Friday, November 13, 2015

Second Machine Age Highlights

Sharing a few highlights from The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power—the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments—what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power

We’re heading into an era that won’t just be different; it will be better, because we’ll be able to increase both the variety and the volume of our consumption. When we phrase it that way—in the dry vocabulary of economics—it almost sounds unappealing. Who wants to consume more and more all the time? But we don’t just consume calories and gasoline. We also consume information from books and friends, entertainment from superstars and amateurs, expertise from teachers and doctors, and countless other things that are not made of atoms.

Progress on some of the oldest and toughest challenges associated with computers, robots, and other digital gear was gradual for a long time. Then in the past few years it became sudden; digital gear started racing ahead, accomplishing tasks it had always been lousy at and displaying skills it was not supposed to acquire anytime soon.

As Moore’s Law works over time on processors, memory, sensors, and many other elements of computer hardware (a notable exception is batteries, which haven’t improved their performance at an exponential rate because they’re essentially chemical devices, not digital ones), it does more than just make computing devices faster, cheaper, smaller, and lighter. It also allows them to do things that previously seemed out of reach.

The old business saying is that “time is money,” but what’s amazing about the modern Internet is how many people are willing to devote their time to producing online content without seeking any money in return

Another school of thought, though, holds that the true work of innovation is not coming up with something big and new, but instead recombining things that already exist. And the more closely we look at how major steps forward in our knowledge and ability to accomplish things have actually occurred, the more this recombinant view makes sense.

Perhaps the most important ideas of all are meta-ideas—ideas about how to support the production and transmission of other ideas.

The theory of recombinant innovation stresses how important it is to have more eyeballs looking at challenges and more brains thinking about how existing building blocks can be rearranged to meet them

Advances in technology, especially digital technologies, are driving an unprecedented reallocation of wealth and income. Digital technologies can replicate valuable ideas, insights, and innovations at very low cost. This creates bounty for society and wealth for innovators, but diminishes the demand for previously important types of labor, which can leave many people with reduced incomes