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A World Without Work Reviews

A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind

A World Without Work

Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond

Daniel Susskind

3.47 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 14 Jan 2020
ISBN: 9780241321096
5 stars out of 5
Steven Poole
26 Jan 2020

"(a) fascinating and tightly argued book"

The deep truth Susskind is pointing to is that people are not fungible: they cannot with humanity be treated as numerically interchangeable in the way that talking of “jobs” instead of individuals usually suggests. The complacent observation that many now obsolete “jobs” (for example, candlemaker) were replaced by new ones (such as, digital strategist) clearly ignores the fact that the new jobs were not taken up by the same people who lost the old ones, many of whom were then permanently immiserated.


4 stars out of 5
22 Jan 2020

"an excellent and timely piece of analysis"

The book grapples with thorny problems such as how to define the scope of government in the future and how to rein in the power of big tech companies so that they can benefit the many not the few. Susskind is an optimist, citing with approval Karl Popper’s belief that human beings can shape their own destiny. This is precisely why the book is so timely. The clock is ticking ever more quickly, and distracted by Brexit, by Donald Trump and by long-neglected problems including social care and infrastructure, we are in danger of not acting on this threat.

3 stars out of 5
Hugo Rifkind
19 Jan 2020

"if your plan is to get up to speed I would recommend it wholeheartedly"

One of the best things about this book is the way that Susskind will often offer excellent drive-by explanations of things he doesn’t particularly need to explain, simply because they are interesting. Why, he asks, has Japan focused on creating robots that care for the elderly more than anywhere else? Probably because a quarter of Japanese are over 65, and there is hostility to migrants working in public services. Care work, though, is hard to automate, precisely because it is technically unskilled. Intuition, insight and flexibility are tricky to engineer.

3 stars out of 5
14 Jan 2020

"Daniel Susskind’s book should be required reading for any potential presidential candidate"

Susskind’s predictions will likely make his book catnip to supporters of the presidential candidate Andrew Yang, whose campaign focuses on solutions to technological unemployment. But the book should be required reading for any potential presidential candidate thinking about the economy of the future. That’s because Susskind also turns to one of the biggest consequences of technological change — inequality — and what can be done about it. “Today’s inequalities are the birth pangs of tomorrow’s technological unemployment,” Susskind writes, and he has a point.... Even if Susskind’s prediction is wrong — that machines will soon render many humans irrelevant in the labor market — his book provides a useful exercise in planning for a more unequal future. The dire predictions of workers losing their jobs to machines have not come true in the past. That doesn’t mean they never will.

3 stars out of 5
John Arlidge
12 Jan 2020

"AI may soon be taking our jobs. This study looks at how to adapt to the threat"

Many of Susskind’s arguments have been made before. What make his book stand out are his prescriptions for how society might well have to change to cope with the effects of vast un- and underemployment. The first step is to encourage our children to opt for non-routine jobs that require subjective judgments, often working with others, to answer “Why?” questions, which AI is bad at, not “What?” questions, which AI is good at.

4 stars out of 5
Dorian Lynskey
9 Jan 2020

"the voice of a clever, sensible man telling you what’s what"

Susskind, an economics scholar and a former government policy adviser, has come up with an explainer rather than a polemic, written in the relentlessly reasonable tone that dominates popular economics: the voice of a clever, sensible man telling you what’s what. He always has a helpful graph to hand and a greatest hits collection of anecdotes about technology and society, from Ned Ludd to Deep Blue via the 1890s horse manure crisis...The virtue of his reluctance to take a firm political position on an inevitably political issue is that it makes pragmatism and idealism seem to point in the same direction. While other writers make a strongly socialist, feminist or environmentalist case for a post-work world, he says simply that the jobs will go and we’ll have to make the best of it. In light of the current state of political leadership, his optimistic sign-off feels more dutiful than persuasive. Still, if AI really does to employment what previous technologies did not, radical change can’t be postponed indefinitely. It may well be utopia or bust.

3 stars out of 5
Rana Foroohar
3 Jan 2020

""Machines are no longer riding on the coattails of human intelligence""

Still, there are plenty of people in the post-work world camp, including many of those at the top of the tech food chain. The parts of Susskind’s book that are most interesting and useful are those that grapple with how society should respond to that world. Susskind makes a good case that technology is going to put Thomas Piketty’s views on steroids. Not only will the returns to capital continue to rise relative to labour, but the amount of labour itself will decrease, and eventually, disappear. Inequality, unhappiness and social unrest are the inevitable result.