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Race Against the Machine: How the Digital…
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Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating… (edition 2012)

by Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee

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Title:Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy
Authors:Erik Brynjolfsson
Other authors:Andrew McAfee
Info:Digital Frontier Press (2012), Paperback, 98 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson

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Regardless of how job growth numbers are calculated, presented and projected, Brynjolfsson and McAfee show why jobs in the United States are necessarily outpaced by population growth of those of the working demographic. The authors make some useful recommendations for improving productive employment numbers in the United States overall, and for improving the link between post-secondary education and employment. The authors' useful recommendations do not cover the effects of a large aging and chronic disease-ridden population on any improvements in labour productivity rates. They also cannot speak to the quality of living achieved in any place with a reasonable cost of living while attempting to remain in the United States while their recommendations are theoretical put in place by benevolent people. What does one subsist on while economic growth and household income are reunited with gainful employment after useful education, all the while hoping that you are one of the useful ones in an economy where you need to stay ahead of technology-driven productive gains? The authors have a specific thesis to communicate, but a logical personal conclusion upon finishing this book should be to leave the United States to work someplace else. Anywhere you are going to be able to use your current education and knowledge to great advantage, a decent quality of life (if not better than anything you could have had in America), and a chance to mature, stay sharp and accumulate resources so that you can perhaps return, one day, to an America ready for you. ( )
  BJasmine | Feb 11, 2014 |
This is a fairly short book (with a really long title) that explores technology’s effect on our economy and employment. The basic premise is that computers and related technology are accelerating at a rapidly increasing pace which is straining our economy and the employment picture. The authors show how technology is changing the balance between superstars and average people, high-skill and low-skill labor, and capital and labor. Taking the superstar balance, in the 1800s, the best singer in the world would be hard pressed to sing before more than a very small fraction of the people in the world. That inability to be heard by most people left room for lots of local singers who made decent livings. Now, practically everyone in the world has heard the music of the pop stars of the day and most singers cannot make a living singing. Generally, the book is very thought provoking and at least somewhat depressing. The book’s premise fits it with an observation I had—unions and others fought automation and robots in manufacturing. So, jobs moved to low-cost geographies. Now, manufacturing jobs are returning, but they are heavily automated. Basically, the automation originally planned is now being welcomed because the jobs are already gone. This book gives a lot of data that helps explain that. The authors provide a tons of information, but I don’t have the necessary background to know what the other side of the story is. I recommend this book to anyone interested in economics and the future of employment in America and around the world. It is very thought provoking. ( )
  wbc3 | Aug 17, 2013 |
Modern capitalist economies are facing a seemingly insurmountable paradox. By using information and automation technologies, we have increased the efficiencies and scales of our businesses and industries tremendously, but at the same time our income levels and unemployment rates are diminishing while negative externalities are eroding our environment and our social structures. What gives? If nothing is done to change things, we can extrapolate these trends towards a future where income inequality, unemployment, environmental degradation, and social strife are exacerbated to unsustainable levels. In essence, we find ourselves in an unwinnable race against the machines. What is the solution? Well, to reiterate a popular phrase, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" The authors explain how the only way to move forward successfully is to change our organizational structures in such a way that enables productivity to be amplified by technology, not replaced by it. They note that Moore's law is an exponential curve that seems unstoppable, but there is another growth curve that increases even more quickly, the curve of combinatorial explosion. By continually retraining and increasing our skilled work force through just in time education and opening up our organizations so that we mix and match knowledge, humans can exploit this combinatorial explosion to outpace the exponential trends of accelerating technologies. This is inline with the economic theory of endogenous growth, where the bulk of our wealth increases through innovation and invention as opposed to simply trading and globalization.

Towards the end of the book, they offer 19 specific suggestions that I mostly agree with:

1.) Pay teachers more.
2.) Eliminate tenure and hold teachers accountable for student performance.
3.) Separate instruction from testing/certification.
4.) Keep K-12 students in classrooms longer.
5.) Expand H-1B Visa program and offer green cards to graduates of advanced degrees.
6.) Teach entrepreneurship as a skill.
7.) Offer founders Visas for entrepreneurs.
8.) Create databases and templates of 'best practices' for systematic 'turn-key' startups.
9.) Reduce government regulations that hinder business creation.
10.) Invest and upgrade our country's communication and transportation infrastructure.
11.) Increase funding for basic science research and R&D.
12.) Reduce regulations on labor laws.
13.) Decrease payroll taxes and provide subsidies for hiring long-term unemployed workers.
14.) Decouple health care and other benefits from employment status.
15.) Don't regulate new innovative industries too soon.
16.) Reduce or eliminate home mortgage subsidies.
17.) Reduce the implicit and explicit subsidies to the financial sector.
18.) Reform the patent system.
19.) Shorten copyright terms and increase the flexibility of fair use.

These changes are just the beginnings of a shift we need to make, but they will get us moving in the right direction. ( )
  haig51 | Apr 8, 2013 |
As the prior reviewer said, this is a good and up to date explanation of how technological change is threatening employment, particularly employment in high wage countries. It doesn't, unfortunately, offer much in the way of solutions, other than "get educated". Note on the thesis -- in the third quarter, US productivity was up by more than 2% year/year, an unusually strong performance in a recession. And US employment was stagnant. And real wages were falling. And corporate profits were near an all-time high relative to GDP. So, who's winning the productivity war?? ( )
  annbury | Dec 31, 2011 |
This is an OK book in the sense that it explains quite clearly and with some good, up-to-date, examples why most people's current jobs are in danger of being replaced by various forms of automation. This is clearly a very important issue that most people (especially those whose jobs are about to disappear) have not sufficently brought into focus. Unfortunately, beyond that the book does not provide any great depth of analysis nor any particularly novel or compelling recommendations for the future. ( )
  stefano | Oct 31, 2011 |
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Examines how information technologies are affecting jobs, skills, wages, and the economy. As one of the most important forces in the economy today, digital technologies are transforming the world of work and are key drivers of productivity and growth.… (more)

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