The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

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A New York Times Bestseller
A revolution is under way.
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 ...

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The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

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A New York Times Bestseller
A revolution is under way.
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.

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas L. Friedman - New York Times
Andrew Leonard - Salon
Thomas Claburn - InformationWeek
“Maddeningly reasonable and readable.”
Clive Cook - Bloomberg
Steven Pearlstein - The Washington Post
“Optimistic and intriguing.”
Joshua Kim - Inside Higher Education
“My favorite book so far of 2014. Both hopeful…and realistic.”
Carl Bass
“Information technology is the foundation of the next industrial revolution. Its often unarticulated dark side has been the widening of the economic divide. In this book, McAfee and Brynjolfsson do a masterful job of exploring both the promise of computer technology and its profound societal impact.”
Michael Spence
“A terrific book. Brynjolfsson and McAfee combine their knowledge of rapidly evolving digital technologies and relevant economics to give us a colorful and accessible picture of dynamic forces that are shaping our lives, our work, and our economies. For those who want to learn to 'Race with the Machines,' their book is a great place to start.”
Garry Kasparov
“How we build, use, and live with our digital creations will define our success as a civilization in the twenty-first century. Will our new technologies lift us all up or leave more and more of us behind? The Second Machine Age is the essential guide to how and why that success will, or will not, be achieved.”
Zoë Baird
“Erik and Andy have lived on the cutting edge, and now, with this book, they are taking us there with them. A brilliant look at the future that technology is bringing to our economic and social lives. Read The Second Machine Age if you want to prepare yourself and your children for the world of work ahead.”
Reid Hoffman
“The Second Machine Age offers important insights into how digital technologies are transforming our economy, a process that has only just begun. Erik and Andrew’s thesis: As massive technological innovation radically reshapes our world, we need to develop new business models, new technologies, and new policies that amplify our human capabilities, so every person can stay economically viable in an age of increasing automation. I couldn’t agree more.”
Clayton M. Christensen
“Although a few others have tried, The Second Machine Age truly helped me see the world of tomorrow through exponential rather than arithmetic lenses. Macro and microscopic frontiers now seem plausible, meaning that learners and teachers alike are in a perpetual mode of catching up with what is possible. It frames a future that is genuinely exciting!”
Marc Andreessen
“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.”
Lawrence H. Summers
“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.”
Kevin Kelly
“Technology is overturning the world’s economies, and The Second Machine Age is the best explanation of this revolution yet written.”
Hal Varian
“Brynjolfsson and McAfee take us on a whirlwind tour of innovators and innovations around the world. But this isn’t just casual sightseeing. Along the way, they describe how these technological wonders came to be, why they are important, and where they are headed.”
Rodney Brooks
“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.”
Austan Goolsbee
“New technologies may bring about our economic salvation or they may threaten our very livelihoods…or they may do both. Brynjolfsson and McAfee have written an important book on the technology-driven opportunities and challenges we all face in the next decade. Anyone who wants to understand how amazing new technologies are transforming our economy should start here.”
Nicholas Negroponte
“After reading this book, your world view will be flipped: you’ll see that collective intelligence will come not only from networked brains but also from massively connected and intelligent machines. In the near future, the best job to have will be the one you would do for free.”
John Seely Brown
“The Second Machine Age helps us all better understand the new age we are entering, an age in which by working with the machine we can unleash the full power of human ingenuity. This provocative book is both grounded and visionary, with highly approachable economic analyses that add depth to their vision. A must-read.”
Vivek Wadhwa
“Brynjolfsson and McAfee do an amazing job of explaining the progression of technology, giving us a glimpse of the future, and explaining the economics of these advances. And they provide sound policy prescriptions. Their book could also have been titled Exponential Economics 101—it is a must-read.”
Kirkus Reviews
A hopeful view of the future as we enter a second machine age. Driverless cars and 3D printers are harbingers of a new era, argue MIT colleagues Brynjolfsson (Director/Center for Digital Business; co-author, Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology Is Reshaping the Economy, 2013, etc.) and McAfee (Principal Research Scientist/Center for Digital Business; Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization's Toughest Challenges, 2009, etc.). Some 200 years ago, the invention of the steam engine sparked massive amounts of mechanical power to drive factories and mass production in the first machine age. Now, computers and other digital advances are providing such "a vast and unprecedented boost to mental power" that technologies once found only in science fiction are becoming everyday realities. Drawing on research, including interviews with inventors, investors, entrepreneurs, engineers and others, the authors describe the forces driving the emerging age, notably the digitization of nearly everything, which increases understanding and fosters innovation, and an amazing exponential growth in improvements. We're now seeing "the emergence of real, useful artificial intelligence (AI) and the connection of most of the people on the planet via a common digital network." As machines complete cognitive tasks--as opposed to physical ones--engaging in pattern recognition and complex communication, AI will do more and more, for example, giving key aspects of sight to the visually impaired and restoring hearing to the deaf. Along with benefits, including greater amounts of individual choice, technological progress will bring economic disruption, leaving some people behind and workers without jobs. The authors describe the large differences that are already apparent among people in both income and wealth and explain how individuals can improve their skills to maintain healthy wage and job prospects. "Our generation has inherited more opportunities to transform the world than any other," they write. "That's a cause for optimism, but only if we're mindful of our choices." Valuable reading for policymakers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393239355
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/20/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 31,186
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Erik Brynjolfsson is the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and one of the most cited scholars in information systems and economics.

