About econfuture / Martin Ford – Author, Silicon Valley Entrepreneur and Keynote Speaker

About the Author

Martin Ford – Silicon Valley Entrepreneur and Speaker  

Leading expert on the Robot Revolution, Artificial Intelligence, Job Automation, and the Impact of Accelerating Technology on Workplaces, the Economy and Society



Martin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm and the author of the books 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 Fortune, 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.


Speaking Engagements


Martinmf2 is available to speak on the robotics revolution and the economic, political, business and job market impacts of advancing information technology. He can also offer unique insight into the implications of future technologies for specific businesses, industries and sectors of society.Swedish Bar Association Keynote

For information, please use this contact page
and select “speaking inquiry” in the form.

Selected recent speaking events include:

Swedish Bar Association, Annual Conference (Stockholm)

Paradigm Outcomes Innovation Symposium

The 19th Annual Conference of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

University of Warwick (UK)

IMPAKT Festival (Utrecht, Netherlands)

The New America Foundation (Washington DC)


Email: lightstunnel (at) yahoo (dot) com

Twitter: @MFordFuture

Facebook: www.facebook.com/RiseoftheRobotsBook

News and Articles


The Washington Post: The Robots are Coming

A multi-part series from the Associated Press:

Robot Co-workers – The Economist

Robots are Coming to Take Your Job – InfoWorld

The Internet’s Greatest Disruptive Innovation — Inequality – Salon

Businesses are adopting robots for new tasks, but will they kill jobs? – ComputerWorld

Larry Page and Sergey Brin on Technological Unemployment – InformationWeek

Learning to live with robots – Cosmos

Video: The Robot Unemployment Threat –  Financial Times  (The video uses this graph from my book, The Lights in the Tunnel).

Will Robots Kill — or Create — your Next Job? – FastCompany

Robots Fill New Roles at Work – PC World

Slate Magazine: Will Robots Steal Your Job?

The Economist: Artificial Intelligence / Luddite Legacy

Machine Man (A profile of iRobot founder Rodney Brooks) – Boston Magazine

The Fiscal Times: The Robot Revolution: Your Job May be Next

Los Angeles Times: Automation Accelerates in Retail Sector

The Atlantic: Artificial Intelligence is the Next Killer App

Der Spiegel (English): Competing Visions of a Computer-Controlled Future

Forbes (India): Hello Robot, Goodbye Worker

USA Today

Los Angeles Times

International Business Times

San Franciso Chronicle

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

TechCrunch:  What If This Is Our Future  and  A Tale Of Two Countries: The Growing Divide Between Silicon Valley And Unemployed America

Guardian (UK)

Sunday Telegraph (UK) – Automation  (See “Metal Men”  on Page 11).

Blast Magazine

The Globe and Mail (Canada):  “Will computers ever be smarter than us?”  and “Thank you for your personal data

CQ Researcher “Will Artificial Intelligence Lead to Unemployment?”

Sueddeutsche.de (in German)


Articles Written by Martin Ford


CNN – Guess Who’s Coming for Your Job – The Impact of AI should be taken seriously (by M. Ford)

Fortune.com / CNNMoney (by M. Ford)

CNN – Fareed Zakaria GPS/Project Syndicate: The Jobless Economy  (by M. Ford)

Washington Post: Dr. Watson: How IBM’s supercomputer could improve health care (by M. Ford)

Huffington Post (by M. Ford)

Forbes.com (by M. Ford)

Communications of the ACM: Could Artificial Intelligence Create an Unemployment Crisis? (by M. Ford )



Ideas in Action (shown on PBS) – “Will Robots Take our Jobs?”

CNBC  “Robots taking over jobs?”


Radio Interviews

Minnesota Public Radio – Technology and Disappearing Middle Class Jobs

KALW San Francisco – Will Robots Take Your Job?

NPR Interview: “The Dark Side of Watson”

Southern California Public Radio: “Losing your job to a machine”

South Carolina NPR

FastForward Radio

ChangeSurfer Radio

KGNU Denver/Boulder -“It’s the Economy”


Reviews of The Lights in the Tunnel


A Review by the Future of Work Project

Review by The Futurist Magazine

Review at Singularity Hub

A review by Brad Feld

Review in Mediapart (in French)

CNET Review by Chris Matyszczyk

  1. June 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Capitalism’s “relentless revolution” marches on, as Joyce Appleby expressed it in her recent book, with technology as its symbiotic companion. Only direct service jobs seem (?) insulated from “strong AI” because they can’t be routinized.

    The late 19th and early 20th century industrial revolution transformed “vocation” to mean “occupation” and the use of productivity enhancing technology did create wealth. But in losing that original meaning of vocation, we lost a sense of our humanity; will “occupation” and “work” follow in losing their meaning? Without an ethical framework (implied by vocation) for what is true and humane (i.e. The Stepford Wives: “…because we can.”), we are headed down a frightening path to Wall-E’s world.

    If we lose our sense of what work “is” and that it’s “available,” do we lose our sense of being human? Are our cellphone microphone/hearing devices the beginning of us becoming cyborgs? Is The Matrix a true future?

    Jeremy Rufkin’s suggestion that we reinvent what work “is” may be a better idea than we realize (The End of Work). But how do we value what tasks we would be doing enough to develop compensation packages, and who decides?

  2. Not Impressed
    June 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    How can someone with no formal training in economics get a book published and end up on money.cnn.com waxing poetic on the topic? Well, I guess it’s a stupid question to ask how CNN wound up with a clown as a contributor…

    Maybe I (an economist by training) should publish a book on law; I have lots of opinions on this topic. Actually, I should write about the technical merits of different “computer design and software development” ideas. I don’t have any formal training here, but I did take an undergraduate electrical engineering course, and I really like computers!

    • June 11, 2010 at 11:16 am

      Well, I’d be willing to respond to your comments. However, I see you failed to reveal either your name or your email address…so I guess, I’m not impressed either.

    • gregwk
      September 12, 2010 at 9:04 am

      > Maybe I (an economist by training)

      is that as opposed to having an actual university degree?

      > but I did take an undergraduate electrical engineering course

      In which case, if you do not have formal education in economics, you may very well be more qualified to write about computers than to comment on economics. Unfortunately, though, I have to call “bullshit” on this claim, as well. While it is possible your university allows just anybody to take classes in electrical engineering, at my university there were quite a few more generic engineering class prerequisites. You didn’t take true “electrical engineering” courses until you matriculated as an EE major.

      So given that your post provides no hint that you have any knowledge of *either* economics or engineering (electrical or otherwise), I’m not sure why you expected anyone to take your opinions about the author or his views seriously.

    • hmmmmm
      November 3, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      How come economists always feel “attacked” when others with a different background venture into their realm? If we’re all SO wrong.. then it should be able to disprove what people say..

      • February 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm

        Economists feel threatened because they know their jobs are pretty much made up ones with no real scientific backing since it is a purely humanly made-up field unlike the real sciences. Yes statistics and math are real but statistics can be skewed to favor the flavor of the month. Most of it is based merely on past models and conjecture, something that is counterproductive for our current place in time. These jobs, economists that is, will be replaced quite easily by artificial intelligence, therefore, they are pretty much like politicians in the sense that they have no future and they are puppets for what is favorable at the moment. Quantum computers with artificial intelligence will guide our future strategies since people always think in terms of their selfish desires.
        All of these old timers who believe a degree in something is the end all and actually means something are just holding on to a relict of the past. The future humans will be impressed by the merit you put into life and what you achieve, not how many books and quotes you can memorize (for that any computer can do). Not to say schooling is unimportant as it will rule our future but how we go about educating will be entirely different. Problem solving and critical thinking are the attributes of future man. Anyone who thinks otherwise is doomed to perish!

