- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books (January 14, 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250173515
- ISBN-13: 978-1250173515
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
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- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond Hardcover – January 14, 2020
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“Compelling... Thought-provoking... Should be required reading for any potential presidential candidate thinking about the economy of the future.”
―The New York Times Book Review
“Susskind guides the reader through a boneyard of discredited assumptions about technological unemployment… An explainer rather than a polemic, written in the relentlessly reasonable tone that dominates popular economics: the voice of a clever, sensible man telling you what’s what.”
“Convincing and illuminating... A complex yet lucid and surprisingly optimistic account from the frontlines of technology addressing the challenges facing the human workforce.”
“Susskind’s book is so timely, to miss it might be downright irresponsible.”
“A superb and sophisticated contribution to the debate over work in the age of artificial intelligence. Susskind approaches the discussion with a great command of the evidence and with excellent judgment. Never glib, consistently wise and well informed, this is the book to read to understand how digital technologies and artificial intelligence in particular are reshaping the economy and labor market, and how we will live alongside increasingly smart machines.”
―Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty
“Susskind has written a fascinating book about a vitally important topic―and he writes with such elegance that you don’t even notice how much you’re learning. Original and compelling.”
―Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist
“This is the book to read on the future of work in the age of artificial intelligence. It is thoughtful and state of the art on the economics of the issue, but its real strength is the way it goes beyond just the economics. A truly important contribution that deserves widespread consideration.”
―Lawrence H. Summers
“Eloquent and humane, A World Without Work moves the debate beyond the illusion that technology always creates more jobs than it destroys. It provocatively explores the role of work in human life, and what to do when that role evaporates.”
―Stuart Russell, author of Human Compatible
“Daniel Susskind offers an authoritative and hype-free perspective on how technology will change work. This eloquent and humane book deserves wide readership―and wide influence.”
―Martin Rees, author of On the Future
“An important book on an equally important topic. Susskind’s conclusion is that ultimately there will be less paid work to go around. This will shake the foundations of our economy and our society. It will be a daunting challenge. We have to start thinking hard about it now.”
―Martin Wolf, author of The Shifts and the Shocks
About the Author
Daniel Susskind is the coauthor, with Richard Susskind, of The Future of the Professions, named as one of the best books of the year by the Financial Times, New Scientist, and the Times Literary Supplement. He is a fellow in economics at Balliol College, Oxford University. Previously, he worked in the British government – as a policy adviser in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, as a policy analyst in the Policy Unit in 10 Downing Street, and as a senior policy adviser in the Cabinet Office.
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Both agriculture and manufacturing now employ far less workers than they once did. Most of the resulting ‘labor surplus’ has gradually migrated first from agriculture to manufacturing and subsequently from manufacturing to the sector of services. Furthermore, what the remaining workers employed in these two fast-evolving sectors do is increasingly different from what their predecessors did. In addition, these workers continuously have to upgrade their skills to remain employed in both sectors.
The service sector that now employs most people in advanced economies will gradually share a fate similar to the one that is applicable to the agriculture and manufacturing sectors under the pressure of further automation. Mr. Susskind repeatedly stresses that too many people hold a simplistic view of both automation and frictional, structural technological unemployment: Machines cannot be taught to perform “non-routine” tasks, because people struggle to explain how they perform them. The author clearly demonstrates that machines process information and data differently and more efficiently than most human beings do. None of these machines have gained an ‘artificial general intelligence’. These machines display an ‘artificial narrow intelligence.’
Here follow a few examples for illustration purposes:
1) DeepMind has created a program that can diagnose over fifty eye diseases with an error rate of only 5.5%. It performs as well as the best clinical experts out there.
2) JP Morgan has developed a system that reviews commercial loan agreements, resulting in a saving of about 360,000 hours of human lawyers’ time.
3) IBM’s Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov at playing chess.
Mr. Susskind invites human beings to start thinking about the residual tasks that will remain for them:
1) Tasks that prove impossible to automate.
2) Tasks that are possible but unprofitable to automate.
3) Tasks that are both possible and profitable to automate but remain restricted to human beings due to regulatory or cultural barriers that societies build around them.
