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Martin Ford
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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 computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He is the author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (available from Amazon or as a FREE PDF eBook) and has a blog at econfuture.wordpress.com.

News and Articles

TV: Ideas in Action (shown on PBS) - "Will Robots Take our Jobs?"

Slate Magazine: Will Robots Steal Your Job?

The Economist: Artificial Intelligence / Luddite Legacy

NPR radio interview:The Dark Side of IBM's Watson

The Fiscal Times: The Robot Revolution: Your Job May be Next

Los Angeles Times:Automation Accelerates in Retail Sector

The Atlantic: Artificial Intelligence is the Next Killer App

Fortune.com / CNNMoney (by M. Ford)

Huffington Post (by M. Ford)

Forbes.com (by M. Ford)

Radio Interviews

FastForward Radio

ChangeSurfer Radio

KGNU Denver/Boulder -"It's the Economy"

Entries by Martin Ford

The Robots Are Coming and 'Humans Need Not Apply'

(3) Comments | Posted August 20, 2014 | 11:35 AM

It has been about five years since the publication of my 2009 book The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, which argued that we were on the brink of a revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence that would put millions of...

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A Debt Ceiling Solution from Netflix's 'House of Cards'

(16) Comments | Posted October 14, 2013 | 10:17 AM

It seems pretty obvious at this point that the only way to get a clean debt ceiling increase though the House of Representatives is to marginalize the extremists and pass a bill by relying on nearly all the Democrats together with a few less radical Republicans. Speaker John Boehner is...

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Technology Is Turning College Into a Dead End for Many People

(4) Comments | Posted April 3, 2013 | 9:20 AM

In my 2009 book, The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, I argued that advancing technology -- and especially software automation -- would increasingly threaten the jobs taken by college graduates, and might eventually undermine the incentive to attend college:

The unfortunate reality,...
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The Robot Revolution: Why You Should Worry

(77) Comments | Posted January 23, 2013 | 11:57 AM

Paul Krugman has recently taken a keen interest in the rise of robots and automation -- an issue that I have been focusing on since the publication of my book on this subject back in 2009.

In a recent post, Krugman says the following:

Smart machines may make higher...
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Mobile Apps and the Future of Shopping

(1) Comments | Posted December 14, 2012 | 9:40 AM

Retail shopping -- and retail jobs -- are on the verge of being completely transformed by a range of new technologies. First among these is mobile, where shoppers are increasing using their devices to shop online for lower prices and to manage the entire shopping experience on their mobile phones.

One...

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How Will China Employ Its Factory Workers After the Robots Come Online?

(67) Comments | Posted August 21, 2012 | 1:34 PM

The graph below, based on data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, shows manufacturing employment in the United States as a fraction of all employment. As you can see, the line heads downward in an almost perfectly straight line beginning in the mid-1950s. Notice that the line doesn't...

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Will Robots and Automation Make Human Workers Obsolete?

(39) Comments | Posted June 18, 2012 | 7:05 PM

PBS News Hour recently had a special on the main topic I've been writing about here on The Huffington Post and elsewhere: unemployment and inequality caused by technology and, in particular, automation.

You can watch the video below:


The video includes input from two very prominent technology futurists: Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. Kurzweil is author of the book (and forthcoming movie) The Singularity Is Near and believes we're headed for a future where humans and machines merge (sort of like the Borg on Star Trek, but hopefully better-looking). Peter Diamandis is one of the leaders of the personal space flight industry and chairman of Singularity University, which offers graduate courses in futuristic technologies and their implications.

Both Kurzweil and Diamandis are strong believers (and advocates for) the so-called "technological singularity." The singularity is a future event in which technological progress begins moving at an incomprehensibly rapid rate. Things would be changing so fast that humans wouldn't be able to understand or follow the progress. Most people who believe in the singularity (singularians) associate it with the development of true artificial intelligence. Kurzweil, for example, believes that we'll build the first truly intelligent machines by 2029, and then the singularity will follow at around the year 2045.

While all this may seem a bit far-fetched, the singularity and proponents like Kurzweil and Diamandis have a strong following among the technology elite -- and in particular among Silicon Valley billionaires. People like Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as Facebook investor Peter Thiel, have all been associated with the idea.

