Provocative reading for futurists, investors, and inventors.



Science fiction? Your wallet is soaking in it, as this textbook-ish look at the “second machine age” tells us.

It’s a highly disrupted world out there, and we have plenty of indexes to show it. Shopping malls used to open all the time; in the last decade, more than 20 percent have closed. Two-thirds of millennials don’t have landline phones. The hotel business is down, and cab drivers are suffering, all thanks to “gig economy” innovations like Airbnb and Uber, both of which offer a line to MIT School of Management researchers McAfee and Brynjolfsson’s (The Second Machine Age, 2014) thesis that “platforms”—organizations without inventory and sometimes without much of an organization—are likely to be more competitive than brick-and-mortar companies in the future economy. Among the components of that economy, the technological will be dominant. Machine learning, AI, and robotics will have further disruptive effects, sometimes displacing humans, while the winning firms of the near-term future will leverage these shifts to “bring together minds and machines, products and platforms, and the core and the crowd very differently than most do today.” Among the facets of this different world are algorithmically driven “automatic decisions,” by which Amazon cross-recommends products to shoppers and airfare prices respond to the laws of supply and demand; in time, machines will be coming up with proposals and projects “that people can extend and improve.” In chapter-closing exercises, the authors invite readers to ponder how all this applies to them (“which do you think are generally more biased: algorithms or humans”). The authors appear less interested in sociology than finance and to favor profits over the attendant human costs. On that note, fans of Citizens United will be relieved to hear that the corporation will endure. “The leading companies of the second machine age may look very different from those of the industrial era,” write the authors, “but they will almost all be easily recognizable as companies.”

Provocative reading for futurists, investors, and inventors.

Pub Date: June 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-25429-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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