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Rise of the Robots Review

In: Business and Management

Submitted By JennaBre
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Background of Author: Martin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm and has more than 25 years of experience in 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 is highly regarded in his field and has written for publications including The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Project Syndicate, The Huffington Post and The Fiscal Times. Ford is the author of the two books, his most recent Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015) and in earlier years The Lights In the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009). These two books are about dealing with the effects of automation, robots, algorithms and the effects they have on mass-unemployment. Ford is quite unique and in some ways brave in the fact that he was the first 21st century author to publish a book (The Lights in the Tunnel) making a very strong argument that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence would eventually take over a large percentage of the human workforce and in turn make us obsolete. In this wise and wide-ranging book, he surveys the impact robots and smart technology is having upon the economy, work, leisure, education, health care, and the acceleration of inequality and unemployment.

The central idea of this book by Martin Ford is that smart machines, robots and algorithms are increasingly going to substitute for workers. As we all know these theories have been around before, this isn’t the first time people have been so impressed with new tools that they’ve warned machines may soon make us replaceable. Yet the majority of people don’t seem to be concerned, or to be taking these claims seriously.
Ford compares this to the story of the boy who cried wolf, but he stresses that eventually the wolf showed up, and he believes that this time its different, and we are heading in the direction of being ultimately replaced by robots in the workforce.

Ford lays out seven economic trends resulting from the transformative role of advanced information technology, including stagnant wages, declining labour force participation, soaring long-term unemployment, diminishing incomes for recent college graduates, and a gigantic leap in part-time work.
The Rise of the Robots

Ford strongly believes that this time is a lot different and I will explore 7 particular themes that Ford has put forward to support this statement.
Acceleration in Technology

First of all, Ford looks at the relentless acceleration in computer technology. He discusses Moores Law, ‘the well-established rule of thumb that says computing power roughly doubles every

eighteen to twenty four months. The worry that the author holds is that we have not taken this information seriously enough and have not fully assimilated the implications of this extraordinary exponential progress. Ford uses some great everyday examples to explain this extraordinary progress of computers by comparing it to the acceleration of cars, making it very easy for the everyday reader to understand. He states that the amount of computing acceleration and progress we can expect in the coming years is absolutely mind-boggling.

To add to this Ford expresses his concern over the rapid rate at which computer hardware prices are falling and could let computers quickly displace many jobs, if we reach a threshold where many jobs all require roughly the same computing power.
It is fair to say that machines are taking on cognitive ability, and in a limited sense machines are beginning to think. They’re starting to encroach on the fundamental that sets us apart as a species. Ford highlights that the thing that defines people and has so far allowed us to keep ahead with technology is our ability to adapt, learn and think. Machines in a limited sense are moving into that area now.

The availability of robotic software sends alarms off for Ford. He writes that similar to PC software growth, robots will be developed to handle almost any commercial, industrial, and consumer task imaginable. He mentions various different robots in his book, but tends to focus on the ROS, or Robot Operating System, developed by Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. What is so worrying about this particular system is that it is open-source and free, meaning that developers can enhance it, providing a market-standard tool that continuously improves for future robot developers. This makes use of robotics

very accessible to virtually anyone, may that be an employer or a corporate business owner.

He makes us think 'could a particular job be done by another smart person if that person had access to a detailed record of everything that had been done in the past?' He believes that if we answer yes, then it’s a good bet that a smart algorithm will come along to do that job.
Ford is very intense in his beliefs and basically sees a robotic catastrophe coming soon, but critics say there are some holes that can be found in this. Decades ago, Farm machinery transformed agriculture and it is fair to say that it did create a lot of unemployment but other sectors of our economy absorbed the workers that lost their farms jobs.

If a big burst in automation takes most but not all jobs, won't those who lose jobs to robots switch to doing jobs those robots cannot yet do? After all, this is what we've seen for centuries, and it is the straightforward prediction of labour economics.

It is also fair to say that computer prices have been falling dramatically for 70 years but the job-displacement rate has held pretty steady. This suggests that jobs vary greatly in the computing power required to displace them and that jobs are spread out rather evenly along this parameter.
We have no particular reason to think that, contrary to prior experience, a big clump of displaceable jobs lies near ahead.

Labour Market Trends

Secondly, Ford discusses recent labour market trends and explains why they are extremely worrying. To summarise his point, Ford discusses the patterns we seen from the end of WW2 right up to the 1970’s, productivity increased because of technological progresses, and wages increased in log step with that. Machines became tools and tools became better and therefore workers produced more and in turn became more valuable. This was the story up until the late 1970’s, and then something changed. Wages have now become flat but productivity is still increasing. Each decade since the 1970’s have produced less and less jobs than the previous decade, except for the 1990’s.