In the video above, Ray Kurzweil is asked about the possibility of a "digital divide" -- meaning that only a small percentage of the population is able to take advantage of new technologies, even as traditional employment opportunities are destroyed. Kurzweil seems to argue that we won't have a problem, because these new technologies will be affordable and widely available (he gives the example of cellphones). A little later in the video Diamandis makes essentially the same point.

These views strike me as both unrealistic and elitist. There is little evidence to suggest that most average people are going to be able to parlay access to a cellphone, social media, or other personal technologies into a livable income. Even among the minority of people who actually have the necessary skills and training, there is a strong element of luck associated with the success of any entrepreneurial activity. Most new businesses of any type fail. Assuming that a huge percentage (perhaps most) of the population will someday generate a meaningful income by independently leveraging technology is really quite a stretch.

A second problem with techno-optimists like Kurzweil and Diamandis is their near-exclusive focus on the cost side of technology. Many technologists believe that advancing technology and increased automation are likely to drive down costs and possibly make most products and services far more affordable. At the extreme, some techno-optimists believe in the promise of a "post-scarcity" economy. Even if we go along with that -- and there are certainly powerful opposing arguments based on energy and resource depletion and environmental degradation -- simply making "stuff" cheaper is not an adequate solution.

Imagine for a moment that you were living in the year 1900. Suppose you could look through a time portal and see the world of 2012. You might well suppose that a "post-scarcity" world had already been realized, given the far higher living standards that average people now enjoy. On the other hand, if you got a look at 2012 prices (as opposed to what you were used to in 1900), you certainly wouldn't feel that things had become more affordable!

The reality, of course, is that prices have increased dramatically in nominal terms since 1900 -- but average incomes have increased even more. The average U.S. worker in 1900 earned just $438 per year. Over the past 112 years, incomes have increased dramatically in real terms (after adjusting for inflation), leaving nearly everyone better off, even as prices have increased.

The problem is that if, rather than a period of 112 years, we look at just the last 30 years -- say since the mid 1980s -- the story is very different. Incomes (wages) for most average workers have been completely stagnant in real terms; after adjusting for inflation, most workers have made little or any progress. And for a number of big-ticket items -- like health care, housing, and education -- the situation has actually worsened significantly for most Americans.

So will making all kinds of stuff cheaper, even as incomes continue to stagnate and even fall, solve our problems? No, it will not. If we actually had a situation where prices for nearly everything fell while wages likewise fell and unemployment increased, that would be deflation. You won't find many economists who would advocate long-term deflation as a good strategy for the future.

Deflation destroys the incentive to invest in the future and, if prolonged, would likely slow the pace of innovation. The problem with deflation is that while incomes, prices, and asset values may well fall, debts do not deflate. The result would be widespread insolvency, potentially catastrophic financial crises, and lower living standards for virtually everyone.

The true challenge we face in the future is really about incomes. As technology and globalization advance, how do we get incomes for the majority of the population to continue increasing in real terms? This has been the historical path to prosperity, and we have to figure out how to maintain that trend going forward. One of the main ideas I focus on in my book The Lights in the Tunnel is that incomes power consumers -- and consumers ultimately power the economy.

If we can't find a way to maintain, and even increase, real incomes for the majority of our population, broad-based prosperity will become increasingly elusive.

See also this post on my EconFuture blog: "Technology, Globalization, Consumer Spending and Purchasing Power"

Martin Ford is the author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (available from Amazon or as a PDF download). The book argues that accelerating information technology, and in particular robotics and artificial intelligence, is likely to have a disruptive impact on the future job market and economy. He also has a blog at ...

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The Jobs of the Future -- Or Not

(13) Comments | Posted February 15, 2012 | 9:07 AM

Anyone who is interested in how manufacturing jobs are evolving (and disappearing) should be sure to read Adam Davidson's excellent article in the current issue of The Atlantic: "Making it in America." The article is based on interviews with workers and executives at Standard Motor Products, a manufacturer...

