Continued from > Part II - Foundation (Work and Happiness)

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


In the last part of his book, Pistono collected a set of practical advices for everyone (18). The very first being a simple statement that says, “Who need less, live more.”(18.1)

Although many self help books have similar principles like building strong network connections and high level friendships, ability to be flexible and self-employed, and learn to market yourself, it is an obvious mathematical and logical tautology that the nature of the system does not allow everyone to be financially successful.

Therefore, virtue of living would be to recognize what skills we are good at, and instead of abandoning work completely or earning huge amount of money, we should rather find the golden mean between the money we spend and the money we earn. By finding a proportion between those two that will give us a relative surplus, we could enjoy life more.

Living simpler life and escaping from the rat race of obsessive materialism could reduce stress, overtime working hours, and psychological expense which usually goes along with those. We cannot all be physicists, biologists, computer scientists or geneticists, we should all find our strengths, and what we enjoy doing.

Although it is essential to find what we are going to do from the “fight-boredom” point of view, my criticism of this approach is that when the machine takes over, this approach does not give any answer how are we going to earn for even the simplest of necessities. If we already used the poorest people as an example in problems, mentioning their inability to gain access to even the most basic of resources such as clean water, we should think about them now as well. Reducing (spending less), from what is already small would leave majority of people to starve, as they could not make any type of earnings in the current system.

The next advice is to educate ourselves(18.2) and become critical thinkers and problem solvers as that is the only way to keep in pace with the transformation. Today it is possible to receive world class education where the best teachers coming from the most prestigious universities in the world to teach any subject for free.

A few good examples of these free online platforms are Khan Academy, iTunesU, OpenCourseWare, MITx. Udacity, Coursera. Where, by taking courses you can become an expert in almost anything for free. Soon there will be high quality courses about molecular engineering, nanotechnology, sustainable technologies for the production of energy, food, housing and many, many other things — all for free.

Yale, Michigan University and the University of California Barkley have launched similar projects. Lessons from Stanford, Harvard and MIT are recorded and are available for free on the internet. And in some of those for a small additional fee you can receive a valid University Certificate.

The only issue with this is the same as the previous complain; what if you are so poor that you do not have access to those? What if your mental capacity is not enough for obtaining and comprehending new skills? Yes, when you have good memory and the high IQ it is easy to fall into delusion that everyone else have similar abilities like you, but obviously we don’t and proof for this is “The Bell Curve” *1 showing that 50% of the population has IQ below 100. So, the question is what are we going to do with them? What are we going to do with 3.5 billion people, who do not have the ability?

The other 34% (making 84% in total) have IQ below 115. And we have not even touched the memory or an ability to learn and retain information in later years? We cannot seriously expect about 9 million drivers who are mostly older than 50 to learn those things?

We mentioned that only 1/3 of the entire population is on the internet, so what about 2/3 who do not have access to that knowledge? And it is not entirely true that knowledge is completely free, there is always a price to pay. You have to buy a computer and you will need to pay for internet connection and electricity, yes, after those, knowledge is free.

And if you are thinking about cheap solutions like Raspberry-PI, no it is not just $5, after buying a monitor, keyboard, power adapter, and cables you will end up with $100, the price similar to the 2 years old laptop with computing power definitely higher of the one R-PI has.

Educating others (18.3) can definitely tackle some of my above complaints but not all. Anyway, point made is: what good is saving yourself, if everyone else fails? Happiness is found in sharing and sharing leads to incredible discoveries. Taking this in consideration, the previously proposed has a greater meaning; if those who have access to knowledge would share their findings with others we would all live happier lives.

Growing your own food (18.4) is not just a leisure activity; it is taking power back into your hands. Reasons for that are many: we can improve our health, eat healthier food as most of the food we currently eat has changed many hands and transports (it was smoked, dusted and sprayed), also by growing our food we can save money — and that is significant. Reducing environmental impact can be significant by growing food in our homes, food will taste better, and you will stop being a slave to the food companies. Last but not least, by growing our own food we can enjoy the outdoor life by spending time with family or community, gathered around mutual activity by cooperation instead of competition.

Good examples are the urban farming movements in the New York City and Boston where people are slowly reshaping their environment by growing food. *2 *3 *4

As you might have expected, there are also very few reasons for eating less meat(18.5) where the author is not suggesting that we should all become vegans but that by reducing the current amount of meat we eat, would help us to live healthier lives (as some type of meat, such as the red meat for instance, are according to the studies the main causes of different types of cancers) and also reduce pressure on nature by reducing carbon and water footprint.

