The Second Machine Age – A Review – Part I

I’ve just started to read the book (physical one, paper, oh yes!) “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Although I’ve only made it to page 25 so far, the book has already been quite enlightening to me. Basically, the book is about the impact of technology to economy and all our lives. Brynjolfsson and McAfee summarize the development of technology and its impact to humanity, from ancient times until today. They document the relationship between technical innovation and its impact to overall “social development”, which is defined as “a groups ability to master it’s physical and intellectual environment to get things done”. Ultimately, and this is no surprise, this social development was quite slow or boring  throughout the milleniums. It got kick-started finally by the appearance of reliable steam engines and the resulting industrialization. Compared to the digital age we’re in now however, the roughly 150 years between the first steam engines and the year 2000 went by at quite a sluggish pace. Nowadays, technical evolution progresses with an amazing speed. As an example, the authors look back just 10 years, to a point in time they were convinced that machines would never be in the position to fully control a car without a human being driving it. They also wouldn’t have believed that machines would speak and listen to humans quite effectively. Would you have?

Well, with the the almost autonomous “Google Car” and Apple’s “Siri” technology, both unthinkable things have come true within just a couple of years.

Leaving the book now on page 25, taking a breath and thinking about what I know and see already regarding Big Data Analytics, Industry 4.0 Visions and as just another example Google’s aim to work on artificial intelligence with their DeepMind technology, –  I get a notion that really NOTHING is impossible and that the pace of progress will continue to accelerate.We may get dizzy along the way, though.

The authors call their book “a quite optimistic one”. Probably it’s not going make Taxi-Drivers or Interpreters feel very optimistic about their jobs. Ultimately, the question, and this now my personal point of view, is going to be “What the hell will all the humans do when the whole world becomes more and more automated and machine-driven?” Where will we all work? Answers I’ve heard so far were like “We will have more time to do meaningful things instead of stupid day to day routine jobs”. But what if I like doing routine things with my own two hands? Let’s hope that the invention of the Digital-Blogger at least will still take some time.

The Second Machine Age, Erik Brynjolfsson /Andrew McAfee, ISBN 978-0-393-23935-5

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