The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
(our site's book review)
The Amazon blurb for this book says: A New York Times Bestseller. A “fascinating” (Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times) look at how digital technology is transforming our work and our lives.
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.
Lexus RX450h retrofitted by Google for its driverless car fleet
In The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, 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. (Or so say Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.)
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: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies alters how we think about issues of technological, societal, and economic progress.
In The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain that as technology advances exponentially it will be taking us into a whole new era. In the future we can expect lots more of everything, including both tangible goods and digital products and services, at lower and lower prices, which Walmart and Amazon will be thrilled to hear. They call this unleashed horn of plenty Bounty. There is a dark side as well, however. Machines and computers are increasingly performing human labor of the more routine variety, and technology is a major driver of increased inequality. The authors call this Spread.
There is a missing element in the book. As Walmart and Amazon are selling us both tangible goods and digital products and services at lower and lower prices, the cost of education, insurance, healthcare, dental care, childcare, therapy, medicine, pharmaceuticals, plumbers, houses, etc., is going up, as are taxes. The bounty the authors outline will be effectively neutralized—or worse, exceeded—by the rising cost of living in budgetary areas that are not tangible goods or digital products. So much for bounties. Can you say "inflation"?
Note: "According to a 2015 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank based in Washington, D.C., 'ever since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline. This is despite real GDP growth of 149 percent and net productivity growth of 64 percent over this period. In short, the potential has existed for ample, broad-based wage growth over the last three-and-a-half decades, but these economic gains have largely bypassed the vast majority.'" (Source: Cost of Living vs. Wage Stagnation in the United States, 1979-2015, Marian Tupy, Reason)
"The middle-class squeeze is the situation where increases in wages fail to keep up with inflation for middle-income earners leading to a relative decline in real wages, while at the same time, the phenomenon fails to have a similar effect on the top wage earners. People belonging to the middle class find that inflation in consumer goods and the housing market prevent them from maintaining a middle-class lifestyle, making downward mobility a threat to aspirations of upward mobility. In the United States for example, middle-class income is declining while many goods and services are increasing in price, such as education, housing, child care and healthcare." As you'll see later on on this web page, class mobility has been mercilessly rigged to keep the nonrich in their place. (Source: Middle-class squeeze)
Median personal income for the population age 25 or older in 2005
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies gives many obvious but good examples of specific technologies like robots, AI and autonomous cars, and also lots of data showing how the economy is being transformed by these and other technologies. The book makes a strong argument that the way economists measure things, especially in terms of GDP, is a bit of a sham in that it no longer does an accurate job of embracing what prosperity really means in the digital age and 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 authors' recommendations on this point are weak: things like getting the best education you can . . . . . duh! The authors are hopeful that innovations like massive free online courses will help more people to make this transition. Of course, you get what you pay for will always be an accurate caveat in a capitalist society.
This industrial robot replaced jobs of people who raced against robots; they needed to race WITH robots, not compete AGAINST them
The best suggestion in the book about something doable, proven, and inexpensive is making our public schools like Montessori schools. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin credit their Montessori education as the key to their success, so in Google employees are told to spend one day per week in self-directed learning—like in Montessori schools. Julia Child, Will Wright (SimCity), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder), Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder) were Montessori school students. What more evidence could you need?
A Montessori school where kids explore their talents
There are of course many obvious policy suggestions including reforming education to pay teachers more but also make them accountable (which has been tried but it has failed), jump starting entrepreneurship (but most people get their ideas from texting buddies or videos both of which recycle existing ideas with zero creative thinking), better job matching technologies, investing more in basic scientific research, upgrading national infrastructure, expanding skilled immigration, implementing smarter taxes (the smart ones will make the rich angry, so they'll block their passage), 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—but this country will not cure its problems by expanding its liberal policies so that we are paying people to breathe, since the conservatives are right: talk about a huge disincentive to work!
Here is how Republicans and the Haves view taxes
But the overall gist of the authors' tax solutions and proposals is to go back to really progressive taxes, which the rich and powerful will never support, so since Congress is in their pockets, that means that such ideas are useless since they are just progressive bellyaching about the fact that the game is irreversibly rigged. Just watch Trump selling a regressive tax plan as "help for the middle class" (wink wink) when in reality it is just a huge tax cut for the rich and the rich corporations. We currently have a huge income gap between rich and poor and his plan aggravates it obscenely, along with skyrocketing the national debt. The G.O.P.'s regressive solutions for taxes, the environment and healthcare are all the same: fix them by making them worse. Not very convincing, to be sure!
We currently have a huge income gap between rich and poor and Trump's plan aggravates it obscenely, along with skyrocketing the national debt
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
For anyone who wonders why we're experiencing record-high income inequality and jobless recoveries from recessions, this book will clear up a lot of mysteries. But it doesn't see the whole power and wealth picture and its index has never heard of Noam Chomsky, the world's most respected intellectual, who DOES see the whole power and wealth picture. See Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. Brynjolfsson and McAfee claim to have done their research, but their book is from 2016, while Chomsky's book is from 2015 so they really needed to have read it. It is the most important book of the 21st century—so good it was made into a movie—the most essential flick you will ever see. It is a coherent narrative of the corruption of our American socio-economic-political systems. In addition to being a requiem, the film is also a post mortem, containing descriptions of the strategies and tactics that have transformed the United States of America into an oligarchy. Here is one of them: rigging class mobility so people can no longer get ahead. Those that have do NOT want you having as well—they want it all to themselves. In 2 words, they are insanely greedy.
