The Second Machine Age

  • by Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee
  • Narrated by Jeff Cummings
  • 8 hrs and 49 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Audie Award, Judges' Award: Science & Technology, 2015
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 audiobook, The Second Machine Age will alter how we think about issues.

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Customer Reviews

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Upbeat but Limited Survey of Exponential Change

This is an upbeat survey of a technical and very rapidly changing field. The field is changing so rapidly some of the technical information in this book was obsolete before it got published. For example there is a section on the Waze GPS mapping system. This was purchased by Google and integrated into Google Maps way back in 2013. As a survey, it provides mostly news stories (computer wins Jeopardy, etc.) and some related statistics, but very little deep thinking or analysis.

I much preferred The Singularity is Near (which is weird, but thought-provoking) and Race Against the Machine (which is very much like this book, but clearer).

The authors make a number of policy recommendations all of which seem amazingly short sighted, liberally biased, and basically ignore the authors' own primary hypothesis of an exponential inflection point in technology growth.

The authors refer to the world being at an exponential inflection point of technical change (that is, the near future is about to be significantly different than the recent past would predict) yet the authors repeatedly indicate while discussing their recommendation, we are not yet on the brink of significant change, pointing out that change in the recent past has not been all that fast. So which is it?

The authors seem largely to focus on mitigating "spread". Spread is the authors' code-word for income/wealth inequality. Interestingly, the book seems to me to have a strong liberal bias, yet it has been edited carefully so this bias is well cloaked from a casual reader.

The Authors' make a bunch of policy recommendations:

Education
Use technology in education
MOOCs in particular
Higher teacher salaries
Increase teacher accountability
Increase hours spent in education

Encourage Entrepreneurship & Start-ups
Reduce regulation
Upgrade Infrastructure
Government support of new technologies with Programs & Prizes
Use technology to match workers to Start-ups, including foreign workers
Tax incentives for start-ups

Raise Taxes
Raise taxes on the rich and famous
Increase maximum tax rate
Increase non-worker tied corporate taxes including VAT
Increase Pigovian Taxes (taxes on pollution)
Traffic Congestion Pricing

Increase Social Support
Guaranteed Basic Income Cash or vouchers or Negative Income Tax
Government run mutual fund paying citizens
Encourage technologies which augment, rather than substitute for, human ability
Implement Made-By-Humans advertising

These policy recommendations seem largely unrelated to the technical revolution and include a lot of government control and wealth redistribution. I am somewhat dubious these are great ideas particularly if government uses the new technologies to enhance its already substantial power.

So many important questions are totally ignored by this book. Is the developed world approaching stuff saturation? If so, how will a new service and entertainment economy work? Will humans be enhanced by technology? Will there be an enhancement backlash? Will nano-technology (or AI, or some other technology) go dangerously wrong? Should we be addressing such risk now? Such questions are raised in other books like The Singularity is Near.

The narration was OK but not superb.
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- Michael "I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read."

Good for the periphery

Well organized, thoughtfully written, but if you're reading in the space, absolutely no new information. This is a book I'll recommend to readers who aren't already reading blogs and books covering similar topics. I did like the presentation as hopeful without being fervent.
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- Chris Lunt

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-20-2014
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio