world w/o work
(2020) by Daniel Susskind (@danielsusskind)
Fellow in Economics at Balliol College, Oxford, co-author with (father) @richardsusskind of ‘The Future of the Professions’, author of ‘A World Without Work’ (Jan 2020).
from his site: https://www.danielsusskind.com/
Dr Daniel Susskind explores the impact of technology, particularly artificial intelligence, on work and society.
He is a Fellow in Economics at Balliol College, Oxford University, where he teaches and researches. He is the co-author of the best-selling book, The Future of the Professions, and the author of A World Without Work (January 2020), described by The New York Times as “required reading for any potential presidential candidate thinking about the economy of the future”. His TED Talk, on the future of work, has been viewed more than 1.5 million times
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. He was a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University.
in this book, i want to explain why we have to take these sorts of fears seriously (jobs replaced by robots/computers) .. will there be enough work for everyone to do in the 21sr cent? this is one of the great question of our time
wow.. (not a good start)
perhaps let’s just realize how ridiculous it is (has been) thinking we have to have a job is.. ie: graeber job\less law et al
i will argue that the answer is ‘no’ and explain why the threat of ‘tech unemployment’ is now real.. i will describe the diff problems this will create for us – both now and in future – and most important, set out how we might *respond
but i will go beyond narrow intellectual terrain inhabited by most economists working in this field
gosh i hope so
the future of work raises exciting and troubling questions that often have little to do w econ: question about the nature of intelligence, about ineq and why it matters, about the political power of large tech co’s, about what it means to live a meaningful life, about how we might live together in a world that looks very diff form the one in which we have grown up..
intellect nesset al
first part of book – history of being worried about being replace.. then.. to history of ai
history matters little once we realize how long we’ve been living as whales in sea world.. rendering all data et al .. non legit
second part of book.. building on history and trying to sidestep intellectual mistakes.. i explain how tech unemployment is likely to unfold in 21st cent
which you could hear deeper mistakes.. ie: we have no idea what we’re capable of (science of people/whales in sea world)
the story i tell is a diff one. machines will not do everything .. but will do more.. and as they take on more .. humans forced to retreat to an ever shrinking set of activities.. in other words.. scenario of people w/o work not likely to happen.. but eventually.. not enough to provide everyone who wants it w traditional well paid employment
what we should be worrying about: not a world w/o any work.. but a world w/o enough work for everyone
in final part of book.. i untangle diff problems created by less work and describe what we should do about them ie: how to share prosperity when traditional mech for doing so, paying people for work, is less effective; in 20th cent worry of econ power of corps.. in 21st.. replaced by fears of political powers; finding meaning in life.. ie: with less work may be world w less purpose..
my father – richard – wrote doctorate in 1980 on ai and law.. trying to build machines that could solve legal problems
grew up in home where conundrums about tech were things we chewed over in dinner table convos.. when i left home.. i went to oxford to study econ.. exposed to way economists think about tech and work.. it was enchanting.. i was enthralled by the tightness of their prose, the precision of their models, the confidence of their claims.. it seemed to me they had found way to strip away the disorienting messiness of real life and reveal the heart of the problems..
heart of problem is we think the messiness is disorienting..
one economist put it ‘although we all enjoy science fiction, history books are usually a safer guide to the future’.. i was not convinced by this.. i did doctorate challenging the way that economists had traditionally thought about tech and work.. and tried to devise a *new way to think about what was happening in the labor market
if still thinking about *labor market.. you too are focusing more on history.. than on something legit diff
this book captures my own personal journey, a decade spent thinking almost entirely about one particular issue – the future of work
over last few hundred years.. econ growth has soared.. our children will be twice as rich as us.. we have at least in principle, come very close to solving the problem that plagues our fellow human beings.. john kenneth galbraith: ‘man has escaped for the moment the poverty which was for so long his all embracing fate’.. tech unemployment will be a symptom of that success
wow.. what people are you studying
in 21st cent tech progress will solve one problem, the question of how to make the pie large enough for everyone to live on.. but as we have seen, it will replace it w 3 others: ineq, power, purpose.. how to provide meaning w less work
these problems will require us to engage w some of the most difficult questions .. what state should/should-not do; nature of obligations to fellow human beings; what it means to live a meaningful life.. but there are more attractive than .. how to create enough for everyone to live on in the first place..
