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

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  686 ratings  ·  70 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 Independent Publishing Platform (first published January 1st 2009)
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Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I meant to read this over a year ago, but didn’t get around to it at the time – although I did read Rise of the Robots, which I enjoyed very much. The title of this one is a bit daft, and the metaphor it is based on is also a bit daft too – which is a pity, because this is compulsory reading – if a little old now. All the same, the arguments are still current and he is very readable.

I’m going to start by saying that this is one of those topics that I am not sure which side I should come down on
Keith Swenson
Jul 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Alexander Fowler
May 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Douglas Summers-Stay
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Greg Linster
Oct 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
David Uriell
Nov 08, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Steven Grimm
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
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
Kevin Vejrup
Mar 13, 2013 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Timberman
May 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, nonfiction
His analysis was rigorous but all based on the fundamental assumption that automation will kill jobs off – leading to a global crisis. Either he believes in what he writes or he is writing up to the audience that most resonates with the end-of-the-world narrative. The reason why I disagree with him is two-fold: first, political processes (especially democratic ones) will erode the momentum of technology to replace workers, at least to the extent the author alludes to. And second, most of the wor ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it

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.
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
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.
Daniel Lemire
Mar 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Pretty good book about what the future might hold. In short: automation and unemployment. It is a convincing scenario.
Domen Bider
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Envision a tunnel. The tunnel is dark, but streaming through the tunnel are countless points of white light. As we watch the lights float past, we notice that the majority shine with a medium range of brightness. At the extreme, we can very occasionally see an intensely bright light, shining like a miniature sun. Still, as we watch the scene inside the tunnel, it is the overwhelming number of the average lights that truly captivates us. The tunnel walls are tiled with thousands upon thousands of ...more
Jason Orthman
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good read about how offshoring of jobs from developed markets to developing markets is typically followed by automation. Discusses risks around middle class employment and consumption being disrupted by technology. Easy read.
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Bievenouer
Loved it!

My guess is that most of us who are paying attention will find this book to be telling it like it is. As a population we need to recognize that computers and robotics will and are fundamentally changing the future of jobs. We can take the road of doing what is best for all or try to take the road of cut throat capitalism. Our choice, but we will be forced to chose.
Steve Sarner
Jun 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ai, technology
You're fired!

I’m fired!

We’re all fired!

Imagine a world with over 75% of the population unemployed. Welcome to the automated economy.

On the bright side, instead of getting paid to work, maybe we’ll get paid to read books. That’s one idea from The Lights in the Tunnel.

Side note, I thought the title was a reference to “the light in the tunnel being an oncoming train” which is in some ways accurate. However, he is referencing something completely different.

Written at the height of the financial cri
A short and simple "thought experiment" that challenged my thinking about economics and development. The topic is compelling even though the argument put forth in this short volume is a bit thin.

The author proposes a parable of the global economy as a tunnel that is lit up by millions of "lights" or consumers/producers - most importantly consumers because demand drives the economy after all - that are daily contributing to global prosperity. The author then discusses technological advances and
Kathleen Brugger
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a stunningly important book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. While the central metaphor ("the lights in the tunnel") is a bit odd, don't let that distract you from the message: namely that automation is improving and spreading at a rapid rate and this has serious implications for our economy. This is the clearest, most concise statement of the problem I've come across that treats this problem in depth. What's more, this is one of the few attempts I've seen to seriously think out ...more
Max Nova
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Martin Ford is either totally insane or a total genius. I'm inclined to believe the latter. With his computer science and business background, Ford makes bold predictions about the rate of technological change and its implications for the economy and society of the future. I've actually been having a similar conversation with my college friends for the past few months - so it was encouraging to see an independently-derived prediction along those same lines. Ford essentially claims that automatio ...more
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
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Quite interesting. I found the linkage of the spreading of automation to future deflationary bombs destroying the economy in its present form very plausible.
The solutions proposed may look complicated but remain convincing in theory at a second examination , my concern is how much they could be deployed and implemented politically since politicians (and their electorate if I have to tell) don't seem to proceed like a computer scientist would do ,that is, rebuilding everything from the ground up.
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Martin Ford is the author of the two books Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015) and The Lights In the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009) — both dealing with the effects of automation and mass-unemployment. He is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm, and obtained a computer engineering degre ...more

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