Ford stresses that there has to be something happening that is making the economy less effective at creating jobs. In the last decade there was no jobs created at all.
Advancing technology in robots used in manufacturing in China resulted in a loss of 16 million manufacturing jobs there between 1995 and 2002. Unlike people, robots can work continuously and as technology costs decrease, they are more likely to replace humans even when wages are low.
While stating this information, Ford sees automation as the main cause of all these trends, but he admits that economists reasonably see other causes, such as changes in demographics, regulation, worker values, organization practices, and other technologies. The author lightly brushed over the fact that the 1990’s had in fact created more jobs. So it is not all bad news. It is of course not good news to hear that there was zero jobs created in the last decade, but this might not necessarily be due

to robot domination. It is highly possible and also most likely that this was due to the financial crisis that the world experienced back then. It is not gospel to immediately assume that this was a result of smarter algorithms and robots.

Thirdly, Ford discusses education and as expected, there are some parallels with other books including Brynholfsson’s and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age. This book encourages education as an important means to career success as technology continues to replace jobs through automation. Ford cites this book, but provides a colder, harder dose of reality about technology’s impact on the job market than these authors do.
"We are running up against a fundamental limit both in terms of the capabilities of the people being herded into colleges and the number of high-skill jobs that will be available for them if they manage to graduate," writes Ford. "The problem is that the skills ladder is not really a ladder at all: it is a pyramid, and there is only so much room at the top."

Cultural analysts once thought that human beings could keep up with robots through more education but according to Martin Ford that is no longer the case, given the rapid improvements in robotic technology. He believes the machines offer a combination of speed, precision, and brute strength, and are slowly taking over white-collar jobs. The traditional view is that advancements in technology will only impact low skilled work, low education jobs and factory jobs, and as a result of that, the solution has always been that education is the answer to keep yourself ahead. We go to school to climb the skills ladder and essentially take on a more

sophisticated role. Ford explains that even though a factory worker for example can get a job in a higher education job i.e. an office worker, there is still a problem. Technology is also climbing that skills ladder and he believes that white-collar jobs and essentially graduate jobs are being seriously impacted.

There is no doubt that it is quite frightening that there are ‘higher education’ jobs being automated, we see this in journalism, legal document reviews and even medical jobs such as radiography.
Ford bypasses the fact that although these jobs may be in danger, there are also dozens of new opportunities being created. Old things get destroyed and new things get created. Technology may upend much of the industry, but new industries will certainly be created. We see this in Nano technology, virtual reality, and synthetic biology. These industries will certainly exist and there’s every reason to believe that these new industries and many more like them will come into existence.
Economic Effect
Ford then moves on to discuss the impact that acceleration of robots and smart algorithms will have on our economy. He worries about the economic impact of consumers having essentially little or no low income. We need to have people capable of buying goods and services created by our economy in order to keep going. A successful economy requires consumers who are capable of and willing to purchase the goods it produces. Either that, or you have to be able to export. Companies must sell their products in order to succeed. And, when only a small class of wealthy individuals can afford to buy those goods and services, successfully selling them will become increasingly difficult.

He explains that without an abundance of customers willing to purchase we run the risk of running into stagnation, or even a downward spiral where there simply isn’t enough viable customers for companies to sell to, and if that becomes the case we’re getting into a serious deflation scenario.
Wage Inequality and The Impact on Consumer Demand
Along with this, Ford discusses wage inequality and the dangers to our economy if all the wealth lies just with the corporate business owners.
He explains that some jobs are shifting toward a more “winner takes all” income distribution, where higher skilled workers receive a disproportionate amount of the total compensation. When you combine that with the elimination of many jobs through automation and the push of remaining jobs to lower skill and lower pay levels, you will be looking at a very bleak employment landscape both for new workers and for out of work workers.
The point Ford is making is that the income and wealth distribution will no longer be a bell curve with a fat middle. We are moving toward a more economically unequal society. That means that some (the wealthy) will have the economic power to both maintain and increase their share of the income distribution and wealth. Their increased economic power will give them more political power, which they will use to ensure and further increase their economic power. It will become a vicious circle.
Buying Power
If we look at Bill Gates, he has a huge amount of buying power. He has the funds available to essentially buy anything that he wants to. The problem is, is that Bill Gates will not go out and

buy one thousand cars. The danger is when you take the buying power from one thousand ‘average’ people and concentrate all that into the hands of one person, a lot of demand is taken out of the economy and there are fewer viable customers out there.
When there are no jobs for humans, there will be no consumers with the disposable income to buy the products being produced so efficiently by robots.

