Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial IntelligenceHumans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ABS brakes were the first step. The last will be us humans in observation cages next to the monkeys.

Jerry Kaplan is an expert in Artificial Intelligence and Computational Linguistics and attempts to guide the reader through what impacts AI and Robots will have on our future. In doing so, he raises many of the economic, ethical, and societal problems we are going to have to start addressing.

I first became aware of this book via CGP Grey’s short documentary of the same name (see below). To say there is a storm coming is an understatement. Kaplan guides us through the technological aspects of this topic with knowledge and skill. Where this book falls down is in his blind adherence to free-market solutions – ironically whilst pointing out several examples of where the free-market has failed in the past.

For example, some of his ideas about education are problematic. What he proposes with “job mortgages” is essentially traineeships and cadetships* that in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were paid for by employers, with his modern twist being that employees should take out a job mortgage for. In other words, all of the cost and risk is moved from employers to employees.** How can anyone suggest that sort of thing as though they aren’t talking about slavery or indentured servitude?*** Sci-fi has been imagining that sort of scenario for decades and they weren’t calling it a good idea.

His comments about how rich people being in charge isn’t all bad, like back in ancient Eygpt… Because monarchies worked so well for everyone, who was a monarch.

Another gem was the idea that the free market could be in charge of wealth redistribution… Because it does such a great job of that right now. Now, in fairness, his plan was actually pretty good, but there were built in assumptions he didn’t really question despite laying out the framework with his discussion of automation taking our jobs.

Kaplan spent most of his book outlining what amounts to a post-scarcity world, a world where human “work” would essentially cease to exist, and thus cost, value and products become meaningless. How can you maintain our current economic system in that world? Don’t we need to be rethinking about what utopia we wish to design and the machines that will make that happen?

The final chapter has some interesting questions and ideas about what role humans can play in a world that the robots run and own. Whilst the ideas aren’t new, since science fiction has been prodding that topic for the best part of 70 years, he has grounded them in reality. If there is one takeaway from this book, it is that we all need to start planning the future now.

Overall, this was a fascinating book that is well worth reading.

* A point he acknowledges he is updating to be free-market and more “beneficial”
** It could be argued that this has already happened and Kaplan is just taking it one step further.
*** Again, a point he acknowledges with reference to AIs becoming free of ownership.……

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Humans Need Not Apply by Jerry Kaplan

  1. Isaac Asimov wrote of dystopian worlds outside of Earth that only used robots for every single thing…including dressing themselves. This led to people being less creative and dumber. The key job was to be a roboticist.
    If people don’t do manual labor, don’t do anything for themselves they fail to grow intellectually and physically become repulsive. It’s what they posit in the movie Wall-E.
    Think about that.
    Not so utopian is it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a common sentiment and is deeply tied to the Protestant philosophy of work being virtuous. But as I’ve discussed in reviews of Bertrand Russell’s writing, we can’t mistake a “job” or “work” for “hobby” or “activity”. Just because we don’t have to work doesn’t mean we won’t be doing stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m a stay at home mother. I don’t work in the classic sense. However, I am always doing something. Housework, walking miles a day, reading copiously, working on this pit of a house with my fiancee. However, the people I know who do not work, sleep for hours and hours then post video games or eat or do nothing. This is my worry.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m part time so I have a job and do parenting. Parenting is much harder. It would be great if that were acknowledged, especially for those doing it full time.

        There are some interesting essays and books that have covered the amount of laziness not working brings on. I mentioned Russell before, Kenyes also wrote about it, and a more recent example was Utopia for Realists. The last one had some examples of what happened under Universal Basic Income trials. Education and (part time) work actual increased, because people get bored and can actually spend time on things rather than just earning a paycheque.

        So I wouldn’t worry about everyone suddenly becoming slobs.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Parenting is a full-time job. For example, when they get sick, you are a nurse, room service, housekeeping, and entertainment coordinator. Not to mention you’re poor neglected significant other. Agh, that’s a full-time job also. I’m used to thinking my mother had it easy. Nope. Now I know why she was anxious to go back to work.

    Liked by 1 person

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