The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future
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The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  289 ratings  ·  49 reviews
What will the economy of the future look like? Where will advancing technology, job automation, outsourcing and globalization lead? This groundbreaking book by a Silicon Valley computer engineer explores these questions and shows how accelerating technology is likely to have a highly disruptive influence on our economy in the near future--and may well already be a signific...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Createspace (first published January 1st 2009)
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Keith Swenson
It is hard to describe how wrong this sorry excuse for a book is. In fact, so hard I just spent over 12 hours writing down a list of things I felt was wrong or misleading. Here I will give you just a brief synopsis.

First some positives: it is entertaining. I read until the end. It poses some important questions about how the economy will change with the advent of "strong" automation which is likely to displace most of the jobs today. Ford presents reasonable intellectual honesty when he points o...more
Alexander Fowler
Martin Ford is one of the few people out there who has realized that relentless technological development, especially in AI and robotics, and the free market economy as we know it are inherently incompatible because it will essentially lead to the creation of an almost purely autonomous but jobless economy.

Since the free market economic engine is the mass market, who will be the future consumers of goods and services when intelligent machines take over their jobs? If nothing is done about this...more
Douglas Summers-Stay
I thought the "lights in the tunnel" metaphor was not very illustrative, but I agreed with everything this book was saying about the upcoming problem. Increasing automation is reducing the ability of the average worker to find any job, and this situation will only get worse as computational power grows exponentially. At some point, many workers will be unable to find any kind of employment at all. I don't know about his solutions, though.
You can download this book for free at http://www.thelight...more
David Uriell
The Lights in the Tunnel convincingly describes the inevitability of automation and the effects it will have on the economy, i.e. massive unemployment which depresses demand to the point of systemic collapse. Ford's proposed solution is to redistribute wealth using a new taxation system that taxes capital rather than labor, and to create 'virtual jobs' where people get paid for doing activities that have positive externalities e.g. learning, civic participation, or living an environmentally frie...more
Bakari
The author does a great job in describing and arguing how automation and technology is reducing the workforce in many sectors of the economy. He argues well that the question is not how can we create more jobs, but how do we live in an economy that does not require millions of people to actually work the way we have done for centuries? It is not only automation that is replacing the workforce, we simply do not need people to perform manual tasks that technology replaces (e.g. bank tellers, store...more
Greg Linster
The fear of technological unemployment dates back to the eighteenth century when Ned Ludd famously smashed two stocking frames. The word "Luddite" was thus created for anyone who opposed technology. Of course, if you mention technological unemployment to most modern day economists they'll kindly remind you that machines don't actually take jobs from people, but rather, they create more jobs. And, until now, most modern economists have been right. Hence, a belief that machines takes jobs from hum...more
Steven Grimm
Are there going to be more people than economically productive jobs in the future? Ford thinks so and he lays out the reasons why. His proposed solution may or may not be the best possible one and will likely ruffle the feathers of both economic conservatives and economic progressives (it borrows from both lines of thinking), but it's likely a lot better than what'll happen if we keep blinders on about the situation. Even though the book was written in 2009 and is thus slightly out of date regar...more
Kevin Christensen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Robert
Certainly a very interesting and probably presentient book. The only negative is the faith the author seems to have in the political process. It is basically our only hope and to me that is reason for concern.
Pam
I want my ocular implant as badly as the next person (actually I probably want it more), so I spend a lot of time looking for signs and symbols that my implant will be a reality for me not my grandchildren hence I read this book. Of course my biggest disappointment was that this book had absolutely nothing to say on the topic of ocular implants, but what he did have to say about technology and the future economy was thought provoking. His central thesis is that as technology accelerates, "machin...more
Daniel Lemire
Pretty good book about what the future might hold. In short: automation and unemployment. It is a convincing scenario.
Caren
I thought this was a very interesting book and am perplexed by the only other reader giving it one star. As with any book attempting to peer into the future, much of it is speculation. The author does however work with technology, so it is perhaps well-informed speculation. The title of the book is based on a little thought experiment in which a tunnel represents our free market economy. The many points of light are participants in this economy, each with an income that is spent and replenished...more
Jim
An interesting view of the future which gets bogged down a bit sometimes its own analogy (the lights in the tunnel) and has a habit of making things a bit complex. But I liked some of the ideas and thoughts about the future, and I rarely walk into a big supermarket or department store these days without thinking about what is going to happen to all those retail jobs that are bound to disappear. Just look as space in your local Tesco's is given over to self-checkout. And this is just the start of...more
Derek
The author is trying to motivate people, and mostly governments, to prepare for the eventual future when so much of the work people do is automated, that we no longer have enough people employed to support our economies.

There were a couple of points in the book that I thought were a bit... hand-wavy.
The author provides a graph showing the capabilities of computers vs the capabilities of humans, mapped over time, with the human graph leveling off as the technology graph easily surpassing it. That...more
The Hermit's
A book on how automization influences the economy for better and worse(physics/math students and computers now being recruited to Wall Street) and how we can adjust to it amidst rising unemployment due to offshoring and machines taking over most work, and how even offshoring and 'knowledge work' is being automized. Think Indian IT/customer service being replaced by smart voice robots. One example of this he uses is the field of Radiology that required 13 years of post high school education. But...more
Kathleen Brugger
There is a huge change coming, and very few people are talking about it. In the not-too-distant future almost everyone is going to lose their job. Not to offshoring—the Chinese will lose their jobs too. Robots and computers will be doing all the work.