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Google's Cloud Robotics Strategy -- and How It Could Soon Threaten Jobs

(21) Comments | Posted January 3, 2012 | 1:21 PM

At the 2011 Google I/O developer's conference, Google announced a new initiative called "cloud robotics" in conjunction with robot manufacturer Willow Garage. Google has developed an open source (free) operating system for robots, with the unsurprising name "ROS" -- or Robot Operating System. In other words, Google is...

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Honda's ASIMO Robot -- A Future Job Killer?

(20) Comments | Posted November 14, 2011 | 11:49 AM

Honda has just released a new version of its ASIMO robot, which is now fully autonomous (as opposed to remote-controlled).

ASIMO can navigate complex environments along with people, recognize and distinguish faces and voices -- even when people are speaking simultaneously. And it can do a lot of other stuff.

...
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What OccupyWallStreet Should Do Next

(60) Comments | Posted October 18, 2011 | 7:12 PM

For a very long time there has been a gaping void in our political discourse. The social issues that divide the country all have vocal, well-funded advocates on both sides of the debate. But in the economic arena the story has been very different. Powerful corporations and the business/financial elite...

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Why Every Democrat in Congress Should Vote 'NO' on the Debt Ceiling Agreement

(100) Comments | Posted August 1, 2011 | 2:32 PM

The complete capitulation to Republican extortion by the Obama Administration is likely to have disastrous implications for the economy and for unemployment. The effect of the relentless conservative campaign for austerity is to take ever more income and security from the average working Americans who make up over 95% of the population...

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Could We Have Civil Unrest and Riots in the U.S. as a Result of Extreme Inequality?

(1215) Comments | Posted July 22, 2011 | 11:35 AM

Washington's Blog has a post on the possibility that: Raging Inequality May Cause Unrest and Violence In America and the Rest of Western World.

This is something that I've been wondering about for quite a while. I've been writing here primarily about the impact of technology...

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Could Fast Food Robots Steal McJobs?

(191) Comments | Posted June 5, 2011 | 5:21 PM

Millions of people hold low-wage, often part-time jobs in the fast food industry. Historically, low wages, few benefits and a high turnover rate have helped to make fast food openings relatively abundant. These jobs, together with other low-skill positions in retail, provide a kind of safety net for workers with...

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Job Automation: Is a Future Unemployment Crisis Looming?

(36) Comments | Posted March 7, 2011 | 1:05 PM

Two notable economists have recently weighed in on the issue that I've been writing about extensively: job automation and its impact on the future economy.

Paul Krugman links to a 1996 article in which he imagined a future where "information technology would end up reducing, not increasing, the...

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Vanishing Middle Class Jobs

(2) Comments | Posted November 16, 2010 | 9:43 AM

There's a very good article in The New York Post on the polarization of the job market and the disappearing middle class:

From 1979-2009, there was a nearly 12% drop in the four "middle-skill" occupations: sales, office/administrative workers, production workers, operators. Meanwhile, people in the top 20% of...
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A Lame Duck Revolution: Take Another Shot at the Public Option

(205) Comments | Posted November 5, 2010 | 6:08 PM

There can be little doubt that a significant enthusiasm gap played a major role in the outcome of the midterm elections. The liberal Democratic base is disappointed, and if there's one particular issue that underlies that disappointment it's probably the lack of a public option in the health care bill...

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Robots, Unemployment and Wishful Thinking

(4) Comments | Posted October 19, 2010 | 3:55 PM

I've been blogging here about the likelihood that various forms of automation will eventually create significant technological unemployment. Advanced robotics will certainly play an important role in that once it becomes cost-effective to replace even low wage service workers with machines.

I find it interesting that very few other people...

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Robots Stealing Healthcare Jobs?

(5) Comments | Posted September 14, 2010 | 12:13 PM

A leading technology blog, SingularityHub, recently reported that a Silicon Valley area hospital is announcing layoffs at the same time it begins to employ robots:

El Camino Hospital in Silicon Valley is looking to cut expenses, so they've invested in 19 Aethon TUG robots. These smart...
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An Open Letter to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett

(17) Comments | Posted September 9, 2010 | 8:06 AM

Dear Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett:

Your charitable initiatives via the Gates Foundation and your efforts to persuade other billionaires to match your generosity are highly commendable. Nonetheless, one must wonder, given the current challenges facing our country, if the path you have chosen truly represents the best way to...

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