Andrew McAfee is a principal research scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business and the author of Enterprise 2.0.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2014

    Excellent Read

    This book shows the real effects of automation and the Digital age. We need our policy makers to come up with needed changes to our laws to match this second machine age.

    It's a compelling read that lays out the history and transformation of the work. This should be a must read for high school and college students as they plan for their careers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 25, 2014

    The writing is good but the content is bunk.  The writer gives s

    The writing is good but the content is bunk.  The writer gives specious and shallow prescriptions. He favors big government solutions
     without addressing the effect of onerous public debt.  He recommends massive, uncontrolled immigration (based on bogus data) without
     considering the effects on unemployment, infrastructure, and standard of living.  He affectionately quotes John Maynard Keynes without
     addressing the folly of his theories.  This book is left wing socialist cant masquerading as technological theory.  If one wishes to read
    about technological innovation, there are better choices that can be.      

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 24, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee explain why we may be living

    Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee explain why we may be living through a period of history that begins a major shift in human civilization. There is enough evidence that everyone should sit up, take notice, and take part in shaping our future. While technology will evolve at a mind-boggling pace, and the benefits to society promise to be immense, the transition period will be extremely difficult, especially due to technology’s impact on the dynamics of our economic system.

    For me, we need to answer four questions about the digital age:

    1. Is digital technology a driving force behind today’s economic condition?

    Building on their earlier book, Race against the Machine, Brynjolfsson and McAfee make the case that digital technology is a major force behind our current economic situation. This is a significant shift in economic thinking: there was much less agreement back in 2009 when Martin Ford wrote The Lights in the Tunnel. Consider that as late as 2011 a Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond report on the causes of unemployment did not talk about technology at all.

    2. Why is this time different, given that technology has made jobs obsolete before?

    Using the insights in this book, people can now discuss the impact of digital technology on the economy without being accused of having unfounded fears. The conventional view was that technology always creates new jobs even though old jobs become obsolete. There is, however, no law of economics that says that will always be true. So, the authors clearly explain why the current situation is different, and why digital technology will have broad impact across the entire spectrum of jobs.

    3. How can society cope with the impact of digital technology in the short & medium term?

    The authors offer a variety of policy suggestions to help us cope in the short and medium term. They identify the reduced need for labor as a central challenge. Their suggestions, derived largely from any economics 101 textbook, include changing the tax code, reforming immigration, updating infrastructure, improving education, and supporting entrepreneurship. While these are all good, I felt that there were a number of missed opportunities. For example, why keep the income tax at all in a world where the labor participation is shrinking?

    4. What will our world be like in the long-term – a world where people no longer have to work?

    In the long-term, worrying about jobs is the wrong question. After all, what’s the point of all this technology if it does not relieve us from the burden of doing work? I’m not suggesting that people become idle, but I think the focus needs to shift from “work” to “activity.” In a world of abundance, where work in the traditional sense is rarely needed, then there will have to be new ways for people to earn money. This suggests an evolution for capitalism as well as changes to our social contract. To me, the vision for this future world is still unclear.

    The Second Machine Age is not the last word on this topic. Nevertheless, it is a stepping stone and well worth reading. Despite the challenges we face, the book provides an optimistic view of the future that is largely shaped by the observation that, in the long-term, humans have coped with change and improved their condition overall. In this case, people will learn to work with machines, not against them. On my personal blog (AllanRTate dot com), I wrote a more detailed review in May 2014 called “Considering ‘The Second Machine Age’.”

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    Posted March 13, 2014

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    Posted April 20, 2014

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