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Robonomics: Prepare Today for the Jobless Economy of Tomorrow Kindle Edition
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I have written a detailed chapter-by-chapter review of this book on i-programmer DOT info, the first and last parts of this review are given here. For my review of all chapters, search i-programmer DOT info for STIRK together with the book's title.
Concern about the future of jobs for you and your children, should make this a compelling book, how does it fare?
Books about the advance of technology and the loss of jobs are increasingly popular. Earlier technological advances led to some job losses, but subsequently created more and better jobs. Recent thinking suggests this time no replacement new jobs will be created, leading to mass unemployment.
This book aims to show how robots/Artificial Intelligence (AI) will take over the jobs in most major industries, and discusses some likely outcomes, including how you can take advantage of the situation.
The book is targeted at the general reader, but has much to excite the technically aware. No specific technical skills are needed to understand this book. It’s relatively short, divided into three main parts (sections), composed of 27 chapters, in 134 pages.
Below is a section-by-section exploration of the topics covered.
Part I The Coming Automation Revolution
The book opens with the premise that future AI will be able to “observe, learn, reason, and think like humans”. Additionally, having the ability to sense the surroundings, and move, will enable intelligent robots to replace people in their jobs. Next, the section looks at some history, placing the coming automation revolution (i.e. robots and AI) in the context of previous changes (e.g. agricultural revolution). By examining the impact of previous changes, it’s possible to gain some insight into what to expect from the coming automation revolution.
In the previous revolutions, more and better jobs were subsequently created (i.e. The Luddite fallacy). It’s stated in the forthcoming revolution there will not be other jobs for people to go to. Some questions this raises are examined, including the need for governments to provide a basic income for displaced workers. Having other forms of income will be advantageous, and the book discusses these later.
There’s an interesting chapter on how you would build a smart robot, for which current technologies are insufficiently advanced. This leads on to a discussion where some argue AI will not be able to be creative – however the author supplies examples where AI can create new art, music, and solve engineering problems. (But I wonder, is creating new versions of existing concepts/things really ‘intelligence’?!)
It’s suggested future AI may follow the similar development as of a child, having a small set of innate responses, and learning as it develops. The AI’s initial ethical values will be those given by its creators. The advantage of being the first to create a truly general AI (i.e. human-like intelligence), could be stated simply as ruling the world, forever.
As for a timescale, the author says “By 2040 any job in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, mining, education, healthcare, government and more can be, and most will be, done by smart robots”. In the past it was the blue-collar jobs under threat, the argument has now moved to include white collar jobs.
Overall, this section provides an interesting overview of previous revolutions and their impact, together with a view of what AI of the future might be capable of and its impact on jobs. The gap between what we have now, and how to achieve what we expect in the near future (2040), is largely glossed over.
This book is well written, easy to follow, has an easy flow between sections, and is overwhelmingly an interesting read. It opines on how jobs will be lost to automation and that, unlike previous automation changes, replacement jobs will not be found, leading to mass unemployment. All the major industries are examined, and example automation changes are given. The book ends with some approaches on how you can take advantage of the coming automation revolution.
A world where people lose their jobs and can’t find other work makes this a compelling topic. Books on the forthcoming automation revolution and jobless society are very much in vogue (e.g. see my recent reviews of Rise of the Robots and The Fourth Industrial Revolution).
The concern that automation will create a jobless society is an old one. In the past it has always proven to be incorrect, with new technology subsequently creating more and better jobs. However, there is a growing consensus that we are approaching a time when new jobs will not be created. The author suggests the year 2040; the true date may be further in the future, perhaps much further.
The elephant in the room is of course how to achieve general AI, this is glossed over in the book. AI is often compared to the working of the human brain, however people forget the brain’s workings are currently largely unknown. Even the term intelligence can be difficult to define (What is intelligence? Is a spreadsheet intelligent? Is an autonomous car? Is a bacterium?). Some potential approaches to creating general AI are given in Nick Bostrom’s book. Superintelligence - but be warned, it is not an easy read. Others suggest it may not be possible to create general AI. For an eclectic range of views on this subject, I’d recommend What to Think About Machines That Think. Perhaps just having more innovative and invasive computer systems will be sufficient to create a jobless society (i.e. no need to use the word ‘intelligence’).