The ladder of class mobility is rigged so have-nots will never get to be haves
At least the rich will leave us a few scraps once they're done eating at the trough Brynjolfsson and McAfee call Bounty; but for most of us, it's actually Table Scraps
The rich oligarchs distract themselves from any feelings of guilt that arise from shaking down the rest of us by rolling around in their money bins, screaming with evil laughter
It has been said that Brynjolfsson's and McAfee's optimistic book is an effective antidote to the economic pessimism that has taken root in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. It may make readers feel good, but it is based on the debatable work of “new growth” theorists such as Paul Romer, Brian Arthur and Martin Weitzman, as well as their own work, already self-published in their Race Against the Machine. But what about the superintelligence singularity at which time AI becomes smarter than humans, predicted to occur in 2029, and which is predicted to signal the end of humanity—or its enslavement? Should Brynjolfsson and McAfee be embarrased about their rosy predictions based on opportunities offered by the tech explosion when Barrat has shown that this will be an opportunity to perish at the 'hands' of one or more superintelligences? See James Barrat's Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.
Information technology and digital communication are about to take off exponentially, just like in the Industrial Revolution when the steam engine changed darn near everything
Information technology and digital communication are about to take off exponentially, just like in the Industrial Revolution when the steam engine changed darn near everything, say the authors, without anything approaching convincing proof. On the one hand, the book says great wealth will be created in the process of information technology and digital communication taking off exponentially (true). But on the other hand, it says that big winners in this new era will be consumers. This is silly—we all know whose pockets all this wealth will end up stuffing. Consumers? Not so much! The big winners will be the same elite the game is rigged to enrich. These two Pollyannas really really really need to read Chomsky's masterpiece: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. Predicting great things for consumers is very encouraging—thanks for that, fellas—but it is also very misleading.
If information technology and digital communication take off exponentially, we all know whose pockets all the wealth so created will end up stuffing
"In the first machine age — the age of Kodak — productivity, employment and median income all rose in tandem. In the second, the growth in productivity has essentially been decoupled from jobs and income. And this divergence has its roots not in labor law or tax codes, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, but in the very nature of the digital economy, in which a set of goods and services can be provided to an infinite number of additional customers, all at the same time, at a cost that is often close to zero." Kodak employed 145,000 at its peak but Instagram employs 4,600. So higher unemployment and rising inequality in the digital age are not a good illustration of their point that 'the big winners in this new era will be consumers,' but they do exemplify 'spread,' in which technology is a major driver of increased inequality. A.k.a. 'winner take all' labor markets. There will be greater demand for high-level programmers and special-needs teachers so it is up to workers to either acquire sophisticated tech skills or get into jobs that are unappealing to most, like special-needs teaching. Adapt or perish. (Source: Review: ‘The Second Machine Age,’ by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Steven Pearlstein)
"There are few corporate blunders as staggering as Kodak’s missed opportunities in digital photography, a technology that it invented. This strategic failure was the direct cause of Kodak’s decades-long decline as digital photography destroyed its film-based business model. In 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection." [The digital revolution moves swiftly; evolve or die; adapt or perish—insanely, they opted for the latter.]—Chunka Mui for Forbes
There are few corporate blunders as staggering as Kodak’s missed opportunities in digital photography; few businesses ever shot themselves in the foot as badly as Kodak did
The most reasonable explanation for Kodak’s staggering missed opportunities in digital photography
"Political economy considerations, in which powerful people and corporations manipulate the rules of the economy to keep wages low and employment precarious, are not addressed. When the authors consider shifting taxes from payroll to pollution, they don’t consider that powerful corporations have been using their power over the political process very effectively to block any such changes." (Source: Review of “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies.”, Karl Widerquist, )
One of the biggest factors using its wealth to block any corporate responsibility for pollution was the Kochtopus (the Koch brothers).
What's the idea of noticing me? The Kochtopus is a sneaky covert superpowered network not to be examined in the light of day—we do NOT want citizens to see what's really going on! Got it?!!
One Koch Network to rule them all,
One Koch Network to find them,
One Koch Network to bring them all,
and in the darkness bind them,
In the Land of Ultra-Libertarianism where the Shadows lie.
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America shows how radical rightwing billionaires disempowered the majority in a soft coup. The book concludes that we have at most two or three years to prevent the completing of the stealth takeover of our democracy. The "Kochtopus" tentacles are sunk deep in every nook of American democracy. The author connects the dots and follows the money to show who's behind the subversion of democracy for the benefit of the billionaire class. She follows the money and traces its history back to the start of libertarianism.
The Economist says that households will spend less on groceries, utilities, but the income gap will worsen. The authors may not have the solution to growing inequality, but their book marks one of the most effective explanations yet for the origins of the gap between the winners and losers in the Information Age. We agree that the authors explanations are well thought out and comprehensive, but in failing to account for the bigger picture about power and wealth—like Chomsky does brilliantly, or warn us about the death of democracy at the hands of the radical right Kochtopus network of greedy oligarchs, or warn us about the extreme downside of tech evolution—as Barrat does terrifyingly, the book can be seen as an incomplete picture of the future that needs completion.
The game is rigged—purposely—to not just keep the rich rich but to keep the nonrich nonrich, and the authors' advice to get the correct education and training to work with machines rather than against them is about the best advice you'll read or hear. This is a good book but it overlooks all the reasons why, rather than the optimistic future they predict, the future has been sabotaged by AI evolution plans, and democracy has been sabotaged by greedy billionaires, and keeping a good thought and a happy face is merely another way of putting one's head in the sand.
The future has been sabotaged and keeping a good thought and a happy face is merely another way of putting one's head in the sand