2014(ish) – I’m walking with my friend around Lake Merritt in Oakland. He’s a tech nerd like me, and we’re talking about AI, and how it’s becoming an increasingly huge part of our lives, and maybe a threat to our jobs, and something we will probably need to contend with at some point. I say, semi-jokingly, that there’s probably a book to be written for people like us.
2016 – I am going to a lot of tech conferences for work, and listening to a lot of speeches and panel discussions about AI and The Future of Humanity, and I learn that there is a lot of doom-and-gloom pessimism from people who think robots are going to take all of the jobs and send us hurtling toward a dystopian hellscape, and a lot of sunny optimism from people who think AI is going to cure cancer, solve climate change and free us all from mundane toil. But there isn’t much middle ground, or anything even remotely approaching practical advice. It’s just a thought exercise for these people, few of whom are in any actual danger of having their lives upended by technology.
– I interview a no-name businessman I met who is running for president (?) on a platform of universal basic income (??) because he thinks robots are going to take all of the jobs (???). It’s his first interview as a candidate, he barely has an office or a campaign logo, and I have to convince my editor he’s worth covering at all. In my story
, I call him a “longer-than-longshot” candidate. He proceeds to become a huge national celebrity, raise millions of dollars, and outlast Kamala Harris and Cory Booker in the Democratic primary. I am extremely owned. Maybe this automation thing is worth reporting on after all?
Mid 2018 – I am now going to a lot of tech conferences and hearing the same set of pontificators pontificating about AI and automation. The optimists are quieter now, but the pessimists are still weirdly reluctant to give people concrete, actionable steps they can take to prevent this stuff from messing up their lives. This makes no sense to me. If you think a flood is coming, don’t you want to know how to get to high ground and blow up the inflatable boat? Where are the rations and flashlights? I start reading a ton of books, looking for the one that tells people what to do to get ready for the technological future.
– Accepting that this book doesn’t exist, and that nobody is going to write it if I don’t – and after a combination pep talk/death threat from Kara Swisher
– I decide to take it on. It’ll be a fun, practical guide to living as a human in the age of AI and automation, filled with the kinds of advice people actually need in order to avoid technological obsolescence and algorithm-induced brain worms. I’ll finish it in a year, and we’ll publish it in May 2020. I’ll tee it up at SXSW, send out the galleys, then hit the road to promote it. What could go wrong?
March 2020 – Covid arrives, SXSW is cancelled, and nobody is reading books because they’re too busy hoarding Purell and baking sourdough. We decide to push the book back to January 2021. (There’s also the small issue that the book has an entire chapter about the evidence that remote work is bad for deeply human work, and that people are more creative and communicative when we’re packed together in centralized offices, a hypothesis that will…uh…need to be revisited.)
– After rewriting a decent chunk of the book, redesigning the cover, and adding some new Covid-era reporting, we’re finally ready to go to press again. Which is great, except Obama’s book is also going to press, and it’s taking up every commercial printer
in the Western hemisphere. We decide to push publication back again, to March 2021.
February 2021 – Go time! The scene is set. Galleys are out. Reviews and excerpts have been assigned. Interviews have been scheduled. Everything is going swimmingly. Then the editor calls. The first copies have arrived, and the book jackets got messed up. They have to be redone. It’s an emergency. He doesn’t know if we’ll be able to make publication day after all.
– Thanks to some warehouse miracle I won’t pretend to understand, we make publication day. Third time’s the charm! A Covid-related automation spree
that happened while I was furiously re-writing the manuscript has accidentally made the book more timely than it was even supposed to be, and the new covers look great. It’s a real book! I send some emails, write some tweets, and take a nap.