Obviously people are concerned about how they or their children will make a living in the future. Additionally, for many people, work defines who they are. Irrespective of the automation revolution, perhaps we need to re-evaluate ourselves, what we have, why we have it, especially in a global setting. Maybe we should celebrate the freedom to explore leisure pursuits.
For me, a minor niggle is the book is too prescriptive, stating too often what ‘will happen’ rather than what ‘may happen’.
While the book’s thesis seems plausible, it is only one view, albeit a common view - other views exist. Who’s to say the current populist political turmoil will not arrest the development of general AI. Or perhaps general AI will prove to be impossible. The future’s a big place, with many potential pathways...
Overall, an interesting read on a fascinating topic. Recommended.
If you do not read the book, good luck for the future and I hope you do not live too long. In fact it would be better if you decided to move six feet under or to get scattered into the air in the coming days since the apocalypse is finally arriving, has finally arrived. Don’t you feel it in your “buns”?
The author advocates the Automation Revolution along his concluding quotation of Arthur C. Clarke: “The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.” A rapid mention of Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity but no bibliography in the book is not enough to see the roots of that thinking, and thinking it is even if you may think it is deficient.
I will here only make a few critical remarks on various aspects of the book.
He assumes that machines will all be more intelligent than men but only as for speed. He does not see the limit of this element. The human brain is not only a question of speed. It is also a question of the possible by-passing of any instruction, limit, forbidden act or thought, because it is vastly parallel. The brain can always take a side path because there are great numbers of side paths in a parallel machine of the human brain type. A machine cannot go against its own programmed rules. Can, we program it to make it go against its own programmed rules and soon enough its self-programmed rules? That’s a good question. Disobeying is basic in human beings, not in machines and tomorrow we will expect machines to be obedient and to go along with their own rules even their self-imposed rules, which should not prevent a fair assessment of a situation. But crossing a double yellow line on the road is just impossible for a self driving car. If it were possible that would bring a lot more danger on roads since then they would come close to humanness.
Even more we have to take into account another way of thinking that is not inductive and that is not deductive. What I call subductive thinking in continuation and development of the Buddhist concept of “samsara”: from a full capture of everything you can think of, consciously, unconsciously and subconsciously, let from this complete practically inexplorable forest emerge the new idea, the new principle, the new hypothesis that you will then treat with induction, deduction and subduction again and again. The emergence of this new principle is what Buddha called the awakening. Then you get on the path to a full mental liberation. Einstein could not prove his theory of relativity. It was subductive thinking and it is only today, one century later, that we can prove some of the contended principles of it and disprove some of them. Because it becomes clear that it is true up to a point.
Will machines be able to do that? Not by 2050 as Kurzweil says, if ever, because all that is for each human individual the result of a long process of growing and developing within the mother’s womb at first (hearing in the 24th week of pregnancy) and in real life then. Every single detail of what we think or feel is loaded with experiential, existential, situational, circumstantial, phenomenological elements, most of them unconscious or subconscious and yet all of them active. A machine will never be able to have that kind of genetic and generative experience. A machine will never be a human being and its intelligence will always be short of that.
The second remark is about the automation revolution. In fact it is a set of remarks.
If what he says comes true, then 98% of humanity will not have to do anything to survive, since we’ll have to be talking of survival as long as the human species will be biological. That will be a complete change of the social side of the human species. Homo Sapiens is a socially working and living species to produce what they need to survive in a hostile essentially natural environment. The author does not spend one page to really consider the psychological and non-clinical psychiatric change he is speaking of. It is an evolution that would not be carried by any genetic element and that would probably negate a lot of genetic elements. I do not believe it possible for it to happen without upheavals, counter-revolutions, lootings, violence of any sort and all that performed by millions of people in each place, by billions of people on the planet. Remember all the hunger (bread) riots in the Arab world (Egypt in particular) when the price of bread went up and it created hunger among simple people. Look at the mass exodus the war in Syria and Iraq has produced and all kinds of means have been used to stop it, to reduce it, to prevent it. And even so with a death toll hat must be around 25% at least and a life expectancy that must be reduced to 50 at the very best, it is still going on. And that is only one little spot in the vast world, yet the migrants are coming from places that are one thousand miles away from this little spot and at times even more. His conception of the human species is extremely passive and even placid.
