Episode 14: A Conversation with Martin Ford

In this episode Byron and Martin talk about the future of jobs, AGI, consciousness and more.



Martin Ford is a futurist and the author of the New York Times bestselling "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future" (winner of the 2015 Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award and translated into more than 20 languages) and "The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future," as well as 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 an MBA degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has written about the implications for future technology for publications including The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Financial Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and The Guardian He has also appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NPR and CNBC, CNN, Fox Business and PBS. Martin is a frequent keynote speaker on the subject of accelerating progress in robotics and artificial intelligence—and what these advances mean for the economy, job market and society of the future.


Byron Reese: Welcome to Voices in AI, I’m Byron Reese. Today we’re delighted to have as our guest Martin Ford. Martin Ford is a well-known futurist, and he has two incredibly notable books out. The most recent one is called The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and the second one is The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.

I have read them both cover-to-cover, and Martin is second-to-none in coming up with original ideas and envisioning a kind of future. What is that future that you envision, Martin?

Martin Ford: Well, I do believe that artificial intelligence and robotics is going to have a dramatic impact on the job market. I’m one of those that believes that this time is different, relative to what we’ve seen in the past, and that, therefore, we probably are going to find a way to adapt to that.

I do see a future where there certainly is potential for significant unemployment, and even if that doesn’t develop, at a minimum we’re probably going to have underemployment and a continuation of stagnant wages, maybe even declining wages, and probably soaring inequality. And all of those things are just going to put an enormous amount of stress both on society and on the economy, and I think that’s going to be one of the biggest issues we need to think about over the next few decades.

The Fourth Age

So, taking a big step back, you said, quote: “This time is different.” And that’s obviously a reference to the oft-cited argument that we’ve heard this since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that machines were going to advance too quickly, and people weren’t going to be able to find new skills.

And I think everybody agrees, up to now, it’s been fantastically false, but your argument that this time is different is based on what? What exactly is different?