Martin Ford wrote this book as a wakeup call. There is an incredibly bright future ahead of us, he says, but only if we navigate the transition to this jobless future well. The key is figuring out how to pay people an income even though they aren’t...more
Colin
The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future was an interesting read given recent media attention to automation in the workplace and talk of a "jobless recovery". The author argues that we are on the cusp of a major shift in workplace automation and that today's manufacturing automation is synonymous with the early days of the computer industry. Martin Ford sees that there will be a very distinct non-linear or exponential increase in automation at w...more
Devon
Interesting read. One certainly can't accuse Ford of not thinking outside the box.

I have the general feeling that his predictions of increasing workplace automation and increasing productivity underestimate the ability of the free market and advancing technology to create new jobs. That is to say, he may be underestimating the resiliency of creative destruction in the face of advancing technology. I'm no economist, and neither is the author, and I just get the sense that there is a little bit of...more
Elvis
As you read about robots making hamburgers, factories full of robots and even IBM’s Watson computer learning medicine can you say with 100% certainty that your job will forever be safe from the reach of a machine that could do what you do more quickly and accurately than a human ever could?

Even if the answer to that question is “No, a robot could never do my job”, what would happen to your job if huge sections of the population (i.e. consumers) eventually become unemployed due to the aforementio...more
Darnell
The first half of the book deserves four stars, the second half two. It starts with a very solid discussion of the impact automation will have on the economy and society, addressing many of the interesting points of the Singularity crowd without getting into their unsupported theories. This part was well-supported food for thought.

Unfortunately, the book's discussion of solutions was disappointing. They're problematic for those of us who don't view consumerism as the ultimate good, and more impo...more
Christian
The book is a really thought provoking analysis how the continuing automation might impact our economic lives. The assumptions are clearly set out and the analysis equally brutal, honest and concise. The author clearly knows what he is talking about.

Some of his reasoning gets weaker when he goes into non-tech items (philosophy, Marx) and it is quite possible that a follow up after a bit more thorough study of Marx and some philosophers who have made observations on the danger of tying mans wort...more
Ravi
Very important book that seems to fly under the radar. We are completely dependent on a mass market system where consumer demand is the primary economic driver. Consumer demand creates Production supply which drives labor which then drives consumer demand. All's well except accelerating technology is decoupling production and labor. What happens to our society when far fewer people are needed to produce. These are not just factory jobs but white collar jobs. Ford describes how Knowledge Workers...more
Richard Sansing
Ford examines an interesting topic--how will automation affect labor markets in the future? But the author's analysis is devoid of economic understanding; he doesn't understand the idea of comparative advantage at all, and forecasts 75% unemployment in the future. His "solution" is to subsidize the unemployed to maintain a consumption-based economy. In "exchange" the unemployed will read books.

Automation will surely change labor markets in the future, and figures to increase income inequality fu...more
Aaron
Ford looks at the disruptions that globalization, technology, and increases in productivity are creating in the global workforce and economy. The first half of the book is good in detailing the problems that face the world now, but the second half devolves into socialist claptrap. Ford's solution to the mass unemployment that he forecasts is to have governments take the place of businesses and pay the the unemployed citizenry to keep up consumption. Of course, he fails to address the problem of...more
Andrew R.
A good read. Ford is a pretty conservative Silicon Valley type with 25 years' worth of business development experience who is basically in favor of increased business taxation and unequal redistribution of income so people can be incentivized to do things that help the world, rather than harm it. His basic premise is sound enough and I think his predictions are largely correct, if not exact in particulars. People don't want to work for a living; they want to *live* for a living, and the right ta...more
Ruben Bos
Impressive insights, worth reading, although the metaphors are over-used and not needed in my opinion.
Gordon

Martin Ford is a Silicon Valley software engineer who worries about what Mr. and Ms. Jetson of the future will do for a job. As I recall, Mr. Jetson spent two hours a day pushing buttons at the factory, and in exchange earned enough to support a nice middle-class living for four. Martin Ford thinks the work for the middle class may go away, and the Jetsons won't be living their middle-class dream after all. Hence, his book.
Ben
Notes on the potential economic impact of the approaching singularity... And some rather radical policy ideas as to how to manage the ensuing unemployment: progressively taxing capital intensive businesses and redistributing income based on educational, ecological, and other incentives deemed to be beneficial to society as determined by a Fed-like independent tax assessment organization...
Mick Pletcher
The book is great and go along the same lines as a lot of my views on how automation is leading to the downfall of humanity in the distant long run. With simpler jobs being automated, there will be little availability in the future for people to take lesser technical jobs to match their mental capabilities. This book gives an excellent overview of how this could easily happen.
Нестор
An interesting but rather dull view on the future of society and jobs.
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