our challenge is to take those unavoidable features of the future as given, and still build a world where all of us can flourish.. that is what this book is about
i do hope so
part 1 – the context
1 – a history of misplaced anxiety
(on econ growth): the most common explanation of all, though, is institutional: certain states protected property rights and enforced the rule of law in a way that encouraged risk taking, hustle, and innovation, while others did not
it’s a monopoly game for goodness sake.. where property/rules/hustle are all cancers you can leverage to win.. (so that others lose)
today we have become entirely dependent upon this econ fix.. as if we can no longer live well w/o it
at begin of modern econ growth.. also.. origins of ‘automation anxiety’ – anxiety that automation would destroy jobs
2 – the age of labor
age of labor defined as a time when successive waves of technological progress have broadly benefited rather than harmed workers
we might not think of economists as storytellers, but that is what they are. their stories just happen to be written in a foreign language, mathematics, in an attempt to make their narrative precise for fluent readers (but making them frustratingly unintelligible for those who are not).. they are meant to be nonfiction, rooted in the facts, the plot aligning as closely as possible w reality
economists prefer to call them ‘models’ rather than stories, which certainly sounds like a weightier label.. but in end.. any model is simply a tale told in equations and charts, designed to capture an insight about how the real world works
there is a divergence between the commonsense and the ‘economist sense’ use of the word skilled.. economists use a very particular definition for what it means to be ‘skilled’: amount of formal schooling (then showed charts of those w college degree earning more).. 20th cent.. then machines made it easier for less skilled people to produce high quality work
tech progress, it appeared, was neither skill biased nor unskill biased, as the old stories had implied. rather it was task biased, machines able to perform certain types of tasks but unable to perform others.. this meant.. only workers to benefit from tech change would be those placed to perform the ‘non routine’ tasks that machines could not handle..
the fact that educated professionals tend to sue their heads, rather than their hands, .. doesn’t matter.. far more important is whether the tasks are ‘routine’
machines cannot be taught to perform ‘on routine’ tasks, because people struggle to explain how they perform them.. as autor puts it ‘there are many tasks that people understand tacitly and accomplish effortlessly but for which neither computer programmers, not anyone else can enunciate the explicit ‘rules’ or ‘procedures’.. so (computers) will always complement human beings in ‘non routine’ tasks.. no about manual or white collar work but whether or not it is routine..
machines they say.. can only do things that are ‘repetitive’ or ‘predictable’, ‘rules based’, or ‘well defined’.. cannot handle ‘difficult to specify’ or ‘complex’..
alm hypothesis.. there is a wide range of tasks that can never be automated.. in my opinion, this optimistic assumption is likely to be wrong
3 – the pragmatist revolution
history of ai.. alan turing 1947 et al
ultimately however.. this approach of building machines in the image of human beings did not succeed.. nothing got close..
in decades since deep blue’s victory, a generation of machines has been built in this pragmatist spirit: crated to function very differently from human beings judged not by how they perform a task but how well they perform it.. ie: not mimicking humans.. but by reviewing millions of previously labeled pics and hunting for similarities.. et al
let’s try looking for local similarities amongst 8b daily curiosities.. every day
like deep blue, many of these new machines rely on recent advances in processing power and data storage.. via eric schmidt we now create as much info every two days as was created from the dawn of civilization to 2003
for many researchers, the project of understanding human intelligence for its own sake was simply a lot more interesting than merely building capable machines.. what is a mind.. how does consciousness work.. what does it really mean to think or to understand.. ai for many pioneers was only eer a mech means to that human end.. – a power tool in study of mind..
secondary.. if that ..
today though.. becoming clear that human intelligence is no longer the only route to machine capability.. less interest in trying to understand human intelligence and more in building well functioning machines
however impressive system.. their inner workings do not resemble the mind.. they are not conscious..
better description: computational rationality.. using computational power to search thru a vast ocean of possible actions for the most rational one to take
today we know that the religious scholars were wrong. human and human capabilities were not created thru the top down efforts of something more intelligent than us.. molding us to look like it..
