The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies is the title of a book by Erik Brunjolfsson & Andrew McAfee. If I needed to make a list of required readings for this blog, this book would most definitely be on it. The authors are from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. One of the reasons I am recommending this book is that it is an excellent example of first rate scholarship. The second reason is that it provides an understanding of why middle class wages are not keeping up with increases in economic productivity. Perhaps more importantly, it discusses the future and the choices that confront us then. On one hand, it could be an enjoyable paradise supplying the future that was promised me that I complain about during all of my Labor Day Post rants. On the other, hand the future could be a virtual nightmare.
The book begins by explaining the difference between the Second Machine Age, in which we are in, with the first Machine Age. Human social development has remained relatively stagnant until the current century, during which it has exploded. There are three reasons for this explosion. .
The first is Moore’s Law that characterized the explanation growth of technology. One chapter discusses the second half of the chess board. This is where exploitation growth truly jumps. In other words, we haven’t seen anything yet.
The second reason is digitization. It is possible to digitize an enormous number of items. This digitization enables the benefits from the exponential explosion.
The third reason has to do with the combinatorial explosion of different technologies. There are so many ways that digital products can be linked together that its potential is almost incomprehensible.
The reality is that technology will rapidly take over more and more jobs done by humans. The authors are strongly of the opinion that humans should do what humans do best and that machines should do what machines do best. Of course, as machines take over more and more tasks, there will be less for humans to do. However, humans will always have certain unique capabilities, I call them our special sauce.
Nevertheless, there will be fewer and fewer tasks that need to be done in the future. The authors take us into the future and offer differ ways of dealing with this problem. One way of looking at this is is that this problem can be used as an opportunity to provide humans with more free time for personal growth and enjoyment. However, unless this is dealt with properly, we could have disenfranchised humans resorting to drugs and crime.
So even if you do not appreciate first rate scholarship, this book should be read so that you understand with the problems we are currently dealing with, and so that you will understand how to handle the future so that it becomes a virtual paradise rather than a virtual hell.
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