Of course the author envisages to provide everyone with a stipend that would enable survival in rather easy conditions. But that will not be enough. Inactivity for Homo Sapiens is just like death because it is boring, because these humans do not add value to what they do not produce any more. Living becomes onanism, and always interruptus, and as such is traumatic. This social organization he imagines would create a systematic Post Traumatic Idleness Stress Syndrome or Disorder. And idleness is the mother and father of all vices, as he should know. The answer cannot be: “Smart police robots on every block watch everyone’s every move, and bound into action at the first sign of conflict.” We are not in a film with Schwarzenegger. What can a smart police robot do against one hundred or one thousand intelligent people assembled in a mob with all kinds of weapons produced in the cellars of the Poor People Shelters? The answer is very little. And the best way not to be caught when preparing bombs is to hijack those of the establishment. This of “The Running Man” (1987) with Schwarzenegger.
So he also envisages how to pay for this stipend: a ten dollar tax on a compound measuring of robot working time and working speed. This will probably provide the necessary money to give a small stipend though big enough for survival. But as he says those who are prepared will arrive in this work-deprived society with some assets, financial assets that will enable them to supplement their stipend. But the vast majority of people will only have the stipend and that will not enable them to invest, then there will be two classes of people, as he says, “the haves and the have-nots.” And that will be the new class struggle, quite similar in a way to the older one and yet slightly different but altogether the financially deprived vast majority will feel like the victims of the small financially endowed minority who will control all capital in society. The capital controls the robots not the people but the people are the victims, the “slaves” of this capital that reduces them to a stipend. The author is a poor Marxist and he may think Marx is an oddity. Marx is the most achieved mind along the line of “the deprived against the endowed.” Nietzsche is the endowed approach of the same reality whereas Marx is the deprived approach.
The next argument is about the Great Deflation that will make the stipend a lot more valuable than what it will be on the surface. He speculates about the value of a $500 stipent if the Great Deflation produces a 50% or 20% or 10% price decrease. But that remains peanuts because in the best situation that stipend would be worth $750, a miserable charitable contribution to the survival of the deprived. Of course he does not come to the idea that some will impose eugenics: systematic sterilization of the deprived, men and women, systematic elimination of the violent, systematic extermination of the revolutionary or counter-revolutionary. Let’s kill them all first, and wonder about questions you could have asked them only after killing them or wondering about the questions. In other words he does not remember General Custer. That must be out of his culture. True enough the whites won in the end, but true enough too the Indians are going through a revival that no one could have predicted or conceived, though it is the result of the Seventh Generation of the Mayas, some might say, at least if you think and feel history is cyclical.
But my main objection is that – even if Trump becomes the president of the USA which would make that perspective feasible (especially cops at all street corners and on all social sites – such a perspective is bound to fail in the long run. It would create a global SOVIET system of systematically assisted masses of humans not even reduced to chattel since they would be doing nothing, hence they would be nothing but parasites. (I experienced that working in East Germany where the minimum wage was guaranteed whether you worked your forty hours or not) And what do we do to parasites, would any logical ethics master ask? And that farniente system would die the same way as the USSR died: initiative that can only be individual, personal or from very small groups of people would be killed and that would kill any human society. That initiative in all human beings is the mark of the survival instinct. To kill it is to kill the species. Machines cannot have that initiative because it is driven by some deep and irrational forces in human beings. I insist on “IRRATIONAL” which is something a machine, smart or not, cannot be.
I think instead of reading Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Kurzweil, our author should read Frank Herbert and the Butlerian Jihad and the ban of intelligent machines. Humanity in order to survive may have to decide that much but humanity will have to be able to do that, or a real global civil war will develop between the deprived and the endowed and all the smart police or soldier robots will be pretty poor when compared with the creativity of human beings fighting for their survival. Not to mention that machines cannot have any survival instinct since they are not biological, or geological.
A fascinating book but so many things have to be explored and deepened. But enjoy the nightmarish dream of a dystopian utopia. Viva la Singularidad!
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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All will survive, he contends, the fast-approaching Automation Revolution, a development ushered in by artificial intelligence and smart robots; some will thrive in it.
"Robonomics" serves as a guide to those who wish to join the latter group.
