse of society?

Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK: how to survive the economic collapse and be happy explores the impact of technological advances on our lives, what it means to be happy, and provides suggestions on how to avoid a systemic collapse.

Why Did I Read ‘Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK’?

My interest in this book started about six months ago after I attended a tech conference in Amsterdam. The main guest speaker, Federico Pistono, gave an insightful presentation explaining what we could expect to see in the job market over the coming years due to the effects of ‘automation’.

More or less, this was the presentation:

Having now read the book, whilst making lots of notes along the way, I’ll now attempt to summarise the most intriguing elements of Federico Pistono’s work.

What I Like About ‘Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK’?

Firstly, to find out the average percentage on whether your job will be replaced – click on this link: http://www.bit.ly/npr-job-machine

The book is divided into three parts:

1) Exploring the topic of technological unemployment and its impact on work and society (The stats are predominately focused on the US economy, with assurances that the same argument applies to most of the industrialised world)

2) In the second part he delves into the nature of work itself and the relationship between work and happiness.

3) The last part is a bold attempt to provide some practical suggestions on how to deal with the issues presented in the first two parts.

We begin by looking at the definition of exponential growth and see how this associates itself with Moore’s Law (that computer power doubles every 2 years), along with a look at applying the definition of intelligence to Google.

Federico explores the trends in automation and its perceived impact on retail and other industries. As well as the importance of ‘human contact’ when purchasing and shopping.

“The trend is clear. Companies in the manufacturing sector are automating and the typical statement that “people will find something else to do” is simply a cop-out that does not look at the reality of the situation…”

He explains the long terms pros and cons to the introduction of 3D printers and automated construction – the impending model for house construction that will remove professions. As well as the environmental benefits of automation: reduced wastage, employee accidents, and so on.

There is an interesting section on the rise of assistance technology such as Siri and Google. Google have made no secret of their intention to move away from being considered a Search engine and to focus on becoming a fully established assistant capable of supporting everyday needs and tasks, recognising languages and accents.

“Just as cavemen could not imagine the complex cities and societies we live in today, neither can we anticipate in any accurate detail what is soon to come.”

Social factors and trust issues are given their due credit. Social acceptance whether it be fear, uncertainty, doubt, ignorance, or special interests may block the next generation automation for a while, but not forever.

“Even though we have the technology and the capability to provide the world’s 7 billion people with free and unrestricted Internet access, only one third of the world is connected to the global mind.”

We look at occupation lists and the percentage of workforce allocation, which shows that only one real large scale profession has been invented in the last 50 years.

“The reality is that the new jobs created by technology employ a very small fraction of people, and even those jobs tend to disappear soon after they are created.”

Fredrick talks of his frustration in addressing this issue with economists. Keen to enter into detailed discussions on why this might not be an issue. At the time of writing he had still achieved little beyond being dismissed off hand.

“I have read several books, watched hundreds of debates and interviews on this subject, and I have not so far heard a single argument to support the idea that we can make this work, or how.” – Federico’s passion for this topic is apparent throughout.

He then turns his attention to the work ethic and work identity, looking at the mentality of the everyday worker.

He talks of how the current economy rewards the wrong skill sets with manipulation, selfishness and aggression topping the characteristics of the successful.

Half way in, we get the first mention of the ‘Happy Planet Index’, or the ‘Satisfaction with Life Index’ as recommended replacements to GDP.

There is a big review on ‘happiness’ and in particular our interpretation of happiness. As he puts it:

‘The marketing tools used by corporations in order to sell more products rely on our inability to adequately predict what makes us happy.’

‘Numerous studies have established that unemployed people are in worse mental and physical health than employed people.’

And yet there seems to be a balance that must be struck to find the optimal work / happiness level. The higher percentages of happy populations are in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and The Netherlands – all known to commonly work shorter working weeks. Where as Greece, Poland, Hungary, Russia and Turkey – known for working longer weeks – rate lower on the ‘happy’ scale.

The conclusion of which seems to indicate that work is an enabler for purpose and drive, but not a flat out requirement to achieving happiness.

I love this quote:

“The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living”

Solutions

We then reach the final third of the book, full of suggestions on how to live a self-learning, happy, stress free ‘simple’ life.

“Live simpler lives, escape from the rat race of obsessive materialism and reduce the stress, overtime, and psychological expense that typically go along with it.”

“It is possible to find an improved balance between leisure and work, focusing life goals on personal fulfilment and relationship building instead f the all-consuming pursuit of economic success.”

He mentions a couple of useful learning tools:

Apple iTunesU (which delivers university lectures from the major universities around the world, for free).

Khan Academy (a free online service containing courses for almost anything: https://www.khanacademy.org)

And goes into other areas such as:

  • Grow your own food
  • Eat well
  • Reduce your carbon foot print

    He also discusses Open Source projects referencing services such as Kickstarter to fund new ideas and research concepts, in particular drawing attention this TED talk on open source ecology:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S63Cy64p2lQ

    The key point is that he advocates self-employment, spending only when you have to and reducing your working week for a less stressful life.

    A significant portion of this section is self-help on how to ‘live smart’:

  • Writing down the good things that happen to you
  • Exercise
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Setting small achievable targets
  • And so on…

    Working its way finally into the realms of financial advice, challenging your spending habits, the need for insurance and the ‘pay now consume later’ culture.

    What I Didn’t Like About ‘Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK’?

    It’s a bit of a giveaway that I first became interested in this book six months ago and I’ve only just finished it. This is an educational self-help book that at times is easy to digest and other times collects dust.

    Good Or Bad?

    Was it any good? Yes, very interesting and informative. Full of stats and specifics that allow you to form an opinion based on the evidence.

    Would I recommend it? Yes, definitely.

    Would I read it again? In parts, maybe. There are numerous sections which you could revisit throughout.

    Here are some other reviews:

    Star Wars – Lords Of The Sith by Paul S. Kemp
    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    Looking For Alaska by John Green
    The Hidden Legacy by GJ Minett
    Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    Paper Towns by John Green
    Parable Of The Sower by Octavia E. Butler
    The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

     

    Have you read A Game For The Young?
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    David P. Philip


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