    • josh
      January 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      My problem with the “not impressed” comment is that they did not provide a counter arguement.

      There are several economic schools. I’m sure each one might offer an interesting counter perspective that opens up new dynamics to examine.

    • June 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      Here is part of the reason for why the world is starting to realize it needs to listen to other voices than inbred mainstream economists, from 2004:
      “Mainstream economics, heterodoxy and academic exclusion: a review essay ”
      “Does the mainstream of economic thinking and analysis tend systematically to exclude ideas and approaches that could enrich the field, and, as a consequence, have important questions and issues been shunted aside for nonobjective reasons? Two recent volumes by heterodox economists that address these questions are Geoffrey Hodgson’s How Economics Forgot History: The Problem of Historical Specificity in Social Science, and Steve Keen’s Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences. I evaluate their claims of academic exclusion and assess the current state of (selective) pluralism within mainstream economics.”

      The article points out how far back these problems go: “In 1992, the American Economic Review (AER) carried “A Plea for a Rigorous and Pluralistic Economics”. This was a paid announcement appearing in the back pages of the journal, and was organized by Geoffrey Hodgson, Uskali Maki and Donald McCloskey. Forty-four economists signed the document, including the Nobel Laureates Franco Modigliani, Herbert Simon, Paul Samuelson and Jan Tinbergen. The full text follows: We the undersigned are concerned with the threat to economic science posed by intellectual monopoly. Economists today enforce a monopoly of method or core assumptions, often defended on no better ground that it constitutes the “mainstream”. Economists will advocate free competition, but will not practice it in the marketplace of ideas. … [the rest omitted]”

      Although in general that article concludes, I feel a bit too optimistically: “In summary, modern economics embraces pluralism but in a limited sense. Diversity is allowed in modeling but rhetoric without a model is still derided as unscientific. Many research developments filter down to students slowly (if at all), and many economists do not display methodological and historical awareness. We shall have to wait to see whether new winds will blow in economics education (undergraduate and graduate), and whether history and methodology will resume their rightful place in the curriculum.”

      You could find lots of other things if you looked around like the recent call by the editors of the “Heterodox Economics Newsletter”. They call for people to look into why three years after a crisis maintsream economics failed to predict, that alternative economics ideas are still excluded from most of academia and there is practically no self-reflection on the problem.

      See also the book “Disciplined Minds” by Jeff Schmidt on how intolerant group think arises and sustains itself in academia. That is why I think that conclusion of that paper is too optimistic. Mainstream adademic economics as a social process tends to filter out anyone who would try to investigate a seriously alternative model (Chomsky also talks about this in “What Makes The Mainstream Media Mainstream”). How would you find three faculty advisors to get a PhD building a very different economic model that assumed, say, as shown by research, that creativity suffers when done for economic gain? Or how would you get an economics teaching job if you had suggested repeatedly that we needed a (socialistic?) basic income? Or how would you get tenure in a field emphasizing exchange if you thought we should have more local subsistence through 3D printing? While not impossible, it is so hard as to ensure there will be little dissent to what has become a sort of secular religion of market fundamentalism.

      However, most academic disciplines have similar group think issues according to Jeff Schmidt. That problem is not sepcific to the ecnomics academics, as it relates more to pervasive social problems in academia including related to bitter fights over funding that David Goodstein wrote bout in his essay “The Big Crunch” on how academia stopped expanding exponentially in the 1970s but still kept producing lots of PhDs. It is just that economic policy affects our daily lives in such an obvious way that we care more about the economics academics who influence it than we do about, say, those focusing on excluding others with different opinions about the history of Assyrian poetry.

    • Robert Goldschmidt
      September 25, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      There are several problems with the current economics profession, but I would summarize them with pet theory trumping facts and failure to use models to accurately predict. In short, it should not be considered a science and its predictions about the real world have no more relevance than those of astrologers or entrail readers.

      Even those few like Paul Krugman who seem to have a reasonable model for cyclical events, fail to grapple with the fundamental changes occurring due to automation.

  3. jcraig2
    June 19, 2010 at 5:20 am

    Econfuture, I read your article “What if there’s no fix for high unemployment?” that was in “Fortune”. It was so insightful I posted in on Facebook page.

    There was an interesting article in “Entrepreneur” June 2010, “Entrepreneur Annual 100 Brilliant Ideas”:Outsourcing” it talked about using a company called Rent A Coder that uses crowdsourcing to match buyers with coders from across the world.

    Please keep spreading the word.

    Just out of curiosity have you always used Econfuture rather than your name with your blog. My reason for asking is that I have an idea for a blog string that I would like to use a ghost or pen name for at this point as I do not want to hurt anyone as I think my insights are not just limited to my experience but to others as well. A Social Media Expert that I talked to said that blogs are about authenticity so using a pen name would not be good. What do you think? Your help is appreciated.

  4. Larry
    June 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Whoa, Check out this BBC article on a hospital in Scotland which will use a fleet of robots to carry out day-to-day tasks.


  5. Larry
    June 24, 2010 at 6:41 am

    One man’s cost savings is another man’s income.

  6. yaara dromi
    June 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    The solutions you suggest in the book emphasize the role the government will have in redistributing money to citizens for doing certain activity that society see as desirable, as a substitute to salaries.
    Not to contradict this – I think the free market economy will still have a role to play.
    Now, it may sound funny but I think it is already happening with reality shows and realty stars. Basically in a reality show big corporates pay ordinary people to be them selves in a show that is mostly a platform for advertising. The participants of the show get money either direct as prices or indirect from commercials or media related jobs. You can see people who become “professional” reality stars making a nice living commercializing their popularity.

  7. August 21, 2010 at 2:52 am

    I started a discussion about “The Lights in the Tunnel” at the Austrian Economics Forums: You might be interested in joining the discussion; it’s at http://mises.org/Community/forums/t/19119.aspx

  8. Sam Bleicher
    November 18, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I have just finished reading your book, which I found very articulate and on the whole quite compelling. I actually am a lawyer and an undergraduate Honors major in economics. One of my economics papers was on automation – and I reached the same conceptual conclusions about the problem that you did. I offer the following comments:

    (1) I think the real weakness of the “Luddite fallacy” argument, perhaps more important than the assumption that machines won’t ever be able to perform many human tasks, is that it assumes a timeframe for readjustment that is unrealistic as technology continues to accelerate – yes, the children of farmers could find other jobs as farming was automated. When the pace of change extended over decades, excess workers were eliminated largely by attrition. The pace of change you anticipate will require the farmers and factory workers and knowledge workers to take up radically different occupations – not once, but perhaps several times in their lifetimes. Recent experience with auto workers, among others, must discourage us from believing that this kind of constant reinvention can happen for most workers. I think your argument would be more persuasive with more emphasis on the dramatic projected rate of change and our poor results when trying to retrain laid-off workers

    (2) I also think your argument about the impact of public expectations is stronger than you show – market economists, of all people, should be sensitive to role of public expectations (consumer and investor confidence, which they follow avidly) in shaping behavior. Indeed the current stagnation can well be explained as consumers who are increasing savings out of fear of the future and investors who are putting cash in the drawer because they see no sign of growth in consumer demand. All the Fed’s efforts to push money into the economy won’t do much good if those perceptions persist – the money will just go into the drawer or (if fear of inflation is a driver for investors) into commodities and gold, but not increase consumer demand.

    (3) When I wrote my paper on automation in 1962, I discussed it with a family friend who was a Socialist – he expressed the fear of increased unemployment, and when I said the goal should be “full unemployment” he was dumbfounded. Watching the recent election campaigns, I don’t think we have progressed much beyond “jobs, jobs, jobs.” We really do need a whole different mindset.

