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on January 13, 2014
In "The Second Machine Age," Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that as technology advances exponentially and combinatorially it is taking us into an entirely new era. In the future we can expect more of everything, including both tangible goods and digital products and services, at lower and lower prices. They call this "Bounty." There is a dark side as well, however. Machines and computers are increasingly substituting for routine human labor, and technology is a major driver of increased inequality. The authors call this "Spread".

In addition to this book, I'd also strongly suggest reading The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future. That book takes a somewhat longer view and asks where all this will lead in the coming decades. The answers and the proposed solutions are less conventional and more controversial.

The Second Machine Age gives many examples of specific technologies like robots, AI and autonomous cars, and also lots of data showing how the economy is being transformed. The authors also make a strong argument that the way economists measure things, especially in terms of GDP, no longer does a good job of capturing what prosperity really means in the information age.

The book includes suggestions for both individuals and policy makers. Brynjolfsson and McAfee suggest that workers should learn to "race with the machines" (rather than against them), although the advice here isn't very specific beyond getting the best education you can. The authors are hopeful that innovations like massive free online courses (MOOCs) will help more people to make this transition.

There are lots of policy suggestions including reforming education to pay teachers more but also make them accountable, jump starting entrepreneurship, better job matching technologies, investing more in basic scientific research, upgrading national infrastructure, expanding skilled immigration, implementing smarter taxes, expanding the earned income tax credit (EITC), etc. In the long run, the authors also offer lukewarm support for the possibility of a guaranteed income or negative income tax.

Overall, "The Second Machine Age" does a good job of identifying and explaining the forces that will be critical to the economy and job market of future. The book has a basically optimistic tone, but I think a lot of the trends it points out are going to be really bad news for a lot of people.
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on January 26, 2014
This covers a lot of the same ground as books such as "The Lights in the Tunnel" but in a more pop-academic style: the prose is all very accessible but the information is extensively footnoted and attributed, and there are numerous references to the work of other academics, mostly but not exclusively economists. For anyone who wonders why we're seeing record-high income inequality and jobless recoveries from recessions, this book will clear up a lot of mysteries.

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.
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on July 22, 2017
Really interesting and well worth reading if you are concerned about technology development and it's impact on our culture. It should be read by policy makers and educators. The convergence of developments in information technology, robotics, machine learning and artificial <general?> intelligence, may leave you thinking "where do I fit in?". This book isn't going to answer that question specifically, but it will help figure out where you could fit in, and what you have to consider in being successfully employed or successful in starting a business: what is the potential impact of technology on what it is you'd like to do? Some jobs are ripe for replacement by automation, others aren't.

There is a nice balance between the considerations for technology development and the impact of those developments on people's ability to make a living. Part of that balance noted earlier comes in the form of the consideration of work on peoples dignity and self worth, not just earning a buck, but how it affects you as a person. For example, consider the current Presidential pronouncements about coal miners getting their jobs back and the economic factors driving mine owners to eliminate those jobs through automation. If jobs are being replaced how do we treat those displaced from work, and who is responsible for helping people make transitions from one way of life to another?

The material is well written and easy to read. When I started reading I was afraid it would be very dry, but I got drawn in and was almost sorry about coming to the end.
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on May 9, 2014
Without question this is by far the most important book I have read in the past ten years.I have read a great many books on the impact of digital technology on civilization and the future of human beings on planet earth but what Erik and Andrew have achieved is to outline the salient issues in a language that non technical people like myself can follow.
Their thesis that the impact of digital technology may well surpass that of the steam engine should be a major awakening call to anyone who has any interest in preparing for the future-for it will be a very different future indeed. From my perspective as a citizen of a developing country I can see that unless urgent and far-reaching measures are implemented by policy makers in countries such as mine to invest in ICT across the entire education system and the economy they will be left desperately behind and a huge digital divide will emerge between the developed and developing worlds. There are encouraging signs ,however, that developing countries may yet be the greatest beneficiaries of the digital dividend judging by that pace of mobile technology adoption in these countries.

