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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 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 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 July 2014
This little monograph / pamphlet / ebook does not start in a very promising way. It lists a bunch of ways computers have “raced” ahead of us humans: they now beat us in chess, they beat is in Jeopardy, they can translate documents, they fly our planes, they can do a passable job of driving a car. Moreover, the authors argue, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The machines are only getting started. Moore’s law, which states that computers will get twice as fast every (fill in the blank with a number between 12 and 18) months means that, now they have caught up with us, they are about to leave us in their dust.

A very tired analogy is made with the guy who won from the king a grain of rice/wheat/cereal of his choice for the first square in the chessboard, 2 for the second, 4 for the third etc. Apparently, while you are still in the first half of the chessboard the amount he won was large but still deliverable, but get to the second part of the chessboard and then the exponential growth that was going unnoticed up to 2^32 really kicks in. So watch out everyone. Computers can already beat us in chess, but they are about to start beating us in… yeah, no idea. Call me when they can play beer pong.

At that point I was thinking to myself “good thing this is just 76 pages.” Computers have always beaten me in chess, I never considered myself in any type of race. And I read somewhere that we’re actually approaching the physical limits of how small we can make the parts, i.e. how fast they can compute. So, as far as I’m concerned, the main point here is not just horribly corny, it’s both irrelevant to me and perhaps about to stop being true. Maybe the chessboard stops at 35. How do these guys know? Honestly.

But I persevered with the book and I was handsomely rewarded.

The authors make a very brave call. This book being so short they don’t go into terribly much detail, but the story here goes as follows: forget what you read about the mortgage debacle, the debt crisis, the freezing of credit flow, Lehman, Goldman and AIG, forget about insufficient demand, the need for government to stimulate, forget about business uncertainty, healthcare costs, labor market hysteresis, the Euro straightjacket, Chinese oversupply, the global glut of savings, forget it all. All that’s happened to our economy is in 1982 IBM launched a thing called the personal computer.

In year 1800 largely all Americans worked in agriculture but the gasoline-powered tractor and phosphate-based fertilizers were introduced a hundred years ago, freeing the hands of 98% of Americans to do other things. This did not come for free. An entire generation of people was lost, namely people who brought agriculture skills to the 1930’s. They were surplus to requirements and they suffered the Great Depression, dragging everybody else with them, since they could not afford the goods and services everybody else provided. The next generation, their children (also known as the baby boomers) did A-OK and now run the world, pretty much.

Similarly, in year 1980 all Americans outside of NASA worked in a computer-free job environment. With pretty much exactly the same time lag, those who don’t know how to run with the computer are now living the Great Recession. Those who do are the infamous 1%.

I so buy it, I’m next going to read the authors’ sequel.

And in the interest of not writing a review that’s longer than the book I’ll leave the rest of the story alone. Let me just mention that there’s a cheerful prediction (there will be a massive need for people to shepherd the machine) as well as a set of 19 not terribly well developed recommendations (#1 is Education, yawn) to complement the inevitable dire predictions for the future of those (like anybody involved in scribbling on a blackboard, for example) who don’t yet run with the machine.

The authors are terribly apologetic about their main idea and they insist that it was not what they set out to write about. I think it's genius.
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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 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 18 January 2012
This is an excellent contribution to the current post-crash debate, I concur with some of the reviews that it is short and lacks depth when addressing the AI issues and future of computing. Hence 4 stars. However, it remains a readable and useful pointer to the key issues that society has yet to deal with or acknowledge. That is its value.

My own text on the issue of Social Cohesion addresses the question from a stance of society and trust.
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on 25 March 2015
Fantastic read for everyone but especially if you are concerned about why there are NO BLOODY JOBS. Education has not moved in line with technology and technology is racing ahead every day. Unless our governments - who have a Duty of Care to everybody, not just those in employment - step forward and embrace technology and bring about education reform then they are not doing their job.
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on 24 January 2015
No Futurist gets everything right and this is written from inside the academic bubble. But there are some powerful insights here and useful data. Essential reading as you work out the path from building businesses by adding people to building a better future for everyone by adding technology.
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