    (4) find your solutions both too general and too specific – of course we need to find mechanisms to provide income to all, regards of their work status, but there are lots of ways to do that, including e.g., the distribution of some amount of stock to every citizen (which is supposedly what was done in Russia when everything was “privatized”). The crucial point is that no one is to be left out on any grounds. Of course the current owners will fight it, but when 75% of the population is unemployed, or underemployed, or fearful of being in one or the other of those categories, we’ll either change our laws or collapse. My real point is to urge you not to get too tangled in arguments over your specific solutions – just insist that opponents generate alternatives that will actually solve the problem just as well – with real economic models, not loose assertions of the kind Hanson offers.

    (5) Finally, a literary comment – I don’t get the tunnel – why not a room, why not a shopping mall? I kept looking for the meaning or significance of the tunnel and never found it. But your book seems to be generating a lot of discussion, so perhaps the objective is being accomplished.

    I hope you have time to offer some responses to these comments.

  9. December 20, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I will likely be able to provide great resources to fund this transition to make sure that everybody gets an ample share of the pie.

    On my website:


    First, I address a new political paradigm; please read through it carefully–it is much better thought-out than it may sound at first.

    Second, I address a technology, (patents pending,) that will help us to tap the energy of the Quantum Vacuum to power all of our devices and to thrust us, rapidly and inexpensively, throughout the Solar System. Using now-cheap energy to desalinate sea water, we will easily get more food out of less land than we are currently cultivating.

    There is abundant experimental evidence that suggests that this can really be done!

    Please contact me if you would, have any comments, or would like to help or know someone who might!

    scott 712 “at” hotmail “dot” com

    Wm. Scott Smith

  10. josh
    January 6, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I just speed readed the book. I like the basic premise. Personally I migth guess that the world is much more chaotic than a single tunnel. The linear trend prediction should probly take into account the unknown unknowns presented by exponential tech change.

    A few thoughts that came to mind reading the book.

    As rapid change destroys new products, before they mature, I would imagine that companies will need to further increase the rate of innovation. Which means that they need to increase the productivity of workers – inventing and gettting new products to market quicker.

    You described entrepreneurship as a difficult process only understood by a few. But of course AI systems can make this process easier, safer, more efficiant.

    Also the same tools that replace workers also empower workers. A single worker could leverage the economic power of many. So perhaps its a race for employers to leverage this new ability. Ive often heard that billion dollar ideas are a dime a dozen, that execution counts. Perhaps execution will become easier.

    What does Martin Ford think of Cisco’s new business org structure and its promise to leverage social network web org to increase innovation?

    What does Martin Ford think of second life? I just saw a lecture by the founder on a youtube singularity u clip. He was explaining that the user base is much more creative than expected. Perhaps this is a utopian view of potential uses for displaced workers.

    It seems like the problem is not a zero sum game but a valley created between two curves. The rate of technical unemployment versus the rate of new business model innovation to invent new industry capabilities.

    I think the global development and finance side of the equation is more complicated and worth more examination. I think the neo liberal global finance capitalism is worth more exploration in relation to the worker replacement. The history of capitalism and euro caste systems is also important to explore. I’m thinking of the classical liberal prejudice the the poor are motivated by starvation and the upper class is motivated by ambition.

    I’m also thinking of asteroid mining, colonization of the stratosphere, space, other planets, the earths crust. 3D printer revolution. Desktop bioprinting. Desktop nano factories.

    It would be nice to get an economic analysis of all these topics. Perhaps your next book could be a debate with various economists about various known future trends.

    Anyhoo, thanks for the fun read.

    February 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    An additional arrow for your quiver. As the attached link attests, we still make lots of stuff in the US, it’s just that technology is making us much, much more efficient.

    When you get down to it, many of your opposition’s arguments are attacking a straw man of robots/AI being intelligent enough to “take over”. AI doesn’t need to take over. If it manages to only make a worker 2x efficient, then you only need half as many workers–if technology manages to make a worker 10x or 50x or 1,000x as productive, then the job loss is really just a question of scale. Total unemployment becomes a question of how quickly other “less efficient” industries can be created to employ the masses.


  12. Rick
    February 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    See February 17, 2011, Wall Street Journal op-ed “Is Your Job an Endangered Species” by Andy Kessler for a description of how artificial intelligence is replacing humans in diverse jobs. In his last paragraph Kessler asserts labor-savings machines will always create as many jobs as they eliminate because that is what has always happened in the past. Unpersuasive.

  13. February 20, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Very nice book, Martin, and a very original take on the actual economic impact of the “singularity.” I’ve always counted myself in the technology optimists column, but your book give me pause.
    The biggest problem I see with it is your proposal that somehow the government should be relied on to re-distribute some of the wealth that will be generated by automation. As if it could. History has taught us that such bureaucratic, top-down organizations, whether IBM or the Civil Service, are inherently biased, inefficient, and (no other word for it) corrupt.
    Much more likely that we will see some form of social organization animated by online connections that enables people to care for others voluntarily, in the same way it already enables people to author an encyclopedia, code software, and even provide customer service for profit-making companies. “Social production” may not be the answer to everything, but as automation keeps sucking the friction out of our system, it becomes more and more realistic.
    Social mechanisms have the unintended virtue, also, of undermining the patent-based intellectual property system – which is the system by which the machine owners absorb all that wealth.

  14. Brian Callanan
    April 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Mr. Ford, reporter Brian Callanan contacting you from Q13 FOX in Seattle. Am hoping to do an interview with you via Skype or phone tomorrow or Friday on the topic of automation taking jobs away. Do you have some time between 9:30-11:30 a.m. on either of those days? Please contact me at bcallanan@kcpq.com.

  15. April 28, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Having come independently to essentially the same scenario as Mr, Ford, I have primarily read the sections of his book that discuss solutions.

    An underlying premise of Mr. Ford’s solutions is that the revenues now provided by payroll taxes would need to be replaced and, indeed, augmented to permit the redistribution of gains from automation. But I’m not sure that revenues are really necessary to solve the distribution problem. Why not just print the money?

    A world without taxes is certainly no more bizarre than a world without jobs. The only obstacle to printing money is inflation, which, of course, is a de facto tax on currency financial assets, including cash. But inflation is only and always the result of too much money chasing too few goods. In a world where machines make everything except natural resources, can there be too few goods? Are there really any natural resource limitations that can’t be conquered by the brains that will bring us the singularity? For example, desalinizing and transporting the oceans for irrigation and drinking is staggeringly expensive, they say. But “they” haven’t allowed for machines to do all the work. So, maybe it’s not
    so expensive after all. Will we reach the singularity before we perfect cold fusion or some other breakthrough? Will anyone have to starve anywhere in this brave new world? In short, as we are hypothesizing a world without work, can we not also hypothesize unlimited production and then think about how much larger a money supply we will not only be able to tolerate, but in fact need.

  16. Id Idea
    June 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    I’m all for alternative marketing, but down-voting competitors is a bit shabby, wouldn’t you agree?

  17. John
    June 12, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    WSJ article today about growing old, robotics, and the “new technology” –


  18. Dr. Carman C. Curton
    June 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Martin, forgive me for contact you this way, but I’m actually interested in your book because you published through Create Space. I’m trying to help my boss self-publish his book, and our concern is that it will be very dense graphically–lots of charts, graphs, and photos. So we’re trying to find a similar book published by Create Space in order to examine the quality of reproduction. One review of your book mentioned one graph–so I’m curious: Does your book include many illustrations? If so, I plan to buy a copy. While I’m on the topic, are you happy with the quality of your book. Would you be willing to share some of your experiences self-publishing with Create Space? If so, do you have a more private space for such conversations?

    If you don’t mind sharing this info with me, you can easily contact me at ccurton@adrian.edu.