This book should be required reading for everyone with any responsibility for the future. Before reading this book I had read `The New Digital Age` by Eric Schmidt and Jared Rosen .While their book is excellent...I have no hesitation in saying that The Second Machine Age is even better!
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on August 23, 2016
The Second Machine Age, By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

If you are a fan of Ray Kurzweil, Isaac Asimov or William Gibson, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies will confirm everything you have read that robots will replace the drudgery of human labor, and that artificial intelligence combined with the digitization of everything will provide exponential progress for humanity.

According to the authors, two MIT professors with a cautiously optimistic view of the future, the invention of the steam engine was the defining moment which led to the entire Industrial Revolution – an era in which humans overcame the limitations of muscle power. The steam engine substantially improved productivity in manufacturing, subsequently spreading to innovation in transportation – most notably the steam engine and the steam ship, which changed the way the world was connected.

Now comes the second Machine Age, in which a number of significant advances in technology will again bring us to an inflection point of tremendous change and opportunity vis-a-vis the way we live and experience the world. The authors define a number of simultaneous advances – Moore’s Law, the connectivity of people and things, and the notion of “recombinant ideas” in which previous discoveries in technology can be reused and combined to create further innovation – which are expediting technology in unimaginable ways. From Google’s Chauffeur Program (driverless cars) to Baxter the Robot, technologies which were predicted to be impossible for decades or more have become reality in a short period of time.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee caution that whilst these rapid developments in technology will usher in a new period of well-being for society, not everyone will benefit equally. They offer thoughts on how to mitigate this increasing divide, from reforms in education to encouraging entrepreneurship. They further identify the risks associated with an increasingly connected world and present a sobering perspective on the potential dangers. Despite these caveats, they conclude with a relatively positive view of what lies ahead.

This is not just a book for science fiction buffs. This is a book about technology as it is evolving – the Internet of Things, Big Data, 3-D printing, robots and more – and the exponential transformation we are about to experience
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VINE VOICEon February 20, 2014
Brynjolfsson is one of the most forward and provocative thinkers out there about technology and its impact on economics. The book he co-authored with Andy McAfee "Race Against the Machine" is one of the best books I have read in a long time. This book repeats much of what is in Race against the Machine, giving it a more positive spin. If you have read the first book, there really is no reason to read this one. The Second Machine Age rewords much of Brynjolfsson's TED talk of the a similar name. The TED Talk is highly recommended and provides a good overview of what you will find in this book.

Big ideas, like those Brynjolfsson talks about are hard to come by and that is what makes them valuable. I had hoped that this book developed these ideas further, rather than largely restating them. That said if you have never read "Race" this book is just as good as the other.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon October 26, 2015
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee

“The Second Machine Age” is a wonderful book about the impact of technology on our lives. Accomplished authors Brynjolfsson and McAfee, takes the reader on a fascinating journey that intertwines technology, society and the economy. The main premise is we live in a second machine age and it comes with bounty and freedom but also some difficult challenges. This captivating 321-page book includes the fifteen chapters divided into three sections: Section 1 describes the fundamental characteristics of the second machine age, Section 2 explores bounty and spread, and Section 3 discusses what interventions will be appropriate and effective for this age.