This gradual substitution will oblige governments in advanced economies to address three key, related issues: Inequality, power, and purpose. What will these technologically unemployed people do in a winner-take-all environment that further increases income / wealth inequality? How will these (former or would be) workers be compensated if traditional jobs are out of reach for them? What will the purpose of the welfare state be in a world where machines take over many tasks that were previously deemed out of reach for automation? Will unscrupulous populists mobilize this new ‘proletariat’ for their own nefarious purposes either domestically and/or across borders?
The diminishing employment rate among lower-qualified men say in the U.S. reflects a multi-dimensional mismatch: 1) Skills, 2) identity, and 3) place. Up-skilling has clearly failed to address this mismatch, despite the claims of too many out-of-touch policymakers. The lack of gainful employment among these men makes them both unproductive and potentially dangerous to the stability of the society at large.
In a world with less paid work, taxation of workers, capital, and big businesses will be a critical mechanism in addressing to some extent the increasing income / wealth inequality. A conditional basic income (CBI) will be the only palatable solution to the haves. The universal basic income (UBI) smells too much of a free lunch for moochers. The CBI will allow the ‘non-traditional’ workers to find new meaning and purpose in life, while providing more stability and security to the taxed ‘traditional’ workers, capital, and big businesses. Sustenance and entertainment provided by government to appease public discontent has not lost its potency since Antiquity.
In summary, nothing in life can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and the relentless process of machine-driven task encroachment.
Ultimately it's a good book for anyone who isn't well aware of the impact automation has had so far and needs a 101, but is largely a recap for anyone who's been following the issue already.
Top international reviews
Susskind follows David Autor in distinguishing labour substituting and labour complementing aspects of automation. In fact, it’s the same phenomenon of increased productivity, only differentiated as to whether in early periods, increased output is derived from the same labour, or in more developed economies, decreased labour produces the same output, either due to satiation or to ecological constraints.
His analysis of automation technology requires a more complete typology than his ‘purist/pragmatic’ divide. A useful hierarchy might be
• Mimicry of human techniques
• Simple full enumeration techniques, but by powerful machine processors
• Deterministic algorithms, such as Kantorovich’s linear programming solution
• One-pass heuristic algorithms, such as Clarke and Wright’s vehicle scheduling algorithm
• Iterative adaptive heuristic algorithms, the basis of current AI
These are not ‘pragmatic’ techniques, but the implementation of some form of logic. Susskind doesn’t refer to the extensive literature on philosophy of technology, which might suggest that deductive logic is objective. All approaches therefore explore this same objective logic, and cannot be distinguished as ‘pure’ or ‘pragmatic’. The same literature is more nuanced on the interaction of human agency and technology objectivity than Susskind is in airily declaring himself to be ‘not a technological determinist’ (p9). Our choices may very well be very tightly constrained, if not totally determined.
Susskind’s wide-ranging claims need deeper challenge. His claim that technology has created more bank employment misses the fact that 3,303 bank branches closed in the UK from 2015 to 2019 (p27). He makes the contradictory complaints that US big business fails to pay tax in Europe, and then that it does pay tax in Europe! (p178-9).
But he’s right that education to high skilled work is not a solution, and that it’s not the number of jobs, but personal incomes and aggregate macroeconomic wage which is the worry. The trail he doesn’t follow is that both lead to debt, and debt leads to crisis and austerity.
His discussion of basic income (UBI) is unfortunately shallow. He worries about a UBI work disincentive, when it is clear that current welfare systems with their huge benefit withdrawal rates are major work disincentives compared to UBI. He underrates the gain in dignity, the increase in take-up, and the reduction in administrative cost of UBI’s elimination of means testing. And he proposes no alternative method to deliver income to citizens and aggregate demand to the economy as automation reduces both.
Membership of a UBI scheme would certainly need to be defined, but Susskind’s conditional ‘CBI’ based on ‘contribution’ is philosophically incorrect and practically unacceptable. The whole point is that technology can at least partially make goods and services available providentially, like air or rainfall. No labour contribution is therefore required to produce them, and none should be required to freely consume them. The practical implementation of his conditionality of contribution is horrendous, requiring an Orwellian ‘Political Power Oversight Authority…to watch over individuals as citizens in a society’ (p212,214).
UBI should be exactly as defined - universal and unconditional. It can be financed by sovereign money, and would avoid the economic crisis and austerity created by technology-led reduction in earned incomes, which have then been supplemented by household and government debt.
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