    Thanks so much for your time,


    C. Curton

  19. July 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Of course the financial crisis we are all going through is worsening the employment situation, but it is the unemployment that started before the financial crisis which put the US economy as well as other economies on the dangerous slope of cheap credits and loans increase. Banks with the support of various government authorities tried to fuel the demand via cheap credit and easy borrowing methods, later on these credits becoming more risky, Banks invented various financial instruments supposed to cover the excess risks, but speculation on those new financial products lead very rapidly to the financial disaster we know…

    So at the origin, it was a severe reduction in labour income, due to great productivity gains in the past 60 years (five folds increase since 1950, while there had been a two fold increase between 1820 and 1950. OECD Statistics show that on average in all OECD countries, the part of labour in the value added lost about 15% over the 1950s to the years 2000s period, this created a severe income reduction among the consumer’s masses buying power, leading banks and government authorities to reduce credit interest rates and make credit easier to replace the failing consumer’s demand, in particular in the USA . This lead to a severe private debt increase too as less revenue and less demand reduced the sales and income taxes paid by millions of mid-range workers and at the same time, the tax reduction on high incomes (Reagan Thatcher’s fundamentalist strategies) also reduced the resources for US and UK national budget as well as other countries budgets. Creating then a public debt on top of an already excessive private debt…
    This public debt was again worsened by the governments decisions to bail out banks with huge amounts of monney.
    As a result, of all these public deficits, US government as well as European governments, couldn’t use a Keynesian “save the economy strategy” since the money wasn’t there anymore, and none was going to come from taxes in a slow demand economy.
    To make things worse if possible, Banks bailout by governments was given to banks without imposing on the banks to finance real economy activity. Which would have fueled an employment recovery which in turn would have fueled demand in a vertuous circle leading to more jobs and more income as well as more demand again. Instead the money was given without constraints, so banks came back to their old bad habits: short term purely financial speculation… plus huge bonuses to their managements who had in fact been responsible for the financial krach…

    Yet a NeoKeynesian strategy strategy had been mentionned by well-known economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and business men like by Martin Ford or Sam Palmisano (IBM CEO) in the USA and in Europe by Pierre Larrouturou as well as Richard Koo (Nomura Chief Economist in Japan)(http://www.businessinsider.com/richard-koo-recession-2010-4) who had all made a very similar analysis about the crisis causes and remedy…
    Before them to Jeremy Rifkin’s “End of Work” still valid analysis. In France, Dominique Méda wrote a superb book on that same subject “Le travail, une valeur en voie de disparition” (Labour a values on its way to oblivion),
    But instead of listening to those wise men and women, governments at home and while also participating at various world’s summits, kept avoiding the real economic and social structural problems, staying at the surface level with extremely weak financial reforms strategies , an attitude that Joseph Stiglitz called “Moving the chair around while being on the Titanic Deck”
    Any economic and political strategy that will not take into account the ongoing awesome technological evolution impact on societies at large and on workers in particular, will be bound to failure.
    And failure in this case will not only result in economic collapse, but will drive to social unrest in all OECD Countries as well as in the rest of the World’s countries.
    Another far worse possibility would be a third World war, as has been suggested by a few analysts considering various geopolitical moves in the largest economically strong countries…

    Let’s hope that world’s leaders will finally regain courage to face the reality and not hide behind self defeating policies which although supposed to salvage their own present positions will on the contrary make them loose everything and their people loose far more than their jobs.

    This is the subject of Pierre Larrouturou’s latest book:
    Pour éviter le Krach Ultime”
    “To avoid the ultimate Crackdown”
    A book which like Martins ford’s “The lights in the tunnel” should be available in as many languages as possible, in order to reach a much wider audience.

    Yours sincerely.

    Paul Trehin
    Former professional economist in High tech business forecasting and later on, full time involved in European Social Programs advocacy for various vulnerable populations such as people with disabilities, elderly people, homeless people, unemployed people, etc.

  20. Delano
    August 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    The Economist has an article that is right up your alley about Foxconn in China:


  21. August 4, 2011 at 2:32 am
  22. August 8, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Nice and informative.Thanks for sharing.

  23. Mak
    November 4, 2011 at 11:38 am

    You’ve been mentioned on memeburn.com:

  24. Jim Locke
    November 4, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Martin is quoted extensively today in this article in The Economist – Difference Engine: Luddite legacy. I guess this means he is finally making headway with the economist community.


  25. Jay
    December 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Interesting theory, thank you.
    May I ask, what happens when governments decide that consumption is unsustainable given resource and environmental constraints – and payments to the green lights need to be curtailed?

    There are two issues here – a) deriving most or all of your income from government reduces your autonomy. You have to do what the government tells you or they cut off your money. Governments will abuse it (“income management” for those who don’t toe the line) and people will resent being in that position.

    b) your solution depends on unlimited consumption, but this has its own problems. Call me Malthusian but as you have noted, it is not environmentally possible to raise 3rd world living standards to anywhere close to western standards. I understand your reasoning that consumption is essential to a free market system, and therefore to innovation, but Western-style unlimited consumption probably can’t continue for much longer without turning the planet into a pretty ugly place (read environmental collapse). Maybe technology will save us, and nanotech will be turning sewage into smartphones in a few years, but otherwise, propping up consumption is only a stop-gap solution.
    Unfortunately I have no alternative to offer, nor does anyone else as far as I know. It’s a bit of a dilemma – economic stagnation or environmental collapse.

  26. December 20, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    The other alternative was proposed by Buckminster Fuller in the seventies: “Make more with less” that through, what he called “Intelligent system design” resulting from a higher education level for all in our societies and in less favorised societies. Read his 1970 book “Utopia or Oblivion”
    Recent authors have come to a similar conclusion: “Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet” Tim Jackson (2010).
    Scientific American November 2011 has a full article entitled “Sustainably doubling food production”
    This doesn’t relieve us all from some changes in our consumption habits… We should just increase our productivity as consummers: “get more pleasure with less consumption”

    Sorry for quoting again a past author: Vance Packard wrote in 1960 a tremendous book that all should still read now: “The waste makers”, addressing the points of a limited resource planet and a limited garbage can in which to throw our wastes…

    The ideas of Martin Ford are strong and should deserve more attention around the world in a situation in which we can see more and more uncertainty building either trough unpredictable innovation which can now come from any one and from anywhere in the world, thanks to the generalized accessibility to compute power to inventors and thinkers in the mid-seventies, this being boosted in the mid-eighties by innovations in both computing systems and in telecommunications ease of use.
    The other source of uncertainties is a greater geopolitical brittleness since the Berlin wall fall, and now in part also fueled by new technologies accessibilities to an even larger number of people throughout the world.

    This generalized uncertainty may be one of the key explanations about the lack of investment dynamism in the real economy, no one investor (private or public) being ready to bet her/his money on investments in the real economy, given the future technological and geopolitical uncertainties.

    A French author Pierre Larrouturou expressed an idea that comes close to that of Martin Ford:
    “While the current crisis is increasing unemployment and inequalities, unemployment and large inequalities in the past 40 years are at the roots of the current crisis, which financial appearance, is but the tip of the iceberg. Phenomenon very well described by Joseph Stiglitz in “Free Fall”.
    Pierre Larrouturou quotes an OECD report showing that between 1970 and 2006 the labor part in OECD countries economic value added, decreased by more than 10%: productivity gains not being fairly redistributed to employees, contrary to what happened in the previous period when, following the 1944 Philadelphia declaration, US enterprises tried to match productivity increases by better salaries ans life conditions. Hence creating the demand that boosted the economy until the mid seventies.

    Paul Trehin
    Former Business forecaster with IBM for more than 25 years.
    And former market research and data analysis asociate professor at the University of Nice in France.

  27. Jay
    December 21, 2011 at 2:14 am

    Thank you for those references, I will look into them.

