Where are you on the Techno-opto-pessimism spectrum? Will robots take our jobs (and then kill us)?

Baruch’s been reading Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford, the 2015 Financial Times and McKinsey (yuk) Business Book of the Year, no less. He’s a bit embarrassed to tell you, avid reader though he be, that this book eventually defeated him*. He stopped reading it and picked up something a bit more light hearted; specifically General Heinz Guderian’s memoirs of leading Germany’s Panzer Divisions in WW2. So far it’s going badly. The Russians keep breaking through, and Hitler’s being a super awful boss.

Anyway, back to the robots. This topic, about whether increased automation and use of robots and algorithms is going to be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing, seems to have become a little cottage industry of late, with not just Martin Ford’s book, but also works by Robert Gordon, Calum Chance, Nick Bostrum and probably a few others, all in the past 18 months. The current spasm of published thought on this matter was probably started off by MIT’s Brynjolfsson and McAffee’s really quite good Second Machine Age a couple of years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Of course, the great Ray Kurzweil, he of The Singularity is Near, is the true father of the genre, and before that there was pulp science fiction, in Baruch’s case concentrated in the epic comic 2000AD, edited by Tharg from Betelgeuse. Great thinkers such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have also recently weighed in, these latter on the more techno-pessimist side.

As you can see, all or most of these guys can be put on different bits on what Baruch calls his Techno-opto-pessimism spectrum. Most of the arguments, I think, have been set out by Kurzweil, McAfee and Brynjolfsson, and Robert Gordon. A lot of the later books decide to come out on the spectrum where they feel like, and simply selectively reproduce these arguments to justify themselves. Baruch is going to do you a favour so you can seem knowledgeable at dinner parties, without having to do actual, you know, reading of any this stuff. Here it is, his patented Techno-Opto-Pessimism spectrum! Ta Daaa! Look upon his powerpoint, oh ye mighty, and despair.

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Baruch’s somewhere in the middle: most people, I think, would put themselves a bit on the left, on the optimistic side. Funny that most of the serious books on the subject are on the left hand side. Anyway, how about you?

*I guess the reason why I stopped reading was that it got a bit repetitive. There’s only so many ways you can explain the idea that not only poorly paid jobs will be automated but tons of middle class ones too. 

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One thought on “Where are you on the Techno-opto-pessimism spectrum? Will robots take our jobs (and then kill us)?”

  1. Even something as simple as email has reduced the demand for oil, since the volume of letters sent around in the physical is down. Some suggest this is why we haven’t seen inflation- the widescale reduction in demand has countered Fed foolishness. The robots further reduce demand as they displace humans.

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