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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.
320 pages, Hardcover
First published January 20, 2014
As a result, not everyone's share of the economic pie is growing. The first two sets of winners are those who have accumulated significant quantities of the right capital assets. These can be either nonhuman capital (such as equipment, structures, intellectual property, or financial assets), or human capital (such as training, education, experience, and skills). Like other forms of capital, human capital is an asset that can generate a stream of income.
If you would happily pay one dollar to read the morning newspaper but instead you get it for free, then you've just gained one dollar of consumer surplus. However, as noted above, replacing a paid newspaper with an equivalent free new service would decrease GDP even though it increased consumer surplus. In this case, consumer surplus would be a better measure of our economic well-being. Yet as appealing as consumer surplus is as a concept, it is also extremely difficult to measure.
But we're also realistic about how new educational technologies are being used in practice. Highly motivated self-starters are the ones who take the greatest advantage of the abundance of online educational resources now available. We know twelve- and fourteen-year-olds who are taking college courses to which they previously would never have had access. Meanwhile, their peers don't participate. Consequently what had been a small gap in their knowledge has become a much larger one. The lesson here is that unless we make real efforts to broaden its impact, the digitization of education won't automatically reduce the spread.