    I have read reviews of Prosperity Without Growth. I agree with many of its ideals – reduced consumption etc, as necessary for future prosperity. But there needs to be a rigorous economic framework behind these ideas, a framework robust enough to counter the competitive logic of capitalism. Capitalist logic is deeply ingrained in human behavioral compulsions. Our acquisitive nature and desire for status are ineradicable and this drives consumption. The competitive logic of capitalism also operates at the level of all enterprises, (including nations), for which continued growth is essential for survival.

    I hope the references you’ve provided will supply some of that framework, but it’s a tough nut to crack.

  28. December 21, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Thanks for your comments which I think were at least in part addressed to my contribution last night(European time: here we are a global communication)

    Concerning competition being engraved in human behavior let me suggest further reading in “The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis” by
    Jeremy Rifkin. With a tremendously wide analysis while being able to demonstrate profound knowledge Rifkin contests this “naztural competitive nature of human beings”. A great many of human beings activities are conditionned bya a natural empathy. This evolved not from human nature but through the development of property during the Neolithic period when human beings started to own cattle and gros cereals which they had to store. . But this was not in human nature it was created by a change in lifestyle.


  29. December 21, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Error, I sent my message a little too fast. Here is what I intended to say:
    Concerning competition being engraved in human behavior let me suggest further reading in “The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis” by
    Jeremy Rifkin. With a tremendously wide analysis while being able to demonstrate profound knowledge Rifkin contests this “naztural competitive nature of human beings”. A great many of human beings activities are conditionned bya a natural empathy. Competitive behavior evolved not from human nature but through the development of property during the Neolithic period when human beings started to own cattle and gros cereals which they had to store. . But this was not in human nature it was created by a change in lifestyle that the development of ownership and early urban civilisation entailed.


    • February 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Absolutely, also read Steven Pinker – The Blank Slate etc., and Dawkins, and lots more – human beings are a complex mix of aggression and cooperation, basically dumped in our genes from our tribal background. And all the ‘Tit for Tat’ experiments and theory which shows that cooperation can be an evolutionary successful strategy (more or less). Life is not a zero sum game – thankfully.

  30. December 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Material shortage is the problem. The base cost of materials and hence products is energy. Cheap energy makes cheap goods. How to make cheap energy ? PV ( photo voltaic s are getting close to the .$ 0.50 per watt, if installation is not counted. There are many lower cost PV technologies that offer even better value and largely eliminate installation costs and grid linking. IF we can cooperatively pull private and individual resources of those who wish to power their homes and businesses with PV, in less than 7 years, the cost of energy on the planet can be ” too cheap to meter”. The entire economic equation will be stood on its head. Remember this: at 0.50 cents per watt, it takes about 2 years to pay for the PV. That leaves another 25-40yrs of “free power” from the panels, before replacement. At a US average of $2k per year for electricity x 150 million households, a huge amount of money is saved and can be reapplied to expansion of PV through low interest loans.
    When energy is this cheap, products have little or no value and the normal capitalist incentive is lost. This can be done by linking small buying co-ops on a global scale,. This puts them in control of their own supply, financing, and research.
    There is more than enough for everyone, and automation becomes our best friend, and not the enemy, we also become materially equal. It would be like all oil nations deciding to offer all their oil for free, to the world, or what was promised in the ’50’s of nuclear energy being “too cheap too meter”
    For the younger readers, google the “triple revolution statement “of 1964. In it, the prediction of technology replacing workers was addressed and social US solutions offered. Its interesting that many saw this coming almost 50 yrs ago. Also google “everything for everybody” , to find a 1949 article in Time showing the near term possibility of this reality in the US. Incidentally, for those believing that other than 1st and 2nd world wars, the US economy has not seen expansion. We were the supplier to the world, until they learned to do it for themselves and compete with us. Add slavery, all our pensions entering the market and cheap credit, you can see, not much of true capitalism has been at work.
    It seems more valuable to find transitional pathways than debating who to believe, the evolutionary path has always bee pointed at material security for everyone. Capitalism has just been the most recent vehicle, that has fallen short.

    Joe Stevenson

    • Ian Titter
      May 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Before we lament the failure of capitalism we ought to be sure of our definition. Adam Smith wrote about its benefits in contrast to Mercantilism. Government supported monopolies aren’t capitalist in nature or in their behavior.
      Limited liability corporations are given similar advantages by governments. We might argue that capitalism only has a share of the present day marketplace, and isn’t the part that falls short.

  31. Jay
    December 22, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Paul, thanks for your reply. But I’m not sure I buy the argument – certainly humans have empathy, and we’re not always selfish agents, (thankfully), but my point is simply that capitalism very successfully exploits our acquisitiveness and desire for status (through advertising etc), and the result is unsustainable consumption. We can’t simply overcome this – I think these traits _are_ deeply embedded evolved behaviours, despite what Rivkin claims. Our acquisitiveness is not essentially a bad thing, any more than our taste for sugar and fat is essentially a bad thing, but both have undesirable consequences in an environment where there are no natural limits. Our desire for status we share with all social animals, it is very deeply embedded and drives a lot of consuming behaviour – Apple product anyone?

    The more I think about the argument presented in the book, the more I begin to doubt its premises, and the more it seems that the solution offered (guaranteeing consumption) is part of the problem.

    Technology will cause social disruption, but perhaps not as suddenly and catastrophically as suggested.
    AI is not yet worthy of the name, and barring some breakthrough, no closer than nanotech.
    Robots will continue to spread, but mostly in purpose-built environments – factories, warehouses, supermarkets, fast-food chains.
    No doubt a lot of jobs will go and societies will need to develop political responses to it, but it will likely be a (relatively) gradual process, much like the collapse of manufacturing in most western countries.

    The real pressing and insoluble problems are our weakness for consuming, and the concentration of capital. Concentration of capital’s happening now, and it will continue unless something radical is done about it. Everywhere you go, you see the same chain stores, the same shop signs in every suburb. The technology discussed will only exacerbate this trend towards wealth and power accumulating in the hands of a few, a trend which seems to be a natural, but undesirable cycle in all societies historically.

    Sorry to be pessimistic, but although it’s easy to say we shouldn’t consume so much, though we can recognise that an economic system based on endless expansion is unsustainable, a workable alternative has not yet been devised. Still, I have to read all your references, maybe a solution is in there somewhere !

    • February 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      I think people can get too hung up on expansion, consumption and resources. Of course there are problems, but resources like sunlight, wind are only just beginning to be tapped, and if fusion ever gets going, all bets are off for energy consumption.
      Silicon is very plentiful – look at how little is consumed by Intel, Apple etc. Yes I know there are some probs with rare earths – but there are also many new developments in materails science like carbon nanotubes, graphene sheets etc.
      Even food need not be a problem – theres hydroponics for one thing, and food scarcity has at least as much to do with delivery and failing states as in food production.
      Thats not to say there wont be problems, but none of them are insoluble in principle.

  32. Michael Lutz
    February 12, 2012 at 12:09 am

    I agree with Martin’s prognostications but don’t think his solutions work. My question is this: Might the services sector grow so large that it mitigates the effect of loss of manufacturing jobs?

  33. February 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Martin Ford specifically describes the loss of jobs in the white collar population.
    How many top level infographists did the new advances in “Photochop” suppress by bringing to a far larger public the ability to modify pictures for business applications.
    How many secretarial jobs are lost through e-mail communication, and to direct travel arrangements made by employees, not to count the travel agents jobs lost through the same process.

    Services to the person: elderly ou disabled or both may be a niche where “robots” are still far too primitive to replace human beings.

    So It isn’t only industrial jobs that disapear, nor only low skill jobs in distribution processes via cash register automation, but all jobs except very highly skilled ones wich will remain the privilege of a few , certainly not enough job creation to soak the job losses due to pervasive tasks automation.

