Reveal the Forces Driving the Reinvention in The Second Machine Age

Did you know in recent years, Google’s autonomous cars have logged thousands of miles on American highways and IBM’s Watson trounced the best human Jeopardy! players? Digital technologies—with hardware, software, and networks at their
core—will in the near future diagnose diseases more accurately than doctors can, apply enormous data sets to transform retailing, and accomplish many tasks once considered uniquely human.

In The Second Machine Age MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee—two thinkers at the forefront of their field—reveal the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and near-boundless access to the cultural items that enrich our lives.

Amid this bounty will also be wrenching change. Professions of all kinds—from lawyers to truck drivers—will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar.

Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and offer a new path to prosperity. These include revamping education so that it prepares people for the next economy instead of the last one, designing new collaborations that pair brute processing power with human ingenuity, and embracing policies that make sense in a radically transformed landscape.

A fundamentally optimistic book, The Second Machine Age will alter how we think about issues of technological, societal, and economic progress.

This The Second Machine Age book is about journey offers a view into the potential societal, economic, and business impact of technological advancement in the digital age. The book tells the story of transformative periods of the past and provides a view into the one that lies ahead. Over 200 years ago the first industrial revolution arrived to bend the curve of human history almost ninety degrees. It unfolded over several decades and is regarded as the biggest and fastest transformation in the history of the world. The innovations of the time allowed us to overcome the limitations of muscle power (both animal and human) and ushered in the world's first machine age. Anthropologist Ian Morris famously said that it made a mockery of all that had come before it.

The steam engine developed and improved by James Watt et al in the second half of the 18th century was the most important technology development. Prior to Watt, steam engines harnessed only about 1% of the energy provided by burning coal - his tinkering between 1765 and 1776 more than tripled this, and initiated the biggest and fastest transformation in world history. Authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (EBAM) contend that we're now into the second machine age, thanks to computers and other digital advances now doing for mental power what the steam engine et seq. did for muscle power. Computers, first laughably bad at a lot of things, have now started diagnosing diseases, listening and speaking to us (eg. Siri), translating, and writing high-quality prose, while robots are scurrying around warehouses and driving cars.

Computers are going to continue to improve - we're now at an inflection point akin to that of the first industrial revolution. But this time it's different - the steam engine doubled in performance every 70 years, while computers get better, faster than anything else, ever. 'A child's PlayStation today is more powerful than a military supercomputer from 1996.'

Like the Industrial Revolution, digitization will bring both innumerable benefits, and problems. The Industrial Revolution brought pollution, digitization will bring economic disruption caused by the reduced need for some kinds of workers. Remember - it was only a few years earlier few thought computers would be able to drive cars and the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge (a 150-mile course through the Mojave Desert) produced a 'winner' that covered only 7.4 miles before veering off-course and getting stuck.

Google cars still can't handle complicated city traffic, off-road driving, or any location not already mapped in advance by Google. And Siri can't answer 'Where is Elvis buried?' because it thinks the person's name is Elvis Buried. But don't forget that Watson first performed poorly when training for Jeopardy.' When Dutch chess grandmaster Jan Donner was asked how he'd prepare for a chess match against a computer, he replied 'I'd bring a hammer.'

The book is very well-researched, well-written and wisely argued. The authors have taken the facts and the data as they stand, without preconception or political coloring, and have delivered an honest and insightful analysis. Both the bounty and the spread of the second machine age are made apparent, and the proposed approach moving forward is well-measured and judicious. An important book for policy-makers, and the generally curious alike.