4 – underestimating machines
on ai and gen ai
we do not need to solve the mysteries of how the brain and mind operate to build machines that can outperform human beings.. yet this is what is commonly supposed – that the intellectual prowess of human beings is as far as machines can ever reach
part 2 – the threat
5 – task encroachment
a better way to think about machine capabilities is to stop trying to id specific limits.. (chapter on how tech is taking over all sorts of human tasks)
6 – frictional technological unemployment
3 reasons for friction at work: mismatch of skills/id/place
the greater mismatch in work (solving other people’s problems) is people not doing what they have an itch to do/be.. 8b people missing their fittingness because the supposed to’s of school/work keep getting in the way.. keep making them too busy..
7 – structural technological unemployment
what remains for us to do
let’s ask.. what do you want to do today.. what are you curious about.. and use the powers of tech to facil that
even if we are not (alive when not enough demand for work of human beings).. our children certainly will be.. for their sakes, at the very least, we need to take the problem of world w less work very seriously
let go man
already affecting us right now: the problem of rising ineq
that’s not due to work or now work.. that’s do to thinking that any of us have to earn a living
8 – technology and inequality
there is not forest that lets human beings retreat into perfect solitude and self sufficiency, nor has there ever been. all human societies, small and large, simple and complex, poor and affluent, have had to figure out how best to share their unevenly allocated prosperities w one another
yeah.. i think it’s in the thinking that we have to figure it out that we keep messing the dance up.. keeping each of us from being/doing our part.. so that we all think we want need more than we actually do.. endless cycle.. starting with a non trust in us/the-dance
a world w less work,t hen, will be a deeply divided one: some will own vast amounts of valuable traditional capital, others will find themselves w virtually no capital of either kind
to get our of this broken feedback loop.. perhaps let’s try/code money (any form of measuring/accounting) as the planned obsolescence w/ubi as temp placebo.. needs met w/o money..people forget about measuring
rest of chapter is on diff kinds of ineq.. all relating to money
how we should respond (to greater ineq) is the focus of the rest of the book
part 3 – the response
9 – education and its limits
most common response (to ineq) is that we need more ed.. so ultimately a skills challenge.. and if we give people right ed and training.. challenge resolved
if we think we need to train people.. huge red flag we’re doing it wrong
i came to realize that my focus on the future of work alone was far too narrow. instead, i found myself grappling w the more fundamental question set out in the last chapter: how should we share our society’s econ prosperity
not fundamental enough.. ie: based on a cancer (money)
properly responding to tech unemployment, then, means finding new answers to the question of how we share our our prosperity, ones that do not rely on jobs and the labor market at all.. to solve the distribution problem in the future, we need a new institution to take the labor market’s place.. i call it the big state
we need to let go of labor market ness
10 – the big state
in calling for a big state i mean something diff: not using state to make pie bigger as (central) planners tried and failed to do, but rather to make sure that everyone gets a slice.. not in production but in distribution
much of chapter on taxing
what are conditions attached to payment.. most ubi ers would say by defn .. none.. but in world w less work.. i believe it’s crucial to depart from this assumptions.. w tech unemployment, we will need what i call a conditional basic income.. only available to some and explicitly comes w strings attached
wrong way man
on ubi in past saying for everyone.. but not really ie: if not a citizen don’t get it
as we approach a world w less work, this sort of struggle over who counts as a member of the community will intensify.. in short.. the world of less work will not let us avoid the question of who is in the community and who is out.. a cbi will forced us to address that issue directly rathe than trying to dodge it w a ubi
only if that’s our infra
in cbi .. the point will not be to support he labor market, but to support eh community instead
ubi solves the distribution problem.. but ignores this contribution problem.. the need to make sure everyone feels their fellow citizens are in some way giving back to society
ubi goes against a widely accepted notion of justice: it is unfair for able bodied people to live off labor of others.. most workers would, correctly in my opinion, see the proposal as a recipe for exploitation of the industrious by the lazy
so disappointing this book
if some people are not able to contribute thru the work they do, then they will be required to do something else for the community instead.. it will fall to individual societies to settle on what these contributions should look like, a them we will come back to in the final chapter
so no hope for a good ending.. dang..
