The Lights In The Tunnel: free ebook about automation economics

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2010

Martin Ford, much like many of us, has some concerns about the future. Unlike most of us, he’s written a book about it: The Lights In The Tunnel looks at the economic implications of the technological acceleration curve that Singularitarian cheerleaders are so fond of, and suggests it may be at the root of the current economic crisis as well as the ones yet to come. From the website blurb:

The book directly challenges nearly all conventional views of the future and illuminates the danger that lies ahead if we do not plan for the impact of rapidly advancing technology.  It also offers unique insights into how technology will intertwine with globalization to shape the twenty-first century and explores ways in which the economic realities of the future might be leveraged to drive prosperity and to address global challenges such as poverty and climate change.

I’ve had a review copy sitting in my to-be-read pile for ages, and hope to get to it eventually (though I’m not expecting a cheery life-affirming feeling as a result – this isn’t the sort of book you write in order to tell everyone how great the future is going to be). If you’re interested in what Ford has to say, however, there’s no need to lash out for the hardcopy – you can now download a PDF version for free at the book’s website, and the license has been tweaked so you’re perfectly at liberty to copy and share it with friends.

If you take a look, why not drop back here and let us know what you think. Is Ford just another doomsayer pundit, or is he onto something? Is he stating the obvious, or unearthing buried truths?

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3 Responses to “The Lights In The Tunnel: free ebook about automation economics”

  1. Babylon says:

    I read the book. What he points out about the problems we are facing is pretty compelling. The solutions he proposes are a bit less so, mostly becuase he pushes reliance on something similar to the federal reserve which I do not see a positive force.

  2. khannea says:

    The end conclusion will be – tax, tax, tax. In the current system there is no other alternative. The effect of that will be corporations move to places with the lowest tax climates (where people are thus poorest) and the nett effect of that will be trade barriers against products. Then corporations will respond by ditching consumer markets and using resources to construct the stuff their shareholders want, so they can’t be taxed.

    Eventually unemployment will skyrocket, while those with assets will twist themselves in a knot to escape being forced to produce, effectively for near to nothing – because if they take income with one hand and have to give back with the other, why produce altogether?

    If efficiency wins are great enough I predict consumer-block driven and owned utilities companies – corporate communism in effect. Subscription based consumerism and brand citizinship. This will start in the 2020s, and will probably end up competing with state and corporate assets in a state of mutual resentment for a decade or so, untill we’ll end up with something like AI-driven ‘archangel’ productive entities that make it their solemn desire to please human clients – and keep a cautious eye on other archangels to make sure none of them is on a hard-artillect take-off trajectory.

    This is an unstable arc of progress. There is constant pressure from all directions to dismantle democratic rights and guarantees and reduce power and consumption of citizens between here and 2050. This may get dangerous, and some ountries will see a small (1%) cyber-elite, and 99% teeming masses of ‘baseline proletariat’. Those places will be pretty dystopian, even if everyone is more or less fed, more healthy than any of us in 2010, housed, protected and entertained. These futures will feel remarkably like second life, with ultra-superficial allotment based consumerism, rampant hobbyism, vacuity, wandering around and pretty raw sexuality. And drugs, holy shit, drugs. Anything to dull the pain.

    At some point even the most conservative voters will grasp for birthing quota – especially since after 2030 it’ll become easier and easier to engineer a treatment for aging and oldness – by 2040 even someone doing research in a garage should be able to come up with a treatment. By that time most societies will be saturated by people receiving any of dozens of different (and mutually exclusive) treatments, some of which will be rationed based on some kind of merit-based argument. So you’ll have rejuvenation maffia’s and breeder maffia’s developing in the 2030s. Or even ‘clendestine in-vitro’ parents, who send sperma and eggs to the third world and covertly have kids there, in some peruvian farm.

    Eventually some entity or faction sells a one world government to this mess of a future, probably a minority that promises AI/cybernetics driven solutions. The best solution I can see by 2050 will probably a type of fairly lossless upload, and significant tax revenues if you ‘decorporate’. As in – ‘we pay handsomely if you virtualize’.

    Beyond here be dragons.

  3. Wintermute says:

    Definitely check out Jaron Lanier’s stuff, it would seem his book You Are Not A Gadget was a forerunner to this. (Both Silicon Valley veterans finally turning around and questioning the rah-rah technoligism / cult / religion of the Singularity)