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Hughes, Brain @ Robots, unemployment, and basic income

May 11, 2014
Hangout on Air

Sunday, May 11, 2014 - 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM

The accelerating improvement in the dexterity, agility, versatility, and intelligence of robots raises a number of hard questions about the future of human society. Employees in increasing numbers of professions find themselves under threat of being displaced by robots, algorithms, and other AIs. The pace at which existing professions are being disrupted and transformed by new technology looks set to outstrip the speed at which humans can re-skill and re-train.

This London Futurists Hangout On Air assembles an international panel of writers who have important things to say on the subject of the future of work: James Hughes, Martin Ford, Gary Marchant, and Marshall Brain. The panellists will be debating: 

• Are contemporary predictions of technological unemployment just repeating short-sighted worries from the 19th century “Luddites”?
• What scope is there for a “Basic Income Guarantee” to address the needs of everyone who will struggle to find work in the new age of smarter robots?
• What lessons can be learned from history, and from local experiments in different parts of the world?
• How soon should society be preparing for the kinds of major changes that new generations of robots will bring?
Live questions:

Viewers of the live broadcast on Google+ will be able to vote in real time on questions and suggestions to be discussed by the panellists as the Hangout proceeds. Give ‘+1’ votes to the suggestions you most like.

Event hashtag:


Event logistics:

This event will take place between 7pm and 8.30pm UK time on Sunday 11th May.

Click here to find these times in a different timezone.

You can view the event:

• On Google+ at [ page to be created ], where you’ll also be able to vote on questions to be submitted to the panellists

• Via YouTube at [ link to be created ].

There is no charge to participate in this discussion.

Note: There is no central physical location for this meetup. However, you may consider meeting with a few friends in the same locality, and watching the event together.

Note also that panellists are subject to change, depending on personal circumstances nearer the time.

About the panellists:

James Hughes, Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

James Hughes, Ph.D., is a bioethicist and sociologist at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut where he teaches health policy and serves as Director of Institutional Research and Planning. He holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago, where he also taught bioethics at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics.
Dr. Hughes is author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future , and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced a syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio.

He is a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of Humanity+, the Neuroethics Society, the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities and the Working Group on Ethics and Technology at Yale University.

Dr. Hughes speaks on medical ethics, health care policy and future studies worldwide.

Martin Ford, author of “Lights in the tunnel”


Martin Ford is 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 a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He has written for publications including Fortune, Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Project Syndicate, The Huffington Post and The Fiscal Times.  He has also appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NPR and CNBC.

He maintains a blog at that “offers random thoughts on what the economy of the future will look like”.

Martin is the author of the ground-breaking 2009 book “Lights in the tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future” - a book which has done so much to elevate discussion about the highly disruptive influence that accelerating technology is likely to have on our economy in the near future.

Washington Post opinion writer Matt Miller commented as follows on “Lights in the tunnel”:

>>If (like me) you’re fascinated by futurist Ray Kurzweil’s arguments that accelerating technology makes this unfolding era truly different, Ford’s logic, and fears, will haunt you — and seem impossible to rule out. Is mass replacement of human work without the simultaneous creation of enough decently paid new work going to happen? If so, is the troubling inflection point 75 years away? Or two or three decades? If it’s the latter, what should we be doing about it?
“The central thesis of this book,” Ford writes, “is that, as technology accelerates, machine automation may ultimately penetrate the economy to the extent that wages no longer provide the bulk of consumers with adequate discretionary income and confidence in the future. If this issue is not addressed, the result will be a downward economic spiral.”

In essence, Ford is hypothesizing that Marx may just turn out to have been a little ahead of his time when he talked about capitalism’s “contradictions.” Eventually capital will concentrate in fewer and fewer hands (in tomorrow’s case, the robot owners’), and surging unemployment will combine with sagging wages to undermine the mass markets capitalism requires in order to function.<


Gary Marchant, Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law & Ethics

Gary Marchant, Ph.D., J.D. is is the Lincoln Professor Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He is also a Professor of Life Sciences at ASU and Executive Director of the ASU Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology.

Professor Marchant has a a Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of British Columbia, a Masters of Public Policy degree from the Kennedy School of Government, and a law degree from Harvard.

Prior to joining the ASU faculty in 1999, he was a partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm where his practice focused on environmental and administrative law.

Professor Marchant teaches and researches in the subject areas of environmental law, risk assessment and risk management, genetics and the law, biotechnology law, food and drug law, legal aspects of nanotechnology, and law, science and technology.

Marshall Brain, Founder of How Things Work, and author of Robot Nation

Marshall Brain started How Stuff Works as a hobby in 1998 and saw it grow to be one of the top websites in the country. In 2007 Discovery Communications purchased for $250 million.

Marshall is also well known as the host of the show "Factory Floor" which appeared on the National Geographic channel.

Marshall is the author of the widely discussed Robotic Nation essays and the book Manna. In the essay Robotic Nation FAQ, Marshall gives the following answer to the question "Why did you write these articles? What is your goal?":


>I firmly believe that the rapid evolution of computer technology (as described in Robotic Nation) will bring us smart robots starting in a 2030 time frame. These robots will take over approximately 50% of the jobs in the U.S. economy over the course of just a decade or two. Something on the order of 50 million people will be unemployed. See Robotic Nation for details.

The economy may adjust and invent new jobs for those 50 million unemployed workers, but it will not do so instantaneously. What we will have is a period of economic turmoil. All of those unemployed workers will be in a very bad spot. The economy as a whole will suffer from this turmoil and the downward economic spiral it causes. No one will benefit when this happens.

We are intelligent people living in a modern, high-tech society. Robots are inevitable. Instead of letting this robotic revolution happen uncontrollably and then reacting to the chaos that ensues, what I am proposing is that we look at the problem rationally and design a systematic solution. See Robotic Freedom for possible solutions.<<


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The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

East Coast Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
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West Coast Contact: Managing Director, Hank Pellissier
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Email: hank @