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Martin Ford on Singularity 1on1: Technological Unemployment is an Issue We Need To Discuss

Technological unemploymentRise of the Robots is an issue that I have mentioned a few times during my past interviews. In fact, I would go as far as saying that it is at the bottom of the top 5 biggest problems humanity faces today. So while it may not be the very biggest issue we face right now, it definitely is a huge challenge that, if not resolved, has the potential to impact negatively on a variety of other ones – from global warming to economic growth and social stability. And so today’s interview is devoted exclusively on technological unemployment and I am very happy to discuss it with Martin Ford, who has written two best-selling books on the topic: Lights in the Tunnel and Rise of the Robots.

During our 70 min conversation with Martin Ford we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: Martin’s background as a small software entrepreneur in Silicon Valley; his interest in technological unemployment and whether it is ok that Robot’s Will Steal Your Job; why this time automation is fundamentally different from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution; whether education and hard work are enough for success; the dangers and possible implications of high technological unemployment; the proposal for Guaranteed Minimum Income; the incentives to work, capitalism and the need for systemic change…

(You can listen to/download the audio file above or watch the video interview in full. If you want to help me produce more high-quality episodes like this one please make a donation!)

Who is Martin Ford?

Martin_Ford_1Martin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm and the author of two books: The New York Times Bestselling Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future and  The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future. He has over 25 years experience in the fields of computer design and software development. He holds a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He has written for publications including The New York TimesFortune, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Project Syndicate, The Huffington Post and The Fiscal Times.  He has also appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NPR and CNBC. Martin is a frequent keynote speaker on the subject of accelerating progress in robotics and artificial intelligence—and what these advances mean for the economy, job market and society of the future.

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  • Alan Grimes

    I’ve been out of work for three years despite having a BS in computer science. Being unemployed for more than a year in my field is a death sentance. I have been surviving off of loans from my father, less than $1,000 a month… So yeah, this would even allow me to begin to repay my father and I wouldn’t be under foreclosure from my HOA… =(

  • SilentLennie

    I had totally forgotten about the incentive video and I daily deal with free and open source software. 🙂

    So this would mean, you need to give people enough money that they have autonomy and we’ll have a flourishing society.

    About Foxconn the first fully automated factory supposedly exists:

    On Wednesday, the company’s CEO revealed Foxconn has a fully automated factory in operation in the Chinese city of Chengdu. “We haven’t talked much about the factory, but it’s manufacturing a product from a very famous company,” Gou said, without elaborating.

    The factory can run for 24-hours with the lights off, he added. In addition, Foxconn has been adding 30,000 of its own industrial robots to its factories each year. “We don’t sell them, because we don’t have enough for our own use yet,” he added.



    There is also an article about the loss of factory jobs in China:

    Automation has already had a substantial impact on Chinese factory employment: Between 1995 and 2002 about 16 million factory jobs disappeared, roughly 15 percent of total Chinese manufacturing employment. This trend is poised to accelerate.

    That might not be a problem if the Chinese economy were generating plenty of higher-skill jobs for more educated workers. The solution, then, would simply be to offer more training and education to displaced blue-collar workers.

    The reality, however, is that China has struggled to create enough white-collar jobs for its soaring population of college graduates. In mid-2013, the Chinese government revealed that only about half of the country’s current crop of college graduates had been able to find jobs, while more than 20 percent of the previous year’s graduates remained unemployed.

    According to one analysis, fully 43 percent of Chinese workers already consider themselves to be overeducated for their current positions.


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  • Travis

    Seems like there should be a FORUM created for this topic. Is it too early to starting considering what obstacles are preventing Earth from becoming a monetary/debt free society/civilization? I think as GNR (genetic, nano, robotic) technologies are exponentially advancing. The long term effects on human nature/psyche are likely to be profoundly positive. What relatively simple and easy things can be done in a relatively short period of time say within 5-10 years that will drastically increase the abundance of Shelter, Food, Energy. Will most of the humans on the planet go on a sabbatical only to find out that other than fulfilling selfish desires we also enjoy serving others in the various service industries. Will there grow an appreciation for going to a restaurant that everyone there is human and there because they want to be including the cooks, servers, patrons etc…? Once there is the ability for everything to be automated or robotic will many industries still be filled with humans because of an appreciation for human industries. Will we find out that although AI is brilliantly logical and efficient there is still something unique about the grey matter between our shoulders that gives us a unique connection to the cosmos that allows humans to create in ways AI cannot?

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  • Andrew Belcourt

    I just listened to a story on NPR this morning on my way to work that was floating the idea of starting a program in California for universal basic income. It may be closer than we think.

  • I really hope so but I am very skeptical per the implementation to say the least. Will happy to be totally wrong 😉

  • David Poole

    Let’s contemplate our future for a moment. I’ve read many articles and studies about robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) taking over our jobs. I’m still learning of course and wondered what our economy would look like if robots, automation, AI took over most jobs in the next thirty years. I contemplated if there are no jobs for us, that also translates into no money for us to buy the very products or use the very services these new technologies would provide. No employees paying state or federal taxes because they have no income. The salaries of past human workers will belong to the owners of the robots, software, and automated workers, plus the profits from the products and services sold. Our current economic model is going to collapse unless we change it too. Our economy will need to morph into something different because these technologies are coming whether we like it or not.

    I see our government will have no choice but to force a redistribution of wealth in order to pay a basic guaranteed income to each person? The government will need to provide all survivability needs for the majority of people like a home, transportation, food, healthcare, and a basic income. These funds will be required of the new wealthy elite. In order to make this happen, tax laws will need reformed. The wealthy elite will be required to pay the government the requisite tax to offset the costs to meet the basic needs. Think about this possibility; it would eliminate poverty and bring all forward to the same basic level established by the government. This may be required if there are no jobs for most people to perform. It wouldn’t be welfare; it would be a human right to receive the basic income. In fifty years, our government will be controlling more and more of our lives and if we are smart, we’ll design a system that is humane and provides us a respectable and free life.

    It seems to me the future of America will have no choice but to merge our current capitalistic competitive system with a form of socialism; technology advancement leaps will force this to happen. We must take care of our people otherwise civil chaos would be pervasive and destabilize our nation.

    This will also create a huge divide. Today we have economic citizenry divided by their income levels. We have those considered disabled, unemployed, lower, middle, upper middle, and the wealthy. But the future of automation and technology advancements will most definitely reshape and broaden the inequality divide. The new divides will be the basic, basic + working, and wealthy elite. No longer will there be the poor since all persons (from newborns until death) would receive a basic guaranteed income regardless of their work status or any disability that prevents them from working. We’ll still have jobs for people to perform but they will continue to dwindle as advancements continue.

    What’s the impact on education? Education will be more controlled as well. The government will need to shape it and force a curriculum that meets the future needs of our nation and to direct students to study in fields that will propel our technologies even further. Education direction will be controlled and student curriculum will be designed based on job openings.

    Good part of the is future is the elimination of poverty. Everyone will be provided a basic income that will be enough to thrive.

    I’m also concerned about our future as it seems we are heading to a form of socialism first and then push forward to a communist type society. The citizenry divide will be comprised of the cared for and the care takers. Our government will be in control of lives of the cared for and the care takers will have an elitist life. We may not have a choice to move into this formation with all the technological advancements. For you geeks, nerds, and Star Trek fans, the communist type system I refer to in our future is like the society on Star Trek. It’s a cashless society and the basic needs of all are provided. It’s a good society if we design it in that manner. We will most likely have an identification system that will designate your status.

    What’s your thoughts?

    What would you do with all that free time if you had no worries for the basics of life?

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