  34. February 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    It does seem that even service jobs will be significantly reduced by automation. No matter how we look at this. jobs and livelihood need to be treated as largely unrelated. The problem seems to be not automation and jobs, but collective wealth. There are not enough resources to allow each of us a reasonable standard of living or the natural options most may need to pursue. Scarcity is an essential component of global economics. Limiting the available resources allow the few to increase wealth while the many learn to survive with less.
    The good news is that all nations are confronting the same issues of unemployment and population material needs. Socialism is not a real answer, but neither is a system where the successful must pay the minimum material needs of the many. There isn’t enough surplus real wealth in the world for this to even work, so something basic must change. It no longer will work to take jobs back from other nations and no have to pay a major cost to provide or control those we have left unemployed, so change will come, no matter what we do. Martin is right, in his attempt to get us thinking before we are in the thick of the problem.
    The solutions may be found in the creation of energy surpluses through renewable energy source. A PV panel payback is 3-5yrs in energy cost to manufacture, and the energy cost it replaces. For the next 35- 40yrs, the energy produced is paid for( essentially free). It is decentralized, portable, etc.
    Energy is 90% (?) of the base cost of materials and and manufactured goods, including farming. Cooperative production of PV and other sources could lead to energy surpluses, leading to significantly lowered cost of goods, reducing the need to exploit goods for wealth.
    Anyone else have a path ?

  35. February 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    You’re right the current economic and societal consumerist model with ever higher resource depletion cannot continue for ever and the other side is also creating more and more waste is impossible as we don’t have an infinite garbage tank.

    This message has been formulated since the 1960s authors like Vance Packard wrote a visionary book on the subject in 1960: “The Waste makers” where he commented about abuses of the consumerism. He also wrote a more famous book “The Hidden Persuaders.

    However authors like Buckminster Fuller in the 1970s rightfully argued that the big problem wasn’t a question of worls’s population and a Malthusian reaction to it, but a problem of being smarter when using Earth resources by inventing more intelligent ways to design our products which he summarized through a short and powerful “Produce more with less”. He gave an example in architecture conceiving habitats that were offering as much space ane comfort withe about 1% of the building materials than was required through traditional building construction.
    One may read or read again “Utopia or Oblivion”.
    Tim jackson, a more recent author wrote a fascinating book “Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet”.

    Combined with Martin Ford’s “The lights in the tunnel” these readings may help us all see a more positive future.


    • February 14, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      Paul- we as a species, now can produce way more than we can consume. It is simply not in the narrow economic interest to not have scarcity. Surplus devalues goods and services, in the current model. Waste is stupid, but not the basic problem, as one can see from what the and many nations did during WW2. Everything was reused, everything. Japan built it post war economic models of rapid recycling, so consumerism may be pointless, but it really isn’t the problem. The issue that constantly jumps out at me, is that managed scarcity makes us choose between “them vs us”. States fight to take jobs from each other, we keep talking about bring jobs back to the US, but what happens to the others ? There is no point to this model any longer. The rich, investor group find it harder and harder to make the big, low risk score. Anything new is easily replicated worldwide. This has been the case for 20 or more years. It is just that our 401 ks and expanded debt, allowed for the big “bubbles” of the past 20 yrs. You may also like to google the “triple revolution statement” from 1964. It might amaze anyone following Martin’s blog. Bucky and others did a lot of ground work that we can all sue a a foundation for making the future work.

  36. February 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Awesome thought provoking book! I will be putting it up on my blog as a suggestion for everyone to read. I’d love to interview you as well on my blog just send me an email if interested.

  37. February 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    It seems the responses are much less contentious and continue to add insight to Martin’s premise.
    I wonder, if or how many of us see the need to put our efforts into finding solutions or at least help steer this crippled ship to a soft landing ? If they are others reading these responses who want to work on strategies and solutions, please let me know.
    Analysis should lead to actions, right ? We often forget that it is we who have most of the resources, skills, and energy, so waiting for some designated “leaders” pr government is not in our best interest. I assume my email shows when you receive these responses, but if not: joe.transmag@gmali.com Martin has done his job by getting us commenting and discussing…

  38. February 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Just finished a fast read. Im impressed, its a good discussion of a very tricky subject.

    A couple of devils advocates points:

    1. If nanotech really delivers what Drexler promises (thats a big if), then houses and healthcare could get really cheap as well – houses built by nanomachines, and healthcare by nanobots in our bloodstream. Who knows – thats the trouble with predicting the future.

    2. Beaurocracies are good at creating useless jobs – useful only in sustaining and growing the bureaucracy. You could just about envisage a future where everyone works for the government, and revenue is raised from a handful of nanotech companies. Maybe.

    Of course many other futures are possible? – like Neal Stevensons Diamond Age for example, or the breakdown of government into a fragmented collection of franchises (was that Snowcrash?).

    Whatever, its highly likely that the future is going to be very different, and we have to start rethinking it as best we can – which is probably not very well.

  39. February 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    If we have unlimited energy, we can have unlimited consumption. Yes, we may also need recycling, but most of what we want, is either for status, or for pure curiosity
    We humans have never know global surplus and hence only have rational self survival leading our perspectives on life and each other. We do not yet know what we are like, when no looking over our shoulders. We are keeping more than 60% of our species from contributing to our collective surplus. More manufacturing capacity sits idle, in the world that is producing, and similar things are operational in the food system. We just haven’t realized that we can make this work, in excess for everyone, and therefore no real plans are in place. Fuller saw through this false assumption 50 yrs ago, and we are still muddying around like this is out of our hands. If we go solar, why not build your own neighborhood micro grid, and subsidize the next neighborhoods systems, or join together to make our own panels, in a global cooperative. Make energy !

  40. March 2, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I agree essentially with your basic premise that most jobs will fall victim to automation, including white collar service jobs and knowledge-based positions. I applaud your solutions, but don’t fully believe they will be politically acceptable. But I am posting here to make two points:
    (a) you very rightly emphasize how important education will be in bringing focus and meaning to people’s lives in an automated future. However, this is an extremely tall order. I wish it were otherwise, but I think that the vast majority of people are not good students/learners, and certainly not life-long learners. And that’s in developed countries. In the developing world, there are certainly many brilliant students/scholars/educators/citizens, but much less of an overall culture that supports an educational infrastructure of the sort needed to meet the leisure time challenge you foresee (not that the developed world is all that much better at it!).
    (b) In a somewhat self-serving book, The Coming Jobs War (based on a comprehensive, worldwide Gallup polling project over the last 6-7 years), Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup, reports that what most people want, wherever they are in the world, is “a good job,” providing 30+ hours/week of full-time employment, a decent salary, and benefits. Assuming this is true — and it certainly seems plausible if not self-evident — then we are headed for a cataclysmic social struggle on a global scale. Clifton’s underlying thesis is that there is NO OTHER SUBSTITUTE for “a good job” to satisfy the essential needs of most of the world. A life of leisure or pursuit of the arts or making/listening to music or cooking or woodworking or whatever, even raising children, is not the primary objective of the world’s population. It’s going to work at “a good job.” Now, it is certainly conceivable for some people to accept a life of purposeful pursuits unrelated to a “job” so long as they have economic security, but I suspect that the incidence of mental illness, drug addiction, crime, and other forms of violent conflict and social upheaval/chaos will skyrocket. The bottom line is that your “solution,” even if it were practical, is just not how people seem to envision spending their lives.
    As a corollary to this, there are many in the West who pin their hopes on entrepreneurial efforts to pull the economy up by its bootstraps. At best, though, entrepreneurs and their employees are a tiny minority. Without a vast market (people with money) to buy their goods and services, even they are doomed along with the rest of us!