Positives:
1. A well-researched and well-referenced book.
2. A fascinating topic in the hands of gifted authors: the impact of technology on the economy and our lives.
3. A very good format. The book is divided into three main sections; each chapter begins with a quote-appropriate quote and is further broken out by subtopics.
4. Engaging and readable style. The authors take what could have been complex topics and make it accessible to the general public. Good use of charts and diagrams to complement narrative.
5. Provides historical references. “The Industrial Revolution ushered in humanity’s first machine age—the first time our progress was driven primarily by technological innovation—and it was the most profound time of transformation our world has ever seen.”
6. An excellent discussion on what would remain predominately human tasks versus tasks that would be automated by artificial intelligence. “In addition to pattern recognition, Levy and Murnane highlight complex communication as a domain that would stay on the human side in the new division of labor.”
7. Fascinating nuggets of knowledge throughout the book. “The word robot entered the English language via the 1921 Czech play, R.U.R. (Rossum’s “Universal” Robots) by Karel Capek, and automatons have been an object of human fascination ever since.”
8. A look at the history of digitization. “Information is costly to produce but cheap to reproduce.”
9. A look at innovations. “Another school of thought, though, holds that the true work of innovation is not coming up with something big and new, but instead recombining things that already exist.”
10. Explains key economic terms and how it’s impacted by technology. “The trends in GDP growth and productivity growth covered in chapter 7 are important, but they are not sufficient measures of our overall well-being, or even our economic well-being.”
11. A look at key intangibles. “Production in the second machine age depends less on physical equipment and structures and more on the four categories of intangible assets: intellectual property, organizational capital, user-generated content, and human capital.”
12. A look at economic inequalities. “The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay increased from seventy in 1990 to three hundred in 2005.” “Recent research makes it clear that the American Dream of upward mobility, which was real in earlier generations, is greatly diminished today.”
13. Explains to satisfaction the winner-take-all results. “Digital goods have enormous economies of scale, giving the market leader a huge cost advantage and room to beat the price of any competitor while still making a good profit.”
14. Asks the right questions. “…three important questions about the future of the bounty and the spread. First, will the bounty overwhelm the spread? Second, can technology not only increase inequality but also create structural unemployment? And thirdly, what about globalization, the other great force transforming the economy—could it explain recent declines in wages and employment?”
15. A look at a technological unemployment. A look at the argument from each side.
16. Practical tools to help you out. “Our recommendations about how people can remain valuable knowledge workers in the new machine age are straightforward: work to improve the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication instead of just the three Rs.”
17. A section on how to improve the educational system.
18. The need to support our scientists. You are preaching to the choir brother…
19. An important chapter on long-term recommendations. “The will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job.”
20. A fascinating look at the present and future. “Our generation will likely have the good fortune to experience two of the most amazing events in history: the creation of true machine intelligence and the connection of all humans via a common digital network, transforming the planet’s economics.”

Negatives:
1. This book repeats to some degree what was contained in the excellent book “Race Against the Machine”. If you have you read that, you may suffer a bit of deja vue.
2. Some issues were not addressed, climate change comes to mind.
3. The book is of more value to the layperson than somebody in the technical fields.
4. No formal bibliography.

In summary, this is an excellent book that masterfully bridges technology and its impact on the economy. The authors make keen observations of the current machine age and what the present and future holds backed by compelling research. A fun, enlightening and thought-provoking book that is a must read. I highly recommend it!

Further recommendations: “Race Against the Machine” by the same authors, “Rise of the Robots” by Martin Ford, “Our Final Invention” by James Barrat, “Tomorrowland” by Steven Kotler, “Singularity Is Near” by Ray Kurzwell, “The Price of Inequality” by Joseph Stiglitz, “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu, and “Saving Capitalism” by Robert B. Reich.
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VINE VOICEon July 6, 2016
Books on the subject of the realm of technology and the world we find ourselves in are interesting to me for a number of reasons. I found this book randomly (again, darn you Amazon algorithims!) but it sounded so interesting and the good reviews made me want to red through this.

I started the book and was grabbed, The book discusses the role of technology through the ages in a compelling manner. As I continued to read, the book really makes the technology speak to changes we are seeing in the economy and social lives.

A really worthwhile book.
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on February 5, 2016
TV and print news miss it, politicians fail to understand it, everyone is affected by it...but the authors of this book get it, and reveal it to anyone who buys a copy.

This book might be the most cogent diagnosis of the disruptive forces affecting life and the workplace at the current time, and the likely sustained effects. The authors make a compelling and probably bulletproof case that the impact of digital technology, having now reached a mature state, is driving a second machine age--that promises rewards and havoc both for humans across the globe.

Having read this book, I now understand why and how our civilization is changing, and why the observations of those in government, and the policies they proscribe, are so far off the mark.

Read this book. This is a seminal work.
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on January 4, 2016
Fascinating and mind blowing! Certainly from that category of books - "you don't become literate until you have read this book."

Some examples of technological changes may seem a bit over-glamorized (particularly if you are engaged in tech job), however if you look past them and focus on their broader arguments and their subtle insights, you will find it persuasive, and beautifully written book. For this kind of topic it is remarkably easy to understand/follow and hard to put down.

You may have noted, unlike other reviews I haven't mentioned any of the ideas or examples from this book or what this book is about here in this review, this is intentional. There is no way I can write or summarize the remarkable ideas and insights from this book better than the authors. Please go read this book and do it now!
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