Martin Ford’s “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the threat of a jobless future” just won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year award (last’s year winner was Piketty). I read this book while preparing the last issue of Horizons where we looked at the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of work (and education needs). This is a well written and compelling book with a lot of killer facts: “global shipments of robots increased by more than 60% between 2000 and 2012” (p. 3); “The percentage of news articles that will be written algorithmically within 15 years: over 90%” (p. 85); “42 % of researchers in human-level AI believe a thinking machine will arrive by 2030” (p. 231). Unlike other publications on the topic, it is not too technology-optimistic. It shows that the new phase of automation brought by AI threatens all job types including white-collar ones. Ford argues that new machine-augmented jobs will not compensate for job losses: “While human-machine collaboration jobs will certainly exist, they seem likely to be relatively few in number and often short-lived. They may also be un-rewarding or even dehumanizing” (p. 126). He also claims that investments in education and training, which helped absorb previous technological revolutions, will not be sufficient to adjust to the AI disruption. His core policy recommendation is the adoption of a basic income guarantee that he argues could be supported by liberals seeking to promote equity as well as pragmatic conservatives seeking an “insurance against adversity”. In short: a good read with a broadening fan-club.
Yang and Chou’s “Impacts of being downwind of a coal-fired power plant on infant health at birth” shows that pregnant women living downwind from a coal-fired power plant increase their likelihood of having low birth rate babies by 42%, and this is true when they live as far as 40 miles away from the plant. This is one of the latest scientific reminder of the highly concerning effects of air pollution on human health, and that of children in particular. Two months ago, a study estimated that outdoor air pollution coming from different sources (e.g., transportation, heating, dust, fires) was responsible for 3.3 million deaths every year globally, a number predicted to double by mid-century. This is to be added to the 3.5 million people dying every year from indoor air pollution. These alarming facts and prospects are for a large part affecting Asia where some of our colleagues, e.g., Mongolia CO, working with partners and leading experts are identifying high impact interventions to reduce the impact of air pollution on children’s health.
My interactive tool this week is Fengler’s “What is my place in the world population?” which gives you a vivid picture of where you (or anybody else you choose, like a child you are working for) fits in the global population dynamics: How many people are older/younger than you? When will you be the 5/6/7th billion person in the world? When are you expected to die? If you lived in another country, how long will you be expected to live? I would lose 10 years if I were in Paraguay, 20 in Cote d’Ivoire, and gain 2 in Japan.
An important quote which has been attributed to many, including Benjamin Franklin, Cicero, Marie Curie, and Mark Twain, is in fact originally from Blaise Pascal’s Lettres Provinciales : “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”