A keen assessment of the future of work amid sweeping advances in technological automation.
In an alternately thrilling and frightening narrative, Miami Herald foreign affairs columnist Oppenheimer (Innovate or Die!: How to Reinvent Yourself and Thrive in the Innovation Age, 2016, etc.) expertly gauges the pros and cons of the automation revolution, a world rife with robotic replacements, self-driving cars, and virtual bankers, doctors, and lawyers. He offers an eye-opening interview with two European researchers who made headlines with their 2013 predictive study that half of all jobs could vanish over the next two decades. The author then globe-trots through a variety of major world innovation centers to discover how “technological unemployment” could disrupt work forces worldwide. The greatest fear, he writes, is that artificial intelligence will create such a workforce disruption that it will erase more jobs than it can produce. Oppenheimer presents both sides of this argument, with supporting opinions from a gallery of “futurologists” who believe careers won’t evaporate; they’ll just become more interdisciplinary, with robotic intervention managing the more manually repetitive jobs. He chronicles his trip to Japan, where automation is already fully (though only somewhat successfully) integrated into places like sushi restaurants and a hotel where robots run every aspect of the business down to the lobby aquarium stocked with mechanical goldfish. Other experts excitedly prognosticate about cashless societies, artery-cleaning micro-robots, and cheaper housing, food, and transportation. Meanwhile, techno-pessimists believe a jobless world and gross social inequality is a steep price to pay for these transformative developments, and many propose mollifying alternatives like universal basic income. Thankfully, moments of levity balance all the feverish conjecture: Oppenheimer shares a mysterious mishap with his Alexa personal assistant, a driverless car ride that devolved from “boring to excruciating,” and a hilariously awkward televised interview with a glitch-y humanoid robot named Professor Einstein. It’s clear that big changes are coming, and Oppenheimer advises that personal and professional preparation is the best defense.
A promising, terrifying, and cautionary exploration of the “unstoppable” rise of automation.