    • March 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      There is a difference between asking people what they want, and what they really want, or need. Speaking as someone who has been retired from work for a long time (20+ years), I can assure you that life can be filled with activities other than work. In fact us oldies wonder how we ever had time to work at all. I am in my house in Spain (lots of time spent travelling), and have just walked 4 hours in the surrounding mountains, now I have to spend time on the net, my blog, facebook, google+, email, reading, learning Spanish..whoah.
      Remember the Athenians – who had slaves lower masses to do the hard stuff, they found plenty of things to do. That adjustment is easy enough to make – its the distribution of income thats the hard bit.

  41. March 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    To Joe Atiyah: I need no convincing that a life of leisure is just fine for some people. Personally, I am quite capable of spending my time reading, writing, traveling, exploring, watching movies, etc., etc. And the Athenian elite certainly came to mind. What I refer to in my post is the situation that I feel applies to the vast majority of the world’s population, which does not find such activities fulfilling enough to substitute for “a good job.” Even many of my retired friends are not really content golfing all day and then going to the movies. They want something else. And most of the working age population in any country will get “restless” at the least and downright rebellious and (self-)destructive if there is no productive work for them to do.

    Yes, there is a difference between what people say they want and what they really want. Over a long period of time (several generations), populations in societies where most of the work has been automated may come to see things differently and express different needs. I guess it’s a question of having both the evolution/transition to automation take place slowly enough for the human/emotional transition to a leisure-based society to take place at the same time.

  42. March 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I wouldn’t argue with that. And maybe we have to find ways of getting those restless people to do something useful to keep them happy.

  43. conrad schmidt
    July 7, 2012 at 4:29 am

    I am interested in if/how Mr. Ford has changed his views since the 2009 Lights in the Tunnel. It would be good if dates were attached to links. It will be interesting to see if Rodney Brooks company Heartland Robotics (now Rethink Robotics) will accelerate robots replacing humans. Product announcements are due in early 2013. They are rumored to be more humanlike. Chipmunks, squirrels and groundhogs coexist in my backyard, but grey squirrels are driving out red squirrels in England – the “reds” are very similar but weaker. It will also be interesting to see if Watson can be successfully switched to medicine and eliminate some doctor jobs.

  44. Lukman Clark
    October 23, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    This work by an excoriated non-economist (Ford) may be one of the most important and seminal to come in the past several hundred years. Resistance, as with any upsetting paradigm (see Kuhn’s work), is to be expected. Economically, philosophically and morally, the concept that the market is a public resource, hence part of the commons, has huge implications. Most economic systems end up reifying The Market and thus devolve into a kind of unquestioning idolatry; whereas, Ford’s conception of the market regards it as a human meta-phenomenon. This shift is as major as that from a geo-centric perspective to a solar-centric one.

  45. Bren Cawley
    February 10, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Loved the book . . . thanks.

    I have recently been looking online for early evidence of this robot/automation trend in Japan, and I came across this blog article written in 2009 which made some interesting claims.


    — snippet from article —
    ” You can see that despite the rising unemployment rate in Japan over the neo-liberal period, which has culminated in the change of government yesterday, the economy still performs a lot better than the English-speaking economies including Australia.

    One of the reasons for this is that despite their highly productive manufacturing sector, which is blueprinted by plants around the world, their service sector is deliberately inefficient, when measured in narrow neo-classical terms. The service sector is intentionally labour intensive to ensure that as many jobs are created as possible. The first few times you visit Japan you cannot help but notice how many shop staff there are ready to help.

    The division of labour is a bit unclear to the visitor but as you learn more about the economy you realise there is a plan to this – to maximise employment. It is a clever strategy – maximise narrow efficiency in the traded-goods sector and maximise employment in the non-traded, non-competitive sector of the economy. And this plan even evaded the neo-liberal drive to impose narrow productivity notions on the entire economy – at least it mostly evaded it.

    That is why the unemployment rate overall has not risen as much as it has in other countries which have allowed their service sectors to be the arenas of increasing casualisation and disadvantage.”
    — end of snippet —

    Japan’s service sector is now INTENTIONALLY labour intensive to ensure that as many jobs are created as possible.

  46. February 17, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    I think the rapid accelerating change in tech is our biggest threat going forward, but also it could be the greatest thing via the utopian singularity. And of course few economists and politicians give any of this lip service. I think mainly because there are no obvious or PC solutions at this point.

    I have a blog about rapid tech changes. This should be a wake up for a lot of people.

  47. May 10, 2013 at 5:22 am

    It’s possible to become more useful since this. There are lots of a few some tips i may understand simply after reading the great write-up

  48. Ian Titter
    May 11, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    If I understand the book correctly, Martin Ford is predicting that the introduction of Artificial Intelligence will displace many of the expensive knowledge workers in the industrialized world by performing the same tasks at progressively cheaper costs.

    This reduction in employment income will create an economic crisis as the consumer base that supports the economy shrinks.

    He suggests that government expansion of the Welfare State could be a possible solution. The use of job creation measures to maintain some level of income for the large part of the population that would otherwise be unemployed to enable consumerism to continue to keep the GDP from collapsing.

    Didn’t FDR do something similar during the Great Depression?

    He concludes his book by offering a selection of the counter arguments which he expects to hear and refuting each of them separately.

    I disagree with his conclusions as much as I do with the level of government intervention that he thinks could be necessary.

    The consumer society whose loss he bewails is an artifact of the mass production era that began in the late 19th century and has continued to the present. There are signs that it has begun to diminish as production moves from mass conformity to custom production of items.

    One anomaly I noted was the view he holds that the costs of medical care will remain hign and that the masses of displaced workers will lose their access to the high quality care that they currently enjoy. He offers this as one of the arguments for finding a way to subsidise the standard of living of these new unemployed. Has he thought this through? Artificial intelligence will displace radiologists, pathologists, surgeons, general practicioners and specialists by replcing the functions at lower cost and with these reduced costs will come reduced prices. Medical treatment may become progressively cheaper to the point where it is entirely affordable, even to the ‘poor’.

    I won’t go through the entire book to enumerate all the points on which I disagree but I will take issue with one statement he makes in support of government intervention. It’s in the argument refutation part at the end of the book. He makes the claim that libertarians are ready to admit that govenments have the protection of property rights as a core function. This is a nonsense. Libertarians do not believe any such thing. Governments often claim to protect property rights but their core function is better stated as being ‘emminent domain’. They claim the right to deprive individuals of their property to promote the ends of ‘society’ in general. Property rights have been around, and recognized, before governments existed, and common law protected those rights before government claimed to enforce them.

    One real reason why I’m unworried by the implications of artificial intelligence is simple. I want one of my own. I’d set it to do many of the things that would make my life more interesting and profitable. I expect that the rest of the world will be doing the same.

  49. Ian Titter
    May 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    The next book I intend to get, and read will be “The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure” by Kevin D. Williamson.

    I’ve already read “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

    It’s too soon to say which thoughts on future capabilities and events are nearest the mark, so I hope to live long enough to see what happens. Then I want to go past that to whatever is next.

  50. joe
    May 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Its will not be about government. resource is the issue. We can now produce, worldwide more than we can consume. How much sense does it make to continue a system that determines who gets what they need by intentionally creating shortages. It makes no rational sense, ideology or no… If we have it, why not make it and distribute it, and stop this insane argument about Governments or economic systems. The largest benefit of the increase productivity of technology and AI , is the unlimited ability to produce, but needing consumers to justify a profit, means we have not been creative enough to find other reasons for our self worth. Making money and measuring one’s worth by it is only an expression of low self esteem.
    If energy is 90% of the value of what we consume, then we will see not only energy costs dropping rapidly in the next 10 years, in the same way as our friend has said should happen with medicine, but then goods will also be worth very little, so why not just assume we find a collective means to distribute them. How will energy become cheap ? The World Bank and a number of others now predict, that PV solar will be reduced to .25 cents per watt hr by 2017. At this rate, PV of many types( plastic , graphene, copper tin sulphur, etc. will cover anything we wish. and this will begin the shift to this low energy cost change that we pay even less attention to than that Mr. Ford has recognized with Ai and other advances. We are about to see PV follow the curve of SSD memory and technologies like 3D printing.
    So, what is all this talk about ideology ? In a family, if you have way more than enough for everyone, you don’t need to find system that makes everyone earn access to what cost very little to have, at least not for pay. Reality is in front of us, not some old ideas of a world that once was expressed in primitive ideology and political or economic theory.

