The Longform Guide to Optimism in the Second Machine Age
This guide is sponsored by The Second Machine Age, the New York Times bestseller by MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.
The Second Machine Age is a book about how the technological revolution is reinventing our lives and our economy. But unlike so many writing about tech, Brynjolfsson and McAfee, two thinkers at the forefront of their field, are hopeful for our technological future. And they've come up with roadmap for how to navigate it.
Buy a copy today. And while you wait for it to arrive, check out this collection of great, optimistic articles about tech, curated by Brynjolfsson and McAfee, that helped inspire their book:
Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren
Way before Ray Kurzweil, Keynes showed us what happens as exponential growth accumulates over time. His projections about how big the economy would become after decades of compounded growth sounded like lunacy to readers during the Great Depression but were amazingly accurate, as was his prediction that humanity would move past its “struggle for subsistence” within a century. At the same time, he overestimated how quickly the work week would get shorter – most of us are working a lot more hours than he envisioned.
Voice of America: Overhearing the Internet
This description of what Usenet is and how it works, written shortly before the Web exploded into the mainstream, got important things right: the net’s great variety and utility, its unruliness, and the overall spirit of helpfulness and sharing that persists more than two decades later.
Economist Julian Simon is an intellectual hero of ours. Throughout his underappreciated career he made the case that things were getting better instead of worse, backed up his arguments with masses of data, and won wagers against prominent Malthusians. This piece is a great introduction to his thinking, and gives him some of the recognition he’s due.
What Is IBM's Watson?
Before the Watson supercomputer trounced the two best human Jeopardy! players early in 2011, this article revealed its uncanny ability to mine vast amounts of text in search of answers to tough questions, and to navigate the punning and other wordplay that the quiz show throws at its contestants. This is one of the articles that made us say to each other “Something’s different now…”
The Chess Master and the Computer
Kasparov, a powerful writer, explains how computers came to dominate humans at chess and why this is not cause for alarm that they’ll soon be able to do everything better than we do. Chess has long been an exemplar of human intelligence, and increasingly a metaphor for how humans and machines may co-exist.
The Second Economy
The digital economy is not just different, too often it’s invisible. Brian Arthur brings it to life with a description of all the ways it increasingly surrounds us. As “software eats the world”, to use Marc Andreessen’s evocative phrase, we’ll all need to get more and more familiar with this other economy.
Captures the palpable energy coming from San Francisco’s young technology entrepreneurs, who by perceiving no barriers are knocking a lot of them down. We share Heller’s sense that things are happening more quickly there than just about anyplace else.
23 Charts to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving
For the data lovers among us, here’s a slew of encouraging trends from falling poverty and crime, to rising life expectancy, literacy and computer power. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the positive numbers feed our optimism.