“The Second Machine Age”

ILR examines digital technologies and world of work
Monday, February 22, 2016

In the twentieth century, computers were mechanical – fit for doing arithmetic and tabulating results.

Now, computers seem straight out of science fiction. Exhibiting skill sets long thought to be uniquely human, they are closing in on the human domains of ingenuity and creativity. Where do we go from here?

Onwards and upwards, according to Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT professor, and Andrew McAfee, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy.

Their best-selling “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies” is the basis of ILR’s book project, featuring a public debate and discussion Wednesday in Ives 305.

ILR students, staff, faculty and alums are invited to read the book and attend Wednesday’s events in person or via livestream.  

Members of the Cornell Speech and Debate Society will debate the topic “This House Welcomes the Second Machine Age” at 7:30 p.m.

Charlie Morris MILR ’16,  Neshay Aqueel MILR ’16 and Alex Klein ’18 will support the motion; Jennifer Kim ’16, Ben Leff A&S ’16 and En Ting Lee A&S ’17 will oppose the motion.

After the debate, ILR Professors George Boyer, Lee Dyer and Pamela Tolbert share perspectives on how technology will impact the world of work.  

Brynjolfsson and McAfee acknowledge that technology is likely to lead to economic disruption, leaving behind workers with ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities. Nevertheless, they remain hopeful about the benefits that digital innovation can bring.

According to their research, “We’ve seen not just vast increases in wealth but also, on the whole, more freedom, more social justice, less violence, and less harsh conditions for the least fortunate and greater opportunities for more and more people.”

To overcome the “thorny challenges” posed by the second machine age, Brynjolfsson and McAfee propose increasing teacher salaries and using technology to improve all levels of education, upgrading U.S. infrastructure, championing entrepreneurship and funding scientific research.