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      Will robots take your job?

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            Human nature finds the threat of robots taking our jobs strikes deeply disturbing. As a young scholar, I enjoyed reading stories about the mythical Ned Ludd; I have a neighbour, who is seriously concerned that a dishwasher somehow makes her housework redundant. However, the prospect is also very much of the moment: we are being flooded by literature ranging from disaster Luddite scenarios to blind techno-optimism. Admittedly, I am guilty for adding one more book to the torrent. Inspired by the diversity of the existing literature and emerging ‘gaps in theory’, I set out to edit a book on education and technological unemployment with my colleagues Michael Peters and Alex Means (Peters et al., 2019). Reviewing more than 20 chapters for our book provided a pretty good grasp of current literature related to technical unemployment. It is within this spectrum of literature, that Nigel Cameron’s Will Robots Take Your Job? seeks its own space and offers its own contribution.

            In the Introduction, Cameron warns readers that it is ‘time to stop being naïve’. Using a mash-up of well-known sources, he makes the case that the risk of the collapse of the full-employment norm is hard to estimate, but real and threatening. Looking at lack of coherent policy response, Cameron offers an interesting solution: ‘What they need is to synthesize these divergent possibilities into a single approach that is focused on risk.’ Cameron proceeds to assess the advance of machine intelligence into the workplace. He looks at various sectors: transportation industry, legal, financial, computer services and management, education, elder care and nursing, psychology and psychiatry. Each of these sections are backed by sound literature review and ‘usual suspect’ authors, such as Summers, Schumpeter, Susskind and Susskind, Frey and Osborne, with a touch of Norbert Weiner. Though the sections are far too short to provide new insights into each field, taken together, they provide an interesting overview by allowing readers to draw connections and notice similarities across a wide range of occupations.

            The next section examines some important Luddite arguments. While the author is not a Luddite himself, he does take these arguments seriously. I find this particularly refreshing, and for at least two reasons. First, though Luddism is not the best way forward, Luddite arguments do make important contributions to the debate. Second, the main project of Cameron’s book – developing social consensus on technological unemployment – can succeed only through dialogue with all involved parties. Here, Cameron’s work shows a combination of theoretical nuance and political wisdom, all too rare in the mainstream literature.

            The next section, ‘Welcome to the Rust Belt’, examines existing and forthcoming landscapes of unemployment and future sources of employment. Taken together, these analyses do not predict a particularly bright future for human work, so Cameron starts to build the case towards a disruption consensus. Again, somewhat predictably, he concludes: ‘The responsible thing is to plan for all outcomes that are seriously possible.’ This conclusion, argues Cameron, is a possible way for building consensus. In the following section, ‘Building Consensus and Getting Prepared’, Cameron sets out to build this consensus through a series of preparations. We need to prepare the public, and leaders need to frame the discussion; we need to prepare the government, and efficiently manage the transition; we need to take alternatives (such as universal basic income) seriously; we need to prepare the workforce through novel and innovative forms of education; and we need to prepare ourselves, embrace the challenge of technology, and find ways of employing technology in the service of humanity.

            Will Robots Take Your Job? is very well researched, yet short and succinct. It presents a wide range of arguments and provides a grand view of problems of technological unemployment. I strongly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn more about the topic quickly, and to read about the main theories in the field without looking at (too many) primary sources. When it comes to solutions, however, Cameron is much more cautious. While some people may argue that we need more radical, or more straightforward, strategies and action plans, Cameron’s approach is in line with an important point made by Brian Sudlow: ‘nobody is quite sure what a world increasingly run by artificial intelligence will actually look like, or indeed how fast that world could evolve into something else entirely different’ (Sudlow, 2018).

            This is why Will Robots Take Your Job? is refreshing and relevant. From his experience as a technology writer and think-tank director, Cameron makes an important point that we need to build (social) consensus before we start acting. This does not indicate lack of vision; rather, it signals a democratic and open-minded view of the future. In line with this view, the book starts with a warning: ‘A short book on a complex and controversial topic is a rather dangerous thing to write.’ The author continues: ‘the questions addressed here, at the meeting point of science, technology, and society, are questions for all of us’. In my opinion, this sentence is the key to the reading of Cameron’s book because the chosen format – succinct, wide, and well researched – is an appropriate base point for reaching consensus. Cameron has managed to position his work in the wide spectrum of literature on technological unemployment as a succinct, powerful call to democratic action. Within a rapidly growing body of literature where authors develop this or that imaginary future to their own liking, this modest but hugely important volume should be taken very seriously.

            References

            1. , and , (eds). ( 2019 ) Education and Technological Unemployment , Springer , Singapore .

            2. ( 2018 ) ‘ Review of Joseph E. Aoun, Robot proof: higher education in the age of artificial intelligence ’, Postdigital Science and Education , doi: [Cross Ref]

            Author and article information

            Contributors
            URI : http://orcid.org/0000-0002-6464-4142
            Journal
            CPRO
            cpro20
            Prometheus
            Critical Studies in Innovation
            Pluto Journals
            0810-9028
            1470-1030
            September 2017
            : 35
            : 3
            : 240-241
            Affiliations
            [ a ] Zagreb University of Applied Sciences , Croatia
            Author notes
            Article
            1522824
            10.1080/08109028.2018.1522824
            57a19a33-cf31-40ed-aab9-3f93520e4980
            © 2018 Petar Jandrić

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

            History
            Page count
            References: 2, Pages: 2
            Categories
            Book Review
            Book Reviews

            Computer science,Arts,Social & Behavioral Sciences,Law,History,Economics

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