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

August 14, 2015


Jerry Kaplan presents provocative ideas for how our broader economy—even our basic definition of “work”—will have to change as artificial intelligence advances.

After billions of dollars and fifty years of effort, researchers are finally cracking the code on artificial intelligence (AI). Recent advances in robotics, machine learning, and perception are powering systems that rival or exceed human capabilities. In Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (Yale University Press; August 4, 2015) noted futurist, innovator, entrepreneur, and Stanford University Fellow Jerry Kaplan argues that these developments can usher in a new age of unprecedented prosperity and leisure, but we will need to proactively manage the transition. He explains why the two great scourges of the modern developed world—volatile labor markets and increasing income inequality—plague our society even as our economy continues to grow, and that if these trends are left unchecked, we will witness the spectacle of widespread poverty against a backdrop of escalating comfort and wealth.

Humans Need Not Apply is an up-close, personal tour by a Silicon Valley insider of the breakthroughs fueling this transformation and the challenges it poses for society. He explains how AI is being applied primarily to promote the interests of the rich and powerful, and what regulatory and fiscal policies must be instated to ensure that everyone else is not left behind. Kaplan presents provocative ideas for how our broader economy—and even our basic definition of "work"—will have to change.

Among the other timely topics Kaplan covers in the book:

  • The intellectual history of AI: computers aren't what you think they are anymore;
  • The dangers of "synthetic intellects," and the challenge of programming ethical behavior into these AIs;
  • Why robots are about to transcend the factory floor and take their place alongside human laborers of all kinds;
  • Why AIs should not be permitted to compete with humans in many arenas;
  • How the law is likely to recognize AIs as "Artificial Persons" for many purposes;
  • The dramatic impact just one of these advances – autonomous vehicles ("driverless cars") will have on society;
  • How we can craft new financing vehicles – "job mortgages"— that can help workers upgrade their skills to meet the changing demands of employers;
  • A bold progressive corporate tax proposal for rewarding companies whose ownership is widely distributed (and therefore benefits more people).

Humans Need Not Apply is Moneyball meets Terminator, an entertaining and thought-provoking read for our times.


Jerry Kaplan is widely known as a serial entrepreneur, technical innovator, bestselling author, and futurist. He co-founded four Silicon Valley startups, two of which became publicly traded companies. His 1995 book Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure was named one of the top ten business books by BusinessWeek. Kaplan has been profiled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, BusinessWeek, and Red Herring, and is a frequent public speaker.

Kaplan holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science, and is currently a Fellow at The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. He also teaches Philosophy, Ethics, and Impact of Artificial Intelligence in the Computer Science Department, Stanford University. For more information about Jerry Kaplan, visit


"New technologies are poised to vastly increase wealth, but for whom? In Humans Need Not Apply, Jerry Kaplan makes a persuasive case that future growth may be driven more by assets than labor, and offers unique policy proposals to promote a more equitable future."
—Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and President Emeritus of Harvard University

"A crucial book for understanding the great challenge of our times, which is how people can learn to live wisely with ever-greater technical ability."
—Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not A Gadget and Who Owns the Future?

"Artificial intelligence will transform how we live and work. But how we use AI is up to us. We are lucky to have as gifted and experienced a thinker as Jerry Kaplan to guide us as we navigate through this new age."
—John Doerr, Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

"Soon, Jerry Kaplan suggests from his perch at Stanford's AI Lab, 'synthetic intellects' and 'forged laborers' are going to start changing the world in unpredictable ways. How can we make sure the benefits they deliver are broadly distributed? In this candid and informed take on the coming AI revolution—and how we might mitigate its problematic aspects—Jerry will have you thinking long into the night about a future that's just around the corner."
—Reid Hoffman, co-founder/chairman of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 NYT bestseller The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age

"In a world where the popular perception of Artificial Intelligence is often driven by Hollywood fiction, it's refreshing to read such a realistic and insightful analysis to help inform public discourse about this important technology."
—Ron Moore, producer and screenwriter for Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica

"AI is creating enormous wealth, but there's no economic law that everyone will share in this bounty. As Jerry Kaplan masterfully explains, the great challenge is to harness these new technologies to deliver shared prosperity."
—Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

"A compelling, prophetic, and timely book from a leading technology thinker, Humans Need Not Apply is a must-read for entrepreneurs, scientists, policymakers, and anyone concerned about the promise and peril of artificially intelligent machines."
—Fei-Fei Li, Director, Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab

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