The Second Machine Age

Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s new book provides a set of well documented observations regarding the nature of Moore’s Law, the growth in digitalisation and the relationship between technological innovation and economic development. For the designer who will have to operate in the 21st century world of "big data" and "bid developments" this text provides a handy introduction to the dynamics of the most disruptive period of change which the human race has ever faced.

Having said this, it is disappointing to note the many instances of unjustified technological positivism in the text, and the many passages where the author’s seem to contradict their own readings of the historical facts. For example, the author’s suggestion that computers are unlikely to become as good as humans in "ideation" and "creativity" seems unjustified in light of recent findings from neuroscience and from computer science. The position does not seem all that different from similar doubts about McCulloch-Pitts Neurons in the 1970s, which were rapidly overcome through the development of nonlinear neural networks. Given the authors’ continuously repeated claims regarding the ability of technological progress to overcome obstacles, it does not appear logical that the authors should choose to stop at "ideation" as a point which is unreachable by future computers and robots.

Further, the Human Centred Designer will find a large number of matters involving fundamental human psychological, sociological, behavioural and ethical characteristics which the text completely ignores, reviewing history from the single ungrounded

viewpoint of data and technology. This is indeed unfortunate, and curious given that the authors frequently repeat the assertion that "a good scientist bases his reasoning on the data". But where is the psychological, sociological, behavioural and ethical data in the text ? How can predictions about humanity’s future, whether in the language of economics or otherwise, be made without considering humans ?