riding out with inspectors of inspectors et al.. same song second verse
11 – big tech
we need a new institution, staffed by political theorist and moral philosophers, to watch over individuals as citizens in a society, not simply as consumers in a marketplace. that is what this new authority must do
12 – meaning and purpose
this last observation is important. work matters not just for a worker’s own sense of meaning; it has an important social dimension as well, allowing people to show others that they live a purposeful life, and offering them a chance to gain status and social esteem
at times i wonder whether the academics and commentators who write fearfully about a world with less work are just mistakenly projecting the personal enjoyment they take from their jobs onto the experience of everyone else
wait.. aren’t you..?
the truth is that imagining how we might spend our time profitably is very difficult
keynes: ‘there is no country/people, i think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and oaf abundance w/o a dread. for we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy’
part of the answer is that, as a society we will need to think more carefully and consciously about leisure: both how to prep for it and how to use it wisely and well.. i believe we will want to complement them (labor market policies) w something diff: leisure policies that inform and shape the way that people use their spare time
wtf – you are crazy man.. so.. free us up to chain us
a serious leisure policy must begin w ed.. would require significant overhaul in what we teach..
besides preparing children for a world w less work, societies may also want to devise leisure policies that shape how jobless adults actually spend their spare time. that might sound like step too far: it is all very well for the state to try to influence the labor market, you might think, but should people not be left alone to choose how they spend their leisure? i am not so sure.. keep in mind that, in all countries today, the state already does this – w/o provoking discontent.. ie: state lurking in wings.. quietly influencing what they do
seems to ridiculous.. can’t believe i’m reading this
keep those whales in sea world
after a period of leisurely exploration, some people might conclude that for them, no activity can match work in providing a sense of fulfillment or direction
what period of leisurely/manufactured exploration was that..? yeah.. if i’m going to be told lurked about and engineered into what to do.. might as well have it be more out in the open
until now, i have spoken about a world w less work. what i have really meant though is a world w less paid work.. up to this point there was little need to draw attention to that distinction..
in a world w less work, few societies will be able to allow those w/o a job to fill all their time w idleness, play or unpaid works as they alone see fit.. this is because, as noted earlier, any society that allows that is likely to fall apart
it’s the inspectors of inspectors that makes a society/people fall apart
today, social solidarity comes form a sense that everyone contributes to the collective pot thru the paid work they do and the taxes they pay
that’s why we’re living in such peace now?
maintaining that solidarity in future will require those w/o paid work to spend at least some of their time contributing to the pot in other, nonecon ways.. this is what cbi supports.. requires recipients to do something in return.. so not between leisure and work.. but between activities they choose and ones community requires them to do
societies will all be forced to say what they consider to be valuable or what not
ripping apart our chance to get back/to an undisturbed ecosystem
this final chapter is most speculative.. but it contains two important lessons.. 1\ if free time does becomes a bigger part of lives.. likely to also become a bigger part of state’s role.. we ill need a set of tools to influence our free time too (as well as work time)
so .. not free time
2\ work has meaning beyond econ.. ie: non econ id’s
let go of id ness
marsh label law et al
very frustrating read..
karoshi – death by overwork
refusal of work et al
russell on work