Will robots take all our jobs? And if they do, will that be a good thing or a bad thing? How will we have to change our politics, education system, and economy to respond to tech-based disruption of the labor market?
Everyone from Elon Musk and Bill Gates to Stephen Hawking and a host of presidential candidates has loudly disagreed about these important questions. If you're not an economist or an A.I. expert, the debates can be confusing. How can you direct your business, your kid's education, or your own learning if even the experts can't agree on what the future of work will look like?
If you want to make sense of the future of work, you need a solid foundation of knowledge on the subject. On the always fascinating book recommendation site Five Books, Daniel Susskind, Oxford economist and author of the much celebrated A World Without Work, insists that the knowledge you need to participate intelligently in these conversations is just five books away. Here are his picks.
1. The New Division of Labor by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane
What jobs will become obsolete thanks to technology? This classic 2005 book says the key distinction is between "routine" and "non-routine" tasks, with those in routine jobs having the most to fear. This argument has grown more complicated as A.I. advances, but Susskind insists getting a handle on the distinction is essential as so many conversations about the future of work revolve around it.
2. The Race Between Education and Technology by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz
A more optimistic take on the future of work, this book argues that even if technology radically changes the mix of jobs available, we'll be OK as long as education keeps up with these shifts. "There is a metaphorical 'race' between workers and machines and, as the latter become more capable, you have to give the former more education to keep up," Susskind explains.
3. Essays in Persuasion by John Maynard Keynes
In this famous book, written way back in 1931, the great economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030 machines would be doing most of the work and people would be living lives of blissful ease. He was wildly wrong, of course, but Susskind recommends going back to the source to start figuring out why.
"[Keynes] assumed that, when our collective prosperity was large enough, all of us would be able to sit back and enjoy a life of leisure. But he never engaged with the distribution question: how is it that we will actually share out that economic pie? How do we make sure that everyone in society gets a fair slice?" Susskind asks. It's up to us to wrestle with that question.
4. Future Politics by Jamie Susskind
You might take this recommendation with a grain of salt, as Jamie Susskind is Daniel Susskind's brother, but Daniel does a good job of arguing that Future Politics is worth a read. It's certainly on a topical subject -- the book delves into the outsized political power technology companies like Facebook are developing and what we should do about it.
5. Marienthal by Hans Zeisel, Marie Jahoda, and Paul F. Lazarsfeld
What does a close examination of what happened to an Austrian mill town after the Great Depression hit and the mill closed have to do with work in the 21st century? "The threat of technological change isn't simply that it's going to hollow out the world of work, but it might also hollow out the sense of direction, purpose, and fulfillment that people have in their lives, too. And this book is an idiosyncratic but insightful account of exactly that problem," Susskind explains.
This list gives you a quick guide to which books to check out, but the recommendations are pulled from a long, thought-provoking interview with Susskind on Five Books. It's full of stand-alone insights on the future of work and well worth a read in full.