- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 25, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393350649
- ISBN-13: 978-0393350647
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 628 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies Paperback – January 25, 2016
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“Optimistic and intriguing.”
- Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post
- Clive Crook, Bloomberg
- Andrew Leonard, Salon
“My favorite book so far of 2014. Both hopeful…and realistic.”
- Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Education
“Maddeningly reasonable and readable.”
- Thomas Claburn, InformationWeek
“Offers important insights into how digital technologies are transforming our economy, a process that has only just begun.”
- Reid Hoffman, cofounder/chairman of LinkedIn and coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Start-up of You
“Brynjolfsson and McAfee are right: we are on the cusp of a dramatically different world brought on by technology. The Second Machine Age is the book for anyone who wants to thrive in it. I’ll encourage all of our entrepreneurs to read it, and hope their competitors don’t.”
- Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz
“Technology is overturning the world’s economies, and The Second Machine Age is the best explanation of this revolution yet written.”
- Kevin Kelly, senior maverick for Wired and author of What Technology Wants
“What globalization was to the economic debates of the late 20th century, technological change is to the early 21st century. Long after the financial crisis and great recession have receded, the issues raised in this important book will be central to our lives and our politics.”
- Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University
“In this optimistic book Brynjolfsson and McAfee clearly explain the bounty that awaits us from intelligent machines. But they argue that creating the bounty depends on finding ways to race with the machine rather than racing against the machine. That means people like me need to build machines that are easy to master and use. Ultimately, those who embrace the new technologies will be the ones who benefit most.”
- Rodney Brooks, chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics, Inc
About the Author
Erik Brynjolfsson is the director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and Schussel Family Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School. He is the author of several best-selling books with co-author Andrew McAfee, and one of the world’s most cited scholars in information systems and economics.
Andrew McAfee is the co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-author of the best-selling The Second Machine Age and Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. He and co-author Erik Brynjolfsson are the only people named to both the Thinkers 50 list of the world’s top management thinkers and the Politico 50 group of people transforming American politics.
628 customer reviews
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Towards the last quarter of the 17th century, there was profound change. The population of the world grew exponentially, making the graph of demographics look suddenly right angled, as it grew from a half to seven billion. The cause of this change began with the Scottish inventor and engineer, James Watt and his refinement of the steam engine. This allowed people to achieve more than their limited muscle power was capable of, and to generate enormous quantities of energy that could be harnessed. The result was factories and mass production, railways and mass transportation, and more. This led to life, as we know it.
This remarkable achievement started to change everything. How we work, who works, where we live, how we live. How much we earn and how we earn, how many people live on the planet and where they live.
This book, The Second Machine Age, shows how we are changing the world in ways more profound that what has taken place from the 18th century until now. Everything you do is changing. How you do it, ischanging. The implications are exciting, the possibilities are motivating, and some implications are nothing short of worrying.
The thrust behind the “second machine age” is the computer, dubbed by Time Magazine in 1982, as the machine of the year. However, it was not the computer that did it, but what has been achieved after the computer. One hundred years ago, a computer was an employee’s job title, only much later replaced by a machine.
What the steam engine and its like did for muscle power, the digital advances resulting from the computer are doing for mental power. This mental power will be no less important for humanity than the physical power of the steam engine.
This book covers three broad conclusions regarding the implications of this mental power.
The first conclusion is that computer hardware, software, and networks are building blocks for digital technologies that will be “as important and transformational to society and the economy as the steam engine.”
Levy and Murnane, in their 2004 book, “The New Division of Labor,” identified the tasks that cannot be computerized and that will remain in the domain of human work. Into this category was driving, which has no fix pattern and so was best left to humans.
In 2012, the authors drove in a Chauffeur, Google’s driverless car and part ofa fleet of cars that has travelled hundreds of thousands of miles without anyone driving. In all this time it has had only two accidents, one caused by a human-driven car that drove into a Chauffeur at a red traffic light, and one when a Chauffeur was driven by a person.
This is only one example of many where a computer with sophisticated software outperformed a person. Similar, previously human tasks are performed by advanced internet communications technology. Into this category fits factory work previously the province of people.
There still remains much work that has not been computerised, (let me not say cannot be!) such as the work of “entrepreneurs, CEOs, scientists, nurses, restaurant busboys, or many other types of workers.”
“Self-driving cars went from being the stuff of science fiction to on-the-road reality in a few short years,” explains the authors, Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
The second conclusion of digital technology is that its consequences will be profoundly beneficial.
IBM and their partners, who include Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic, are building “Dr. Watson,” a computer with Artificial Intelligence that will assist doctors to make better diagnoses. A doctor would need read 160 hours every week simply keep up with the latest medical information relevant to his field. Dr. Watson can be fed all this information in a much shorter time and can help thousands of doctors in multiple geographies.
The third conclusion of the book is of concern. While a Roomba (self-administered vacuum cleaner,) can clean a room, it cannot sort out the magazines on the coffee table. The role for housekeepers is secure.
However, when work can be performed more efficiently and cheaper by robots than by people, there will be less need for some kinds of workers. Many jobs, even very high levels ones that rely on sophisticated thinking patterns will be able to be performed by computers with sophisticated software.
The resulting era will require employees with special skills and the right education capable of using technology to create value. The corollary of this is that there has never been a worse time to have skills that are capable of being replaced by a computer.
This particular cause of concern will probably be mitigated in the long term. The first machine age created child labour and the air pollution associated with the steam engine. Child labour no longer exists in the UK, and London air is cleaner now than at any time since the late 1500s.
This fascinating book, filled with insight, examples and challenges, is essential reading for everyone. It both exhilarates with potential and warns.
This is the most important book I read this year.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High ---+- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works.
As someone in the technology field myself, I found little to disagree with in the book's treatment of recent and upcoming technological advances, which occupies the first several chapters; the authors have done their homework and have visited enough research labs and company R&D departments to have a very realistic picture of what's just over the horizon. There'll be nothing earth-shattering here for readers who follow technology trends or even who read WIRED magazine, but the book looks at all these things through a somewhat different lens (its impact on human work) than the tech press usually does, and I didn't find myself skimming even when they were covering developments with which I'm already very familiar.
For me, the best stretch of the book was chapters 7 through 11, when the focus moves to the effects of recent technological advances on the economy and on the study of economics itself. The authors build a compelling case that income inequality is much more a consequence of the move to a digital economy than of any particular government policy. I found their take on globalization especially interesting: they view it as a big contributor to the rise in income of the world's top earners, but not for the reasons people usually think. I already tended toward this view, but now I'm further convinced that some of the changes we've seen in wealth distribution are primarily due to deep structural changes in the way the world works and won't be undone by tax policy.
I found the book less convincing in its final chapters, where the authors suggest steps that can be taken to avert widespread unemployment and social disorder. Their short-term prescriptions are sensible enough (basically: take steps to encourage general economic growth) but, as the authors themselves point out, these won't address the underlying problem, identified by Keynes among others, of technological change outpacing the ability of large segments of the workforce to retrain for new jobs. They offer a few examples of systems that make it easier to find occasional part-time work and suggest that these could be expanded in the future, but as far as I can tell their vision would still leave people mostly idle. They are optimistic about the ability of people to continue finding work but I didn't feel it was justified by the picture their text painted.
Still, this is about the best treatment I've found of the question of how technology is likely to affect work over the next couple decades. Highly recommended.