More or less, what is advised for sustainable “green” living in order to reduce carbon footprint is similar to what is advised here. Although, this does not solve the loss of jobs except in the way that if we stay without our jobs we will not have money and any ability to buy meat therefore this looks like a habit training for what may hit us in future.

One of the most expensive advices in this book is definitely a house retrofitting in order to save energy(18.6)

Having in mind that we waste huge amount of energies in our houses, we should invest a certain amount of money in order to minimize waste and therefore save our money and energy. Proposed retrofits are: replacing normal lighting with LED bulbs, buying high efficient applications, investing into programmable thermostats, more efficient water heaters or at least isolating them (hot water tank ‘blanket’), reducing standby power usage and reducing the quantity of water we use. By doing all that, as studies have show, in the course of 20 years, savings can be huge.

Doubts here are: firstly, LED bulbs do not last longer, at least not in practice; a couple times personally I had experience with buying LED lights from Amazon (Philips) and just after a few days of constant usage the LED bulbs died. The normal price for one LED bulb is in the range of $10, in comparison price of the standard incandescent bulb is 0.8 $. Now, even if the longevity of incandescent bulb is only one month, it will still cost you cheaper than replacing 3 LED bulbs plus the amount of electricity they will save during that time, regretful to say, but from my experience economically you will be better off with the old classic bulb. Additionally, the incandescent bulb is easier to recycle than the LED bulb, which has lots of other electronic components. Raising a question concerning what the carbon footprint is — both during production and after its life.

Also, you have to bear in mind that in order to retrofit your house first you need to have one. We live in times when millions of people have already lost their homes after the 2008 market crash. Additionally, most other people live by renting, not by owning properties so they cannot retrofit them, as that would be something for the landlord to do, and why should landlords be bothered about that, they are getting rents and bills are paid by tenants so retrofitting houses would only mean a loss of profit for them. Tenants use majority of the money they have to pay rent, bills and food and even if they could; why would they invest in someone else’s property? Another question is legality of some of the changes tennents may had wished to do in the rented properties.

Most puzzling thing is how can someone find additional $20,000 – $70,000 for house retrofitting, if most of the people are under the pressure of squeezing job market and under the burden of the monthly mortgage installment they have to pay. How can they find means for additional investment especially if they decide to work part time (21hrs/week) or to be self employed?

Even worse, I am not even talking about the third world countries. I am talking about the current thinning middle class and especially having in mind that, as one article says, “62% Americans have less than $1,000 in savings” so, how do we do this exactly? *5 *6
The one more unsettling thought is that we will all be out of jobs soon ...

The author continues that energy savings should be our first priority, energy production comes after. Make your own energy(18.7) fitting PV panels can indeed be a good move. Living off grid can help too, and by installing enough panels, you can return extra power into the grid, and therefore earn some money.

But, don’t forget, the comment from above still applies — in order to do all this firstly you will somehow need to find a way to earn money in the system that does not require you to work. This is obviously a paradox.

Car cost money for the insurance and for gasoline, having in mind that cars are also the main cause of thousands of deaths every year, ditching the car(18.8) does not sound as a bad option. By not using it you will contribute to cleaner air, you will have the chance to rediscover the community by using public transport, and you will avoid the stress of traffic congestions. Alternatively by walking, running, skating or cycling you will enjoy a healthier life.
And, that is so if you do not get smashed by some other fellow driver running car over you. *7

Further on, proposed options as replacement for your privately owned car are also “Carsharing” and “Carpooling” which can be both beneficial for your pocket and the social life.

But for the nation who finds its pride in having the car, like an extension of their limbs just by coming of age, not having the car at least for Americans seems as a mission impossible. In some European countries like Denmark and Netherlands where the importance of nature and ecology is highly prized — maybe, but if the same principle does not work for the entire Europe how can we even start addressing it with the top pollution contributors like China or America, Russia, India... We should not expect people to change their habits as they will rarely do, and surely not over night, instead change the system and everyone will adapt quickly to the new rules.

DIY (Do It Yourself) movement is definitely making the future(19), community builders that are building physical, digital and cultural tools for a new society. In it, free, open source licensing model is pawing a way for the new civilization. Way to go is either: to join any of those movements or do something on your own or just support them. And there are so many thing you can explore; open software, open hardware, open food and beverages, open books, open films, open robotics, open design, open journalism and even experiments on open government.

Large projects like Linux, Wikipedia, and Creative Commons have already made significant marks in our society by making its content openly available for anyone who has access to internet and sometimes by distributing DVDs to those who are offline.

An interesting fact is that crowd sourcing platforms like Kickstarter are already distributing more money to artists than the National Endowment of the Arts.

