Review — "Robots Will Steal Your Job ..." by Federico Pistono - Part I


The best way to explain Federico Pistono’s book “Robots will steal your job but that is ok” is to write a recommendation of Piero Scaruffi for his book, he said “Pistono is trying to construct a future society in which humans will be happy even though they will be less necessary.”

I would like to dive deep into the book, and explain my view either by arguing parts of it or improve it by adding to what is already proposed. If you have not read the book, this summary can come as a spoiler, never the less I warmly recommend this book as quite a good read — that gives us an insight regarding the dangers we may face in future.

I will break this review/summary in similar format to the book structure, but I will use a different naming scheme. Therefore this is the first of three blog posts (Problems, Foundation and Solution). *0

Without further ado

Part I — Problems

Straight from the beginning the book explains how technology is displacing human labour. Comparing rates of unemployment today (1) it is obvious that the American middle class will continue to shrink and the workplace become ever more stressful.

Although we kept Voltaire’s words that “Work spares us from three evils: boredom, vice, and need.” close to our hearts, it has begun to be obvious that we will soon need to rethink our core philosophies, because our main habit (work) will soon disappear.

Also supported by many studies, it is obvious that the wealth gap between the top 1% and the rest of the population has significantly increased from that of the 80’s, and continues to rise every passing day.

The main cause of this predicament is that machines are replacing human labour, making it more difficult for humans to find new jobs. Unlike the events in the 18th century led by “The Luddites”(2)[^](legend about Ned Ludd) movement (who were smashing machines in protest against unemployment) where all arguments against machines were dismissed by counterargument that “human beings will still be needed but with different skills", this time it is like never before in history. Change is too fast and too sudden and the human market is not capable of adapting fast enough to find new ways to utilise human labour.

One of the major issues, pointed out long ago by Professor Albert Bartlett *1, is the human inability to understand exponential growth (3). Taking as examples; the story about the chess inventor and his "small" reward request, example of inflation rate, population growth, and lastly bacteria growth, he explains the concept of doubling time and exponential growth. In last mentioned example, the realization that closed system will use all its resources in just the last minute of the one hour long process of doubling is an eye opening example, which can be reflected on many other things.

Followed by Information technology (4) as prime example in which CPU power is doubling every 18 months according to the “Moore’s law”, where computers will gain, a sooner than we expect, human brain calculation capability, and subsequently they will be better in probably anything we can do now.

They will behave as if they possess intelligence (5). Although the big question is: what is the meaning of intelligence? and, furthermore can we quantify the meaning? Given that money for example, a green paper we use everywhere, on its own does not have any particular meaning or purpose but we humans have given it a meaning through a collective agreement. It is the same with intelligence, it is not a question of whether the machine can be intelligent like a human, but rather can it operate in a useful way, or in other words have the ability to function intelligently.

Interesting enough for currently existing Artificial intelligence (6) machines, it is easier to replace a radiologist than to automate the work of a housemaid. Things we take for granted like folding towels are currently almost an impossible task for machines to carry out. On the other hand things like the math we value highly are very easy for machines to do, and even the smallest Smartphone CPU can outperform humans to a great degree. Nowadays, same goes for image pattern recognition, identifying threats or cancer identification — machines showed that they are more capable, faster, and stronger than humans. Machines do not need weekends, they do not sleep or eat, they do not have free hours or days, they do not need sick leave, they do not commit suicides, and they do not protest for more rights, they also don’t ask for salary raise or any salary at all. And, every piece of collective knowledge we feed into the enormous databases will help them to behave even better. Evidences of automation (7) are everywhere, shopping malls (teller machines), storage robots (Amazon), automated manufacturing (Foxconn, Canon), are examples of companies making billions in revenue without any significant human force. As the author of the book points out “This is the very nature of our current socio-economic system, efficiency and, consequently, profits are considered more important than human lives.”

This is nothing compared to what is yet to come, for better or worse depending on perspective from which we look, soon enough we will have autonomous vehicle disrupting one of the largest occupation in America and in the world. Jobs like taxi drivers, bus drivers, train drivers, truck drivers *2 ... will stop being a source of income for most humans, and arguments that we do not trust machines to drive will soon wane as machines will become better, less riskier and more efficient drivers, causing significantly less driving accidents than us. *3

Continuing with Moors law, not so long ago IBM’s “Deep blue” has beaten humans in chess, and recently “Watson” has won the “Jeopardy!” paving the way for future AI, to be used as irreplaceable assistants, advising us in the process of making decisions. With recent progress in quantum computing (D-wave Google) *4, creating a quantum leap in comparison to the current progress of the Moors law, this may happen even sooner than we think. It is worth mentioning that even at this very moment there are automated artificial journalists tirelessly writing sport reports, and probably most of us can hardly tell the difference between human and robot writer.

