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on 30 August 2017
Really interesting and informative.
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on 12 April 2013
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee are right to choose the `end of work' explanation of the current economic crisis. It is clear a priori that increased productivity will reduce employment for the same GDP output. This has the further effect of reducing effective demand in the economy. In a thought experiment of a totally automated economy, where a machine could simply be plugged into the earth and generate the total output GDP, there would be no wages and no demand. Distribution of GDP would have to be by government voucher. So ultimately the only solution is a universal credit or a citizen's income. Money becomes clearly virtual in this model - the vouchers are simply printed and destroyed. They do not have to be added as government debt. The only rule is that they must be linked to the output GDP they are distributing. These are important paradigms for policy in the current crisis.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee don't look at these implications or remedies. Instead they advocate that more people become high technology employees and entrepreneurs. But this doesn't address the problem if automation will then render further employment redundant. Unless the result of their prescriptions is taken as infinite levels of GDP?

Geoff Crocker
Author `A Managerial Philosophy of Technology : Technology and Humanity in Symbiosis' Palgrave Macmillan 2012
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on 10 January 2012
A relatively brief treatment, but then the price reflects this. The authors present some interesting data on labour trends, though it is all drawn from the USA and the book's focus is very much on the US economy.

To me, the big potential flaw in their thinking is that they infer linear or even exponential improvements in machine intelligence. Arguing, for example, that because computers can now do simple pattern recognition or win at Jepoardy, then the ability to solve more complex tasks is just around the corner. In many respects this book could have come out fo the late 1980's when Artificial Intelligence was booming and similar claims were made about chess-playing and robotics. In reality it has taken far longer than expected to produce robust, practical solutions. Natural Language recognition stands out as one of the few technologies that has made consumer-visible headway. Robots still struggle to vacuum a carpet reliably.

I bought the book because I though McAfee's Enterprise 2.0 thinking was interesting, but here I feel he's over-reached and the content is less thought-through. That's not to say that the book is bad, but I had hoped for much original insight.
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on 8 November 2012
The analysis of the problems are very good and are convincing. The idea that the economy will become dominated by many varied highly specialised micro multi nationals is interesting and is supported by a reasonable argument. However, the book gives a list of suggested remedies that read like those a mediocre CEO might come up with. I think that if the first half of the book is right then much bolder prescriptions are called for. I gave the book four stars as I think it makes some unique points and no analysis I've read on this topic has done much better on the solutions side
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on 5 October 2012
They give a good analysis of where we are headed with the technology and I like the fact that they are not negitive about that.

Their prescription for the furture is, unfortunately, same as it ever was with knobs on. If we all were a bit smarter and worked a bit harder then it will be fine.

The "free" market is not delivering the products of increased productivity to the majority of the population so it is therefore *failing*. The authors fail to make an adequate case for how more of the same will change that situation. Money will still flow to the 'superstars' in the top 1%.

It would be nice if two academics in this field could suggest some innovative solutions rather than repeating the same economic dogma of the last few years.
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on 25 October 2011
In "Race Against the Machine", economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee ask the question: Could technology be destroying jobs? They then expand on that to explore whether advancing information technology might be an important contributor to the current unemployment disaster. The authors argue very convincingly that the answer to both questions is YES.

The book is very readable and includes lots of links to supporting evidence (both statistical and anecdotal). The authors do a good job of focusing on how computer technology is accelerating exponentially and how computers are a "general purpose technology", in other words, a special technology that can affect just about anything else and have much bigger impact than more narrowly focused innovations.

I thought a really good example involved automated driving. In 2005, two other economists suggested that it would be "hard to imagine" computers ever being able to handle driving in traffic. Yet, just 6 years later, Google introduced automated cars that did exactly that. The point is that progress in information technology is very likely to exceed our expectations and surprise us in the coming years.

While the problems are laid out clearly, I think the solutions offered are pretty conventional. The authors' call for reforming and upgrading schools, for example, is something that just about everyone can agree on. However, even if we managed to do that (and we are not making much progress), those kids would not enter the workforce for many years, and who knows what technology will be capable of by then?

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 (which the authors cite in "Race Against the Machine"). "The Lights in the Tunnel" 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. Everyone should really read both of these books. I think the issue of technology and how it will affect the job market and the livelihoods of millions of people is going to be a truly huge issue in the coming years. Our kids will live in a completely new world, and it might demand a completely new way of thinking.
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on 31 May 2013
This book is looking at how automation is impacting employment, the make-up of the workforce and potential impact of society. While many fret about the demise of the high street, more high status, white collar jobs ranging from engineers, to lawyers and pharmacists are the next ones that will be replaced by robots. This can sound scary but it opens up also incredible opportunities. "Race against the machine" describes the options. It is packed with knowledge, yet very accessible and surprisingly short for such a book. I think everybody should read this book to be better prepared and to enter the future with their eyes wide open.
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on 24 December 2011
My feelings about this book are very mixed. I felt that the first sections, in which the authors describe the problems of increasing 'technological unemployment', to be well argued and persuasive. Although I had heard some of these arguments before (notably in Martin Ford's "The Lights in the Tunnel"), many of the graphs and supporting statistics were new to me, and overall I found the writing to be engaging and interesting.

But once I reached the section on 'prescriptions', the book deteriorated rapidly. The solutions presented by the authors boil down to two basic ideas: (1) provide more effective education, and (2) encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. The authors envision a future in which highly skilled human labour works alongside machines in partnership - each group complementing the other perfectly.

But I think this fundamentally misses the point. Machines already exceed our speed and dexterity, and are starting to match us in pattern recognition (an example that the authors use) and other relatively narrow domains. But what happens when they begin to emulate our intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, and all those others qualities that we think of as uniquely human ? As neuroscience advances, it's inevitable that these capabilities will be 'reverse-engineered' and emulated in software. And as the example of the self-driving car illustrates, this will likely happen far sooner than we anticipate. Even then, machines will not simply stop advancing when they reach human level. They'll simply leap ahead in greater and greater bounds. Even the most highly-educated and genetically gifted humans will be routinely outclassed in every sphere of activity. What then ?

If you're interested in these questions (and I truly think that finding an answer is one of the most important issues facing our society), then I strongly recommend Martin Ford's book. But I found this particular book quite a let-down, i'm afraid.
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on 13 June 2013
This book was recommended to me by one of my professors at the London School of Economics. Brynjolfsson and McAfee are leading researchers in there fields and this book highlights several important topics today, such as "Who benefits from technological innovation?" and "What effect does technology have on the labor market?". The book is well written and easy to read, however previous knowledge and interest in economics can help understand issues discussed in this book. Great read for anyone who wants to know how to adjust to the highly competitive job market today.
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on 20 October 2012
At first I felt this was going to be some polemic about how computers were going to steal everyone's job and we were going to be left in their wake with no jobs or income. Although in truth it was far more upbeat in nature and I was somewhat convinced by it and the fact that we should not fear a future of computers. I felt that it was much more constructive than mere doom-mongering newspaper articles I had read on the matter (which prompted me to read it in the first place) and at 70 pages quickly readable. Do give it a go I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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