A significant name worth mentioning in the circles of open source is Marcin Jakubowski, and as Federico mentions, many have great ideas on how we could fix the future, but he is one of the rare individuals who is actually doing it. Marcin is most famous for his TED talk explaining his civilization starter kit. A set of 50 machines that can help you build a modern society from the scratch with locally available tools and resources. He is the very example on how openness can benefit us all; instead of secrecy that serves only the powerful.

Voting with your wallet(19.2) is an interesting concept, which says, because the largest lobbyist are big dollar companies, by buying products from their smaller competitors you are taking the influence that they have on government, from them.

The idea about working less(19.3) hours is an idea that has been around for a very long time, and the author is repeating the main principles: lowering the number of hours in the working week to 21 hours for example, which can consequently give us more time for ourselves, it will affect the natural resource of the planet, it will increase social justice and well being by allowing those who are currently not employed to get jobs. All this in theory should boost prosperity and economy.

What I am personally bothered about in this statement is also mentioned by the author. Similar plans can backfire, as it has been seen in previous experiments.
With half the working hours income will be sliced in half as well, thinning down the already thin middle class. Insufficient income from a 21-hour working week would only mean that most of the people need to find one more job in order to sustain their families.

Saving resources also comes under the question, by having half of the working time; it does not mean you will travel less. Companies are the ones who control how many hours are necessary in order to complete certain job. If previously, someone worked for 40 hours and travelled 5 days a week, this mean that now, instead of one there will be 2 people working for 21 hours respectively in order to compensate total number of working hours that company requires. Meaning, if employees continue to work the standard eight hour a day shifts — one person will travel for 3 days and the other for the subsequent 3 days as well, so in total they will travel more (6 man/days a week). In addition, if they work 4 hours per day and travel every single day of the week — traffic will double (10 man/days a week). [*]

Total travels = Number of jobs per people * Number of people * Number of travels per day * Number of working days per week Total number of travels will be 1(~2)*2*2*5=20-40 per week.

Maybe, the best advice in the book is “Don’t be a dick”, although this might sound rude or funny it is the case against people who are eager to school you about the way you should live your life. Often many activists use scare tactics in order to spark emotional reaction, or produce feeling of guilt or shame that should somehow lead to change, and this approach usually does more harm than good.

If you want to make a change lead by example showing people benefits, and positive sides, one of the bright examples is urban farmer movements. Showing by everyday examples that anyone can grow food even in the cities, and that growing food can empower people to make positive life changes.

He continues with chapter about advices that science gives in order to have happy life(20), but also he points out that you can easily be scammed by self-help pseudo-science promoters, and advises that you should avoid them at any cost. Advices given are more or less in alignment with some of the good self help books and scientific findings: mindful mediation, writing down the to-do list that needs resolution, exercise, keeping diary about 3 good daily events, doing a random act of kindness (pay it forward style), and set small realistic goals regardless of how small they are in order to build a positive nature and attitude.

The author continues with short advices about how to spend smart, which is reinforced in the following chapter where he outlines how much money one family can save by applying the rules already given in the book.

After reading chapter 20, I have understood that the target audience of this book is the middle class family with few kids, with some savings, their own property and possibly more than one car. From that perspective, the answer is yes, this type of family can really make big savings, but after explaining what the real danger is and the actual problems we will face are (in the first part of the book) it seems the part with the solutions has missed the target significantly.

But to be perfectly honest, I was not expecting that I will find the solution here, Federico has done an excellent job of explaining what the problem is, so it wouldn't be realistic to expect everything from one person, even for what the author has done to this point he deserves a respect. So, if you expect solutions for robots replacing the human work force, do not be disappointed if you do not find something concrete or one single solution that tackles the problem, instead you will probably find many small or promising solutions that can help in the future. The solution should come as a collaborative effort of many but again this does not mean it is a rule.

The final chapter says that the future will be fantastic, but for some reason reminded me about the orchestra on the sinking Titanic *8, they were playing and enjoying their own music till the end. Maybe, for some people that is the way to go, and I respect that kind of bravery. At least it is much better than panicking and screaming around. Each person has its own way, and it would be wrong to judge. There is a long way ahead of us, for each to show to what group belongs and an amount of fighting he or she can put out.

The future will be fantastic without any doubt, only question is for whom?

By giving example on how we would need a large galaxy of stars in just 2500 years from now with current rate of energy consumption increase (even with 100% efficient Dyson sphere *9 and having the ability to travel faster than the speed of light) the author ends its book by pointing at the last standing elephant in the room.

The author does not point his finger at anyone specific but he mentions that the exponential growth of energy consumption is one of the biggest problems we will face in the future, and for me, a new subject to write about.

Notes & References: