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

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

Martin Ford
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 22, 2009
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 significant factor in the current global crisis. THE LIGHTS IN THE TUNNEL employs a powerful thought experiment to explore the economy of the future. An imaginary "tunnel of lights" is used to visualize the economic implications of the new technologies that are likely to appear in the coming years and decades. The book directly challenges conventional views of the future and illuminates the danger that lies ahead if we do not plan for the impact of rapidly advancing technology. It also shows how the economic realities of the future might offer solutions to issues such as poverty and climate change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

THE LIGHTS IN THE TUNNEL takes an in depth look at current trends in information technology and globalization and examines what the likely economic impact will be in the coming years and decades.

Here are just a few of the questions explored in the book:

How will job automation impact the economy in the future?

How will the offshore outsourcing trend evolve in the coming years?

What impact will technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence have on the job market?

Did technology play a significant role in the 2007 subprime meltdown and the subsequent global financial crisis and recession?

Globalization. Collaboration. Telecommuting. Are these the forces that will shape the workplaces of the future? Or is there something bigger lurking?

How fast can we expect technological change to occur in the coming years and decades?

Which jobs and industries are likely to be most vulnerable to automation and outsourcing?

Machine and computer automation will primarily impact low skilled and low paid workers. True or false?

Will advancing technology always make society as a whole more wealthy? Or could it someday cause a severe economic depression?

What are the implications of advancing automation technology for developing nations such as China and India?

Will a college education continue to be a good bet in the future?

Recent economic data suggests that, in United States, we are seeing increasing income inequality and a dwindling middle class. How will this trend play out in the future?

What will be the economic impact of truly advanced future technologies, such as nanotechnology?

Retail positions at Wal-Mart and other chain stores have become the jobs of last resort for many workers. Will robots and other forms of machine automation someday threaten these jobs? If so, what alternatives will the economy create for these workers?

And much more...

About the Author

MARTIN FORD is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software firm. He has over twenty-five years experience in the fields of computer design and software development. He holds a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan and a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1448659817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1448659814
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #249,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews
294 of 311 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A serious and growing problem with few easy solutions September 14, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Martin Ford's book, The Lights in the Tunnel, is one of the latest in a progression of books addressing the economic and social problems partially attributable to rapidly advancing technology. I think his problem analysis is spot on. However, I think his proposed solutions are impractical and probably unworkable. The allocation (or misallocation) of wealth created by the prevailing economic system is an historical problem, one that is being exacerbated by the growing skill-bias of technology. But I can't imagine that any non-market-based wealth allocation scheme developed and administered by government would end up being other than a welfare program or a mechanism for rewarding political "favorites." Politics and cronyism would replace merit and effort. Government can't escape the specter of politics. Like it or not, the market imposes a reality and discipline that is simply not present in most government decision making.
All of the above said, the economic and resultant social problems associated with the increasing skill-bias of technology are serious and not likely to be a temporary phenomenon. Moreover, I don't believe that solutions will be easy to develop or implement. In my line of work (a psychologist working systems acquisition for the US Department of Defense), we began to encounter this problem more than 30 years ago with the widespread introduction of information technology into military systems. Back in those days, we referred to it as "skill creep," and understood that it had significant design, aptitude, and training implications. What came in on cat's paws back in the 1970s is now becoming a perfect storm across the economic spectrum. I should also note that in spite of 30 years of experience with it, DoD still struggles to cope with the skill-bias effect.
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267 of 284 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, and compelling October 13, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have summarized the book in detail, so I won't. I'll just emphasize the bottom line:

Machines are fast approaching humans in terms of *mental* labor capacity, not just *physical* labor capacity. In the past as machines took over much of our physical labor, we were then free to turn to more valuable mental labor. But once machines take over much of our mental labor, then what do we turn to for employment?

The author makes a very compelling case that this situation will arise, and likely within the next few decades. And he also lays out some rather bold suggestions to delay the shock of the resulting high unemployment and allow us to transition to an inevitably new type of economy as smoothly as possible. Though, even with these suggestions, I expect this transition is not likely to be smooth.

This book is a very important, frank discussion of a pending time-bomb for our precious mass market economy. Read it and recommend it to others. And think about how you and your family and friends will manage the forthcoming transition.
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88 of 96 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Someday never comes...until it does. August 16, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Someday, we will need to understand and deal with the fact that human labor will become increasing superfluous in the functioning of the global economy. The Creedance Clearwater Revival song "Someday Never Comes" counters the notion that understanding or grasping reality somehow can be deferred rather than by confronting the signs and signals of that inevitable future evident in the present. The seeds and roots of a radically different form of economy have been germinating and growing in humanity's inexorable drive to leverage and exploit increasingly advanced technology.

Martin Ford's primary thesis in his brave and thought-provoking work "The Lights in the Tunnel" confronts us with the prospect of the disruptive impact of rapidly advancing technology which will eventually obviate the market-based economic system. In a market economy, the product market/factor market cycle flows goods and services from firms to workers' households in exchange for workers' labor at those same firms. Ford challenges the "conventional wisdom of economists" that product markets will continue to expand, that technology will continuously drive down prices, and he presents a solid case for the advent of an economy characterized by systemic unemployment (some signs of which are already apparent in the economy of the early 21st century). Off-shoring and automation will continue, but at some "tipping point," technology and machines will become sophisticated enough that the need for human labor will diminish - rapidly and with severe consequences for our market economy and the principles upon which it is founded.
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145 of 174 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AUTOMATION CHANGES EVERYTHING December 2, 2009
When manufacturing automation produced the Great Depression there were forecasts that the Price System was doomed because the income from jobs was what provided purchasing power for the mass market. But instead of collapse, a transition was begun whereby the labour market was shifted from manufacturing employment to service employment.

But in The Industrialization of Intelligence, Noah Kennedy warned us that the same processes that had eliminated jobs in manufacturing would eventually be applied to intellectual work. Martin Ford is now announcing that we are very close to massive layoffs amongst Knowledge Workers because everything from inventory re-stocking, to legal research, to medical diagnostics, will be progressively automated as well.

No jobs means no pay cheques, so a decline of 30% in the size of the workforce will bring ruin to both ordinary consumers and mass marketing. Declining sales means declining profits, and that leads to declining investments and declining innovation. The market will not be able to shift sufficient employment to any other sector to recreate jobs. Market-financed automation will undermine the incomes of virtually everyone.

It's time to rethink the way income is distributed as well as the lifestyles that consumers lead. If economic productivity is taxed at the same rate as previous labour costs, transfer payments can then be established to provide income to otherwise unemployed consumers. These transfers should be enough to cover the basics: food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, transportation, education, and entertainment. There is literally no other way to get purchasing power into the hands of consumers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good read
Published 27 days ago by Erik Hoffman
5.0 out of 5 stars Economic and Social impacts of extreme technological advancement
Great read for better grasping the perspective of heavy technological influence over futhre society and specifically the economic implications for jobs and capital development. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Thomas G. Kendzie
3.0 out of 5 stars Buy it and become educated.
The first part of the book deals with the impact of technology on the US economy. It is insightful and we'll written. I would recommend you buy the book for that. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Wayne A. Lincourt
5.0 out of 5 stars Very nice book! The author is not a professional economist ...
Very nice book ! The author is not a professional economist but seems to understand the problems and challenges of the coming age of automation much better than many trained... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Dmitriy Golubkov
4.0 out of 5 stars Are the lights going out?
Scary precursor to Ford's recently published Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, which is even more frightening examination of the rapidly emerging... Read more
Published 8 months ago by B. Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 8 months ago by kil u lee
1.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected.
I was loving the book until the author started to give his solutions to the problems. I think he truly understands what problems we face but doesn't seem to have any good... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Dustin Romans
3.0 out of 5 stars I never really appreciated the lights in the tunnel metaphor
I was hoping to like this book more, and while it was good, I never really got the central analogy of lights in the tunnel. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Ted Sanders
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Book on the "Race against the Machine", but with Possible...
This is another book on economic implications of automation. What makes it stands out among similar books such as, the “race against the machine” is its original proposals. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Jysoo Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars worth the read
In being part of the tech automation, I see this evolving. His solution is out there though. Who knows what will happen.
Published 12 months ago by m prime
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More About the Author

Martin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm. He has over 25 years experience in the fields of computer design and software development. He holds a degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a graduate degree in business from the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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