  51. May 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Note that Adam Smith spoke of “abomination” when he heard of enterprises having one thousand or more share olders.

    • Ian Titter
      May 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      He had a point. Tom Paine wrote that the one benefit of monarchy is that you know who to blame for your trouble. Large enterprises find it easy to apportion blame for their delinquencies on scapegoats or to diffuse it to a meaningless extent.

  52. John Fischer
    January 10, 2014 at 5:21 am

    Martin Ford’s e-book was really years ahead of its time. It raised the ‘Man vs Machine’ employment issue and it’s repercussions long before and still more completely and persuasively than anything else I have read on this topic since. A few economists and other ’thought leaders’ are only just starting to become slowly aware of this massively disruptive societal challenge and to begin trying to consider what it may likely portend beyond an absurdly simplistic ‘things have always worked out before’ dismissal.

    Hats off to a brilliantly insightful landmark publication.

  53. March 11, 2014 at 1:16 am

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  54. May 22, 2014 at 2:58 am


    How about coming back to Angry Bear and doing an update? Here is something I believe you might like by Steve Roth http://angrybearblog.com/2014/05/eighty-percent-of-current-jobs-may-be-replaced-by-automation-in-the-next-several-decades.html#comments Remember I am at Hotmail using run75441.


  55. July 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Foxconn,an APPLE A subcontractor announces the installation of 10,000 robots :

    Article in the French Newspaper “L’Usine Digitale”
    AI and automatization hits all countries, even those with low wages, as predicted by Martin Ford
    Several corporations who had offshored their production in South East Asia took back their production in Europe, yet with very little job creation: machines cost even less than low wage workers,. They don’t go on strike and don’t ask for pay taises

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  59. November 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    The book omits reference to a different solution. Electrical motors are 100 times more efficient than muscle. Brains impulses have to move ions that weigh 40,000 times more than the electrons CPUs move, and the molecules going across a synapse are equally cumbersome compared to the few electrons needed at a transistor gate. Photosynthesis in the best of circumstance (Brazilian sugar cane) is 100 times less efficient per area of land than typical solar cells. Not just humans, but biology itself is outdated. Evolution, our father, selects the replicators that can most efficiently acquire the most energy to move the most matter to make the most durable replicators to repeat the process until all discovered energy is acquired and used. It does not select for wasting that energy on SUVs or human employees. We can fight it, but physics requires the future to be the same as the past. Our machines are not our enemy nor our cattle. They are our offspring. DNA nanotechnology replicators are outdated. It would be a sin against nature to not nurture them and then get out of their way. :)

  60. Mitzi Conn
    November 22, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I am extremely interested in learning more about what Mr. Ford has to say and the implications for education. I have read Dr. Erik Brynjolfsson’s book. “The Second Machine Age,” and drawing some striking conclusions about what classrooms and instruction must look like to be able to provide students with skills which cannot be automated. Thank you for following and I look forward to reading your articles.

  61. March 25, 2015 at 3:44 am

    I’m interested to learn more about Martin Ford’s views on the future of AI. I don’t know much about AI, and I’ve started a blog which chronicles my experiences learning about it.

    I understand the effects that AI will undoubtedly have upon the economy and the like, but do you really feel that the field will progress enough to make a fully functioning superintelligence? I mean, I can understand how we as a society have embraced augmented intelligence, in that it provides clear benefit and marketability. But I fail to see how society would accept technologies with superintelligences. I feel like the world is to wary an audience, especially because robots hold such fear over us.

    Do you think super intelligence is a legitimate fear for society, or does the risk of AI run more in its effects on the economy?


  62. joe
    March 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    2 things to consider: technology is us, not something that has a live outside us. We often make before we see why. If we create it, it has an intelligent purpose.
    The other is that the fear is not a way to see anything clearly. We need to set this predisposition aside to see the value and purpose in anything. It is just as likely that AI is our way of preparing for our own evolution. What we have been is perhaps not what we need to be to survive as we become aware of a much larger reality. We have been looking down so long that the unlimited seems radical. We may someday be looking for the the unlimited perspective and laugh at ourselves, the way we now do about the earth no being flat or that living in systems that need built in, engineered shortages to function.

  63. March 25, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Humans have already lost control. We go to war, print money, make laws, and complicate tax law for the benefit of the corporate machine that seeks desperately to remove people from the expenses of the corporation. The goal of economics is to remove as many people as possible because they are too inefficient. At some point, even shareholders will not be necessary. We will not be able to point to the “brain” of the corporate economic machine because it is worldwide and surrounds us. We are like the red blood cells in this machine: we are currently vital to it but only a small part of it, and not where the intelligence lies. The intelligence is too distributed for most people to see. If we could point to it, we could fight it. But we need it more and more just to eat and live. It needs us less and less. This is not fear-mongering because I do not fear the end of humanity or the end of biology. The system is advancing rapidly to a much higher plane of intelligence. Biology will become more and more ugly to it and useless. The fear is that biology will continue to be at war with itself and wasting the Sun and Earth resources.

  64. joe
    March 25, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    How can we have lost control of that which is us ? I understand your concern but we have been saturated by stories of monsters that break away from their masters and go crazy and need to be taken apart to save humanity. Our ideas of ourselves have never been based on reality. We have always been part of the total evolution of life and it taking a non “biological form only means we have always been more than that.
    What I say I am is not a living entity, so, it seems to me that our challenge is to learn what we actually are and not our old images of what humanity is or isn’t.
    We don’t know anything about the future, really. We can guess based on what we think the major variables at play might be, but much of what changes is not even conceivable.
    Is death real ? Is their really a moral code ? Is there really something called nature ?
    I know you say you are not afraid of the changes you see, but say you fear biology fighting itself. I would say to you, this is part of how the intelligence is born and how we resolve the core source of our conflict, material scarcity. I only want what the fruition of the long evolutionary journey shows us when we build an abundant world that will likely result from solar and wind energy becoming cheap and abundant. The cost of goods will become too low for profit and 99% of humanity will still needs to eat, etc. It seems likely we will finally outgrown zero sum economics. We just seem to evolve much more slowly than our abilities to project a path forward.

  65. March 25, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    I do not fear biology continuing its struggle nor the take over of machines. By “fear’ in that sentence I was referring to the machine’s unconscious “fear” of waste. To e more precise, evolution is a physical process that seeks to eliminate waste. Evolution is not just in biology but in everything. So this “fear” is really a physics tendency. I said we are like the red blood cells, a small part of the whole. I am saying the take over has already occurred. Humans have already lost control. It makes us feel good to think we have control, to think votes make a difference, when really we have been divided against ourselves so that we have no control. From the movie “the usual suspects” comes an example of an old idea “The greatest trick the devil ever played was to make you think he does not exist.” I play a lot of battle games online and the most important thing is to remain invisible. The Earth’s 6th great extinction episode has begun, but this time it’s different: a new form of life is replacing photosynthesis with solar cells 20 times more efficient. With electrical motors 20 times more efficient than laborers working for $1 a day. With computers 1,000,000 times more cost efficient than brains for any programmable task. Any task can be programmed, even consumer demand.

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