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What to Read: The Second Machine Age, a Review by Monika Nerger

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June 01, 2014
What to Read
Monika Nerger

What's On the Bookshelf
Over the years, we’ve had numerous conversations with industry leaders and often one of the topics that we discuss is the latest book read. We thought it would be fun to share some of these booklover conversations with our readers. Here are what our industry leaders are reading.

The Second Machine Age, By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
[Review by Monika Nerger, Global CIO, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group]
If you are a fan of Ray Kurzweil, Isaac Asimov or William Gibson, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies will confirm everything you have read that robots will replace the drudgery of human labor, and that artificial intelligence combined with the digitization of everything will provide exponential progress for humanity. 

According to the authors, two MIT professors with a cautiously optimistic view of the future, the invention of the steam engine was the defining moment which led to the entire Industrial Revolution – an era in which humans overcame the limitations of muscle power.  The steam engine substantially improved productivity in manufacturing, subsequently spreading to innovation in transportation – most notably the steam engine and the steam ship, which changed the way the world was connected.

Now comes the second Machine Age, in which a number of significant advances in technology will again bring us to an inflection point of tremendous change and opportunity vis-a-vis the way we live and experience the world.  The authors define a number of simultaneous advances – Moore’s Law, the connectivity of people and things, and the notion of “recombinant ideas” in which previous discoveries in technology can be reused and combined to create further innovation – which are expediting technology in unimaginable ways. From Google’s Chauffeur Program (driverless cars) to Baxter the Robot, technologies which were predicted to be impossible for decades or more have become reality in a short period of time.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee caution that whilst these rapid developments in technology will usher in a new period of well-being for society, not everyone will benefit equally. They offer thoughts on how to mitigate this increasing divide, from reforms in education to encouraging entrepreneurship. They further identify the risks associated with an increasingly connected world and present a sobering perspective on the potential dangers. Despite these caveats, they conclude with a relatively positive view of what lies ahead.

This is not just a book for science fiction buffs. This is a book about technology as it is evolving – the Internet of Things, Big Data, 3-D printing, robots and more – and the exponential transformation we are about to experience. For any technologist, I suggest putting this on your must-read list.

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