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Brynjolfsson, McAfee Bring 2MA Ideas to London Event

April 15, 2015

The April 10 MIT IDE event in London was brimming with ideas and multimedia discussions based on the topic of The Second Machine Age, the book written by IDE co-founders Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

An online crowd-chat with Andy drew comments and questions from participants around the globe. For example, he noted that “When cars start driving themselves and computers become Jeopardy! champs, we’re in a new phase…” However, in another post he said: “I certainly don’t think the humanities have lost their value in 2MA.” In fact, he added, there are “Things that computers aren’t good at: empathy, negotiation, physical skills, problem solving, persuasion…”

See the full transcript here to catch up on what you missed during the #MITIDE chat.

Later in the day, Brynjolfsson and McAfee expanded on the premise of the book in an interview with SiliconAngle host Dave Vellante.

Among the key takeaways from that discussion:

On automation and jobs:

  • Technology is always destroying but also creating jobs. Agriculture fell in the first industrial revolution, but new industries were created that re-deployed labor. Same is true now though we can ask: Are we doing it fast enough? Median income is actually falling though the overall pie is growing. This is concerning, but we can’t stop innovation.
  • It’s easier than ever to become an Internet ‘superstar’ by developing an app, but these aren’t the only types of skills that will be needed. Millions of jobs that require human empathy, nurturing and interpersonal skills will be necessary as well.
  • Combinatorial jobs—those in which humans and machines collaborate and work together—may make the best use of technology in the future. That’s true of chess champions as well as medical diagnostic teams.

On new business models and constraints on automation

  • Recombining existing components and offering them for free, such as the Waze GPS-based traffic application, is a really important model going forward. There is so much technology available at zero cost, but that doesn’t mean it has zero value…we need new metrics to demonstrate this shift.  We also know that disrupters keep coming into the marketplace to challenge the incumbents—and that makes them very nervous.
  • The biggest constraints are not technological, they are organizational and cultural; those are slow to adapt and are causing a bottleneck. Access to technology is banishing as is capital to spur innovation. Businesses or individuals can start small and ramp up. What needs to change are mindsets, institutions and the regulatory environment.

Additional coverage from the IDE event can be found here.