But guess what? I think he’s probably right at least as far as the number one worry of the general public is concerned, namely that robots will take over the world and enslave human beings…or something like that. As Crews makes clear robots do what they are programmed to do and nothing more. They have no desire to take over the world and they will be scripted to value human life and indeed other forms of life, perhaps in a hierarchy of value.
What about black hat hackers? It appears that Crews believes that advanced AI systems will not be vulnerable to hacking. (See the Chapter “13. Defense.”) Here I don’t know if he is on terra firma or not. It seems that today’s systems are indeed very vulnerable to hacking as North Korea, the Chinese, the US, Israel and others have demonstrated. If anyone knows how and why advanced AI systems will be safe from hackers I would like to see the explanation. Crews does not elaborate. My personal opinion is that surveillance will become so nearly ubiquitous that it will be hard to get away with anything criminal. But that, as they say, is another story.
Regardless of hackers, Crews' main point is that robots (Artificial Intelligence with muscle so to speak) will make almost everything we need not only a lot cheaper but safer.
Crews shows in concrete detail what robots can do from being household nannies and housekeepers, to teachers, to police bots to warriors and even health counselors and doctors of surgery. He has chapters on how robots will revolutionize various industries: agriculture, manufacturing, construction, mining, transportation, etc. Furthermore robots, because they will be enormously intelligent and exactingly competent, will make our lives safer and healthier.
Again I agree—that is, unless we blow ourselves up or pollute the planet before the age of AI can be ushered in. I am taking it as given that AI systems will eventually become so advanced that robotic intelligence will approach or even exceed human intelligence. AI has been a little late in fulfilling this promise but lately there have been scientific breakthroughs that are so promising, as Crews points out, that investors and big corporations are nurturing the projects with a lot of money. Some people even believe that quantum computers will become viable in the not too distant future. If so AI systems run on such machines will be something close to godlike. (Crews, I think wisely, doesn’t speculate on how, when and if QM machines will materialize.)
What Crews sees as clear is that robots will be employed in almost every aspect of our lives, including building other robots. Forget the “almost.” Although Crews doesn’t mention it (it probably got edited out) but one of the first and most wide-spread use of robots will be as sexual surrogates. Note that one of the most wide-spread and popular uses of the Internet is for virtual love. He does mention that robots will be handy as human companions.
The problem with this brave new world is that virtually nobody will have a job. How will humans adjust to doing nothing but leisure? Crews is not worried. He sees humans furthering their educations, going on cruises, making music, doing artwork, or just hanging out, perhaps meditating on the bounty that is life. However since few people will have jobs there will be few wages to tax. What’s a government to do? Crews writes:
“The federal government should tax labor done by AI systems and smart robots to make up for the loss of income from income and payroll taxes. The government should also provide a basic income for all Americans when their labor can no longer be traded for money.” (Kindle location 1394-96).
Moreover: “The federal government will need to pay a stipend, a universal basic income, to practically every adult citizen.” (Kindle location 1533-34)
This really gets to the nitty-gritty of what is going to happen to our world if and when robots are capable of doing human work. I have thought a bit about this myself and my conclusion is that everybody on the planet will then be assigned some sort of responsibility such as being an expert on bees or even just one species of bees, or on trees or periods of history, and so on. Or if you have musical talent you can write songs, sing, play instruments. If you are athletically talented you can play sports. Or perhaps you will be paid to contemplate your navel.
All this makes me wonder what humans and life are all about. What does it all mean?
At any rate I am working on a book about the social, political and economic aspects of the future which I hope to complete before I become too enfeebled. Crews has admirably anticipated some of my concerns.
By the way, Crews’ text comes with almost two hundred end notes, many of which have links to Internet sources. You could do your own research.
--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”
Filled with interesting narrative, the premise of the book is set to ‘resistance is futile’ followed by how advance automation will impact industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, mining, transportation, defense, education, criminal justice, Healthcare, finance, insurance, research and development, leisure, and government to name a few. Author has repeatedly tried to build scenarios in the future state explaining how it would be like to inhabit in tomorrow’s economical realities. You may be able to relate to some of these futuristic scenarios, and some may never see the realm of reality however the core concepts such as the great deflation, universal basic income and the jobless society are well explained in the book, albeit concisely. I'm not quite sure how the artificial intelligence algorithms appendix really add any value to this text, but overall makes for an interesting reading and a conversation Firestarter.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review.
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