Daily Archives: April 3, 2014

** The Second Machine Age by Eric Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee


The authors of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies claim that digital technology is transforming society as fundamentally as steam power once created the Industrial Revolution. They do a great job of describing how technology is easing the way we process information, much as mechanical power transformed the way we create tangible objects. They also illustrate convincingly how people and societies need time to adapt during technological transitions and often make the wrong predictions about what it will take to adapt.

On the other hand, a big chunk of the book is devoted to how this revolution will transform the way we work, and there the authors seem very gloomy. They claim that we are going towards a world of haves and have-nots, where a few smart people program the machines and the rest are pretty much replaced by machines, since all routine jobs (they claim), both manual and cognitive, will be replaced by machines. I’m not sure I agree. Sure, many categories of jobs have already disappeared and more will. But it seems that even if we get to a point where machines can do every job except that of having fresh, good ideas, surely even people who currently have those so-called routine jobs could be counted to have a few, no? And didn’t the authors show that it’s very difficult to anticipate how technological revolutions will change the world? I’m much more optimistic than they are.

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