Henry Ford understood this when he paid his workers high enough wages to buy his cars. Today's titans of the economy appear to have forgotten this lesson.
Along with this Ford discusses corporate profits vs. retail sales.
He believes there is already evidence to suggest that we have a huge issue. Corporate profits have increased but Ford believes these profits are due to efficiency improvements, and the fact that corporations are cutting cuts. They are eliminating workers, he believes these extraordinary profits are not because these corporations are actually selling more, Ford states that it is because they’re paying less workers. This however is not sustainable, you cannot have corporations forever becoming profitable by cutting costs, there is always a limit.
It will come a point when they eventually need to sell more, and to sell more there has to be viable consumers out there, and those people need to have an income. This is the biggest problem facing us according to Ford.
Effects on Climate Change
But if Ford is to be right, if a permanent growth economy is the only solution and the only successful future that we can imagine, then we have another problem on our hands, along with robot domination, we now have to take climate change into consideration. We are headed toward a future in which we have

more pollution, more CO2 emissions, more global warming, and a number of other unpleasant consequences. At some point we may have to accept the thought that as a nation we will need to consume a lot less, especially less production and consumption of goods.
Guaranteed Basic Income
The section of Fords ‘The Rise of Robots’ that was most controversial in my eyes was the solution he put forward to solve all this. Ford proposes that we need to see a redistribution of wealth from the very wealthy to everybody else, and he proposes to do this in the form of a "guaranteed basic income" that ensures displaced workers have enough income to keep the consumer economy moving along. It sounds like he is basically suggesting the whole world implements a guaranteed dole. He believes this is the only way that we guarantee that everyone in our society has a liveable income even if they are unable to find a job. Ford states that it is ultimately inevitable that we have to move in that direction.

Even if we did implement a basic income (which seems politically impossible at this point), key questions would remain: Would Ford’s proposed incentives be enough to keep the workforce adequately engaged in the economy? Would the rise in consumption push us over the climate cliff, or might it give people the financial freedom to understand climate change better and perhaps even do something about it?
Would getting rid of certain social programs cause a huge soar in frivolous consumer spending, leading to even deeper poverty in the long run?

Martin Ford makes some very good points throughout this book, and to some degree I have to say I trust in what he is saying.
He is not wrong when he declares, "a fundamental restructuring of our economic rules will be required." But it's hard to see how this will happen.

Ford explores different themes throughout the book including the relentless acceleration in computer technology, recent labour trends and education, economic effects, wage inequality, consumer demand and buying power, climate change and the proposed guaranteed income solution.
While Ford poses some great arguments in all of these topics, I still believe that automation is great, until something goes wrong.

There was a great example used in a book called ‘The Good Jobs Strategy’ by Zeynep Ton. The author profiles how low-cost retailers like Trader Joe’s offer low prices by counterintuitively spending more on their employees.
These employees drive both operational excellence and outstanding customer service. They do it by making decisions that simply can’t be automated. For example, spotting that “I’m lost” look on a customer’s face and then expertly recommending products that customer never even knew existed. This type of service in my opinion will never be replaced.
Robots without doubt have a place in the working world, they have made many tasks a lot easier, and I believe that when service is done right, robots and humans can co-exist perfectly.

Ultimately, whether you’re a parent, grandparent, student, teacher, employer, employee, policymaker, regulator, or retiree, Martin Ford’s book will make you think about what options we have that will enhance prosperity for our people and our country. The road ahead is not without its potholes or washouts. We need enlightenment and teamwork, not polarization. Rise of the Robots is a book that can and should stimulate the national discourse.…...

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...Advancement in Robot Engineering Over the several years, robot engineering has become a part of everyone’s daily life especially towards the development of robots for the elderly. Frank Tobe, a robotics analyst and publisher of The Robot Reports, explains and describes about the different type of technologies that are beginning to come to the market to help the elderly to live in their homes for as long as possible. Joseph Engelberger, who is a robotics pioneer, created and helped with the invention of the first industrial robot. The need for eldercare technology continues to increase throughout the years. A study from Georgia Tech showed and proved the seniors preferred robotic help for household chores but not for personal needs such as getting help to get dressed up, bathing, and many more. The consequences for having robot-care can vary depending on what type of care the robot is providing to the elders. One consequence would be that robots would be replacing jobs that humans once had. Robots that are used for medical purposes could dramatically change the way we treat the ailments. Many researches are experimenting with robots to perform surgical performances such as a heart surgery. Over the years, robotic engineers are trying to develop nano-robots that could be injected into cancer patients in order to selectively kill cancer cells. For elderly people with impairments such as a spinal cord injury or some sort of paralysis caused by a stroke, robots are able to......

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...Abstract Robots are the representation of how fast technology growing around the world. Robots are the instruments to understand the real time applications of diverse theories and concepts. Not only that but they could replace humans in the future to do certain tasks specially those involving dangerous mission and could kill a human being. Therefore, this report will introduce a small part of the robotics world by introducing a short history about robotics technology. Then will move to show why robots are important to us. Afterward, different types of sensors will be introduced including their principles. Furthermore will show how sensors should be interfaced with the development boards (8051 based as well as AEM) that have been recently purchased by the computer department in the university. Besides these of course, the microcontrollers, which have been mentioned earlier, will be fully documented and tested. Likewise, to understand how these sensors works, a test program will be written and will be fully documented for inclusion of the final report. Abstract 2 Introduction 4 References 8 Figures 9 Introduction Robot for many people is simply a machine that does certain job and that’s it. Unfortunately, it is not! Robots currently go beyond these very simple tasks and imaginations. Nowadays a single robot can replace a huge number of people in different fields. Nevertheless, in the future it is expected to be capable of acting as human being from the way of...

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