CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Two MIT Sloan School of Management experts are releasing a new book and launching an MIT Sloan initiative on the digital economy. Their goals are to better understand the changes brought by recent rapid progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and other digital domains, to shape understanding about technology’s benefits, and to advance the conversation about how these advances can create shared prosperity.
“If we step up to the challenge, technology could improve the state of humanity in ways that were unimaginable as recently as just a few years ago,” said MIT Sloan Prof. Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business. “But that future is not just going to unfold automatically. There are scenarios where we achieve great things and others where the outcomes are not so great. It’s on all of us to decide what the future will be.”
In The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (W. W. Norton & Company), their deeply researched book that is being released Jan. 20, Brynjolfsson and MIT Center for Digital Business Associate Director Andrew McAfee describe the exciting developments and vast opportunities created by the exponential growth of technology. They then suggest short-term and longer term policies aimed at maximizing the benefits while minimizing some of technology’s potentially negative impacts, such as downward pressure on jobs and wages. The potential “bounty” from technology is unprecedented in human history, they write, but “inequality and its consequences [could] impede technological progress, keeping us from enjoying all the potential benefits of the new machine age.”
“We are optimists but we are not utopians,” says McAfee. “The second machine age is profoundly good news but it comes with serious challenges. It was very important for us not to dismiss those concerns or to simply go along with the view that technology alone will take care of everything.”
In The Second Machine Age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee revisit some of the issues they raised in their acclaimed 2011 e-book, Race Against the Machine. The reaction to Race, which focused mainly on technology’s impacts on workers and economic growth, “was much more downbeat than we’d like,” says McAfee. “We got a lot of questions like, How do we turn off the robots? How can we be sure no one else loses their jobs? So we wanted to write an optimistic book that says there are serious challenges, but this could be biggest and best story for human kind since the Industrial Revolution.”
Even as they release their new book, Brynjolfsson and McAfee are testing some of their ideas and proposals through a new effort called the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE). Tapping into MIT Sloan’s deep faculty and other strengths in technology and innovation throughout the Institute, the IDE (http://mitsloan.mit.edu/ide/) seeks to address the impact of digital technology on businesses, the economy, and society. “Technologists are doing a great job, but many economists, executives, and policy makers still don’t fully appreciate how the world is changing,” says Brynjolfsson. “The IDE aims to address that gap by studying the new institutions and new organizations that can work in a world of massively more powerful technology.”
Brynjolfsson sees parallels in industry’s response to the call to develop self-driving automobiles. “Technologists responded well to a very big challenge,” he says. “We now have an even greater challenge for policy makers and others to develop a society that advances as successfully and fully as the technology itself.”