The real book is a virtual book | Race against the machine

Earlier this year we discussed professor’s Tayler Cowen’s book The Great Stagnation. He claims that the innovation in our day and age is less impressive than it seems, compared to the automobile, electricity etc. You could walk around in a house of the year 1953 and find that it is not that fundamentally different from what we are used to now  (at least not in the affluent West). Of course the internet is the big innovation of our time, but then again it does not generate the profits, revenues and employment like the emergent mass production of automobiles did.

Now I’ve been reading Race against the machine, an ebook by the MIT-researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. They seem to have a different vision:

We’re entering unknown territory in the quest to reduce labor costs. The AI revolution is doing to white collar jobs what robotics did to blue collar jobs. Race Against the Machine is a bold effort to make sense of the future of work. No one else is doing serious thinking about a force that will lead to a restructuring of the economy that is more profound and far-reaching than the transition from the agricultural to the industrial age.

However, I think that Cowen as well as the MIT-experts are all worried about jobs and are all advocating more science, research and clever innovation. As Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain, the digital development is exponential, meaning that what at first seems like a relatively slow start evolves to a more impressive pace and ends up leaving us all behind, in shock. So yes, maybe what we’ve seen as to now is just rather impressive but not completely disruptive, but the self-driving Google-car and the IBM-computer Watson (winner of Jeopardy!) point into the direction of such a disruptive change.

Here is a must-see video, featuring Erik Brynjolfsson, presenting a sheet depicting the book cover, but telling the audience that the real book is a virtual book.

Race Against the Machine from Compass Summit on


And here is Tyler Cowen, giving his take on these questions:


Here are a number of bookmarks I’m curating via Pearltrees, about the deep structural changes in technology and the economy:
deep change in tech and economy in Roland Legrand (bearbull)
So, in which vision do you believe? The idea that innovation is slowing down, or on the contrary, that it’s accelerating and creating very challenging issues for education, the labor market, politics, the economy?

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One Response to The real book is a virtual book | Race against the machine

  1. Guillermo Cerceau says:

    Great post! Thank you for this excellent material.
    However, after watching “The race against the machine”, I could not avoid thinking in the dramatic contrast between the high quality and insightful research shown in the presentation and the lack of imagination of the conclusions. Doesn’t the disparity between the creation of wealth, greater than ever before, and the stagnation of workers income point to a very unfair society? If we can imagine (and build) machines that can substitute highly skilled workers, how come that we cannot even think of changing the rules of the game based on private property, market economy and the social division of labor (that is, Capitalism)? Is social imagination so far behind technical imagination?

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