Book Review- The Second Machine Age

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 2014

second machine age

The abilities of machine learning/artificial intelligence have improved greatly lately. You can expect the abilities of computers to continue to grow exponentially. This book calls the economic upheaval caused by computers “The Second Machine Age”, with the first machine age being the physical abilities of machines in industry and on assembly lines. Just as the first machine age displaced the jobs of many manual workers, you can expect the second machine age to displace the jobs of many intellectual workers. Are the computers/robots coming for your job? Maybe not immediately, but probably eventually.

I’m fascinated by what is going to happen when a significant portion of the population (the proportion that does not play well with technology) is totally unemployable. Their skills, if any, are unneeded because computers/robots have automated away their job. Is this portion already at 5%? What if it hits 40% due to automation of more jobs? A huge amount of people are employed as drivers of some sort. Self-driving cars are probably 5-20 years away. Who’s going to pay for a driver when self-driving cars/trucks/taxis are cheaper and safer? And that’s just one technology. What if 90% of people are eventually not employed and all money goes to 10%? Vast inequality should be planned for. Will we institute a minimum income for everyone? Will we vastly expand social programs? What happens?

I listened to this book on CD. I thought it was pretty interesting, though it does start slow. The links below are related and supplementary.

Relevant other books/links:
The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen
Average is Over by Tyler Cowen
Video: Humans Need Not Apply by C.P.G. Grey

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