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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 and Andrew McAfee. This book should be read by everyone who intends to be employed at some time in the next fifty years.

Over the last ten years only those Americans who were at the top economically did well and those who were at the very top did extremely well. However, those at the median income levels had zero growth and the future for many of those same people over the remainder of their working lives looks bleak, even poor. However, there is hope for some of those people, and it will be those who get into the right jobs and stay current and even ahead of the technological trends who will do very well. The beauty and the beast in this process is computer technology which is creating new opportunities and new jobs but simultaneously it’s destroying many, perhaps most old ones.

Those jobs which are considered low tech, but which require the physical presence of humans and basic manual skills are the ones which are most secure. It is called Moravec’s paradox, and “gardeners, receptionists, and cooks are secure in their jobs for decades to come”, but I’m not so sure about receptionists and cooks. Jobs which require precise thinking that follows systematized but complex procedures, such as accounting and airline pilots, are at risk of being displaced by computers. Even medical diagnostics of disease, which requires considerable subtle thought, may soon be largely taken over by computer programs. Consider the fact that an IBM computer program called Watson was able to beat the most successful contestants on the TV show Jeopardy. If computers can amass the vast quantities of data and mash that into better answers than the best people, then computer programs will soon beat out medical doctors. Perhaps they already can, but as soon as computers become a thousand times more powerful, there will be no contest. This will be especially true when DNA analysis of the individual patient is blended into the diagnosis.

What will be happening in many occupations will be the combining of human skill with a powerful computer using a sophisticated program dedicated to the particular problem and that combined with linked-in online access to even vaster resources. The new strategy is not to compete against the machines but to compete with other people using the machines more effectively. When stated that way it is obvious that we humans have been following that procedure for a long time with our previous technological innovations. What makes sense is to be the very best in the world at some very specific thing which can be monetized and sold on the internet.

The power of computer based technology is still doubling rapidly, but the unacknowledged fact is that the base is now enormously bigger than it was a few years ago. The doubling of a technology which is already having such profound effects, and doubling again, means that the near future that computer-internet technology will have much greater impact in the next few years than it has had in the past ones. Just imagine a few more doublings of what we have now and you have a sixteen times greater impact than we presently see. WOW!! It is already so enormous, in effect — what can that new world possibly be like in eight years? With just a little luck we will live to see it because it isn’t very far away.

Don’t race against the machines. Race using the machines.

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