3D printing is becoming a huge game changer promising that in the near future, we will be able to “produce” very cheaply almost anything in our homes in very similar way as in the “Star Trek” science fiction TV series. And this is not limited to home utensils alone, 3d printing is slowly finding its way into every field, car industry (engine blocks), aero industry (aeroplane parts), space industry (parts of rocket engine, building habitats on the Moon and Mars), medicine (yaws, bones, kidneys, blood vessels), housing (building homes autonomously) ... now it is a bit more than a hobby, but soon it will become a game changer. *5

What Federico has not mentioned in his book is that this is a technology that has potential to become a big equaliser, leaning more towards being part of the solution than the problem.

Despite all this evidences, economists are largely failing to see the rising danger of automation relying on the logical fallacy which says “if you can find one example of a person that cannot be replaced by machines, then the argument of technological unemployment is invalid.”

Similar to climate change issue we are lacking social acceptance (8) and understanding of the unemployment issues we will face in near future. Only 1/3 population is connected to a global mind, and even those who have access to free available information on the internet are facing a widespread increase in censorship and detrimental policies that aim to limit freedom of the internet, this trend is similar in the Eastern and Western countries. Furthermore, a high percentage of the population remains functionally illiterate. Even those who are most educated among economists discard arguments that there will be problem with unemployment. Many of them don’t even address the issue in the first place, and those who do claim that the market always finds a way.

How will unemployment tomorrow (9) look like? Look at the recent numbers, our odds do not look bright. Within the last 50 years only one new occupation was created “computer and software engineers” and for it, you have to be highly educated, trained, and intelligent — most of the population does not have skills to do that job, only few of those who lost their job will be capable enough to adopt a new paradigm. A “Unicorn” companies are showing, on daily bases, that you do not need huge human force in order to make billions, and all that wealth will end up in the pockets of just a few people.

So the question is: what are we going to do with millions of people who have no formal education and do not have the means to learn new skills?

Pistono writes “there simply is no historical precedent for what we are about to experience” and I fully agree with him.

He continues, that we have not changed our habits significantly, and we could have easily reduced our working week, instead we work more than ever before, on average. “This is pure madness: the purpose of technology was to free our time so that we could dedicate it to higher purposes. Instead, our jobs have become the purpose.”

My slight disagreement here with Federico is that we have indeed freed up our time, but what is freed is not for everyone. We have freed up time for the elite at the top, so they can have bunga-bunga-parties, so that they can fly in private jets and float in expensive yachts, so that they can plan destabilisations of other governments ... now, how high those purposes are, is something we can argue about. A “we” similar like in the Orwell’s “Animal Farm” does not always mean “WE”, as “some of ‘we’ are more equal than others.”

Author’s observations:

“So far, nobody has been able to answer that question. The reason for this, I think, is because there is no answer. Not in this system, not in the way it is designed to work.”, ” to solve most challenging problems of our time we will have to rethink our whole economic and social structure. Rethink our lives, our role, our purposes, our priorities, and our motivations” ... are in alignment with what some of the goals of this blog series are, to try proposing few of many possible solutions on how to change (fix) the current system.

Federico’s book is like a collage of different researches, it is heavily supported with references from today’s science authorities, and sometimes he is clearly using fully copy-paste from the research of other people, I do not blame him for this, although I have spoken about this in the “Argument from authority fallacy”, I understand that nowadays it is very difficult to state a bold claim without risking a possible backlash, from the wide community. In that regard, allies who think alike are usually welcomed.

Also worth mentioning, you do not have to buy his book as it is fully available in HTML format, and all the links are fully available therein for you to test his findings. *0

I would like to end the summary of this part of the book, in a similar way as author:

"We must learn to live together as brothers
or perish together as fools."
- Martin Luther King

Continues with > Part II - Foundation (Work and Happiness)

Notes & References:

0. Web version of the book “Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK” by Federico Pistono

1. Dr Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy

2. The most endangered jobs of 2016

3. Tesla CEO Elon Musk drops his prediction of full autonomous driving from 3 years to just 2

4. Google says its quantum computer is 100 million times faster than PC

5. Making 3-D imaging 1,000 times better

What if 3D printing was 100x faster?