MIT's Andrew McAfee Chronicles the Incredible Rate of Change

Humans have had interesting relationships with machines for more than a century. We love our cars. We love our new TVs. Machines, in turn, have changed how we live and do business. Railroads opened the West. Automated switching on telephone networks opened up new forms of communication. Jet aircraft made us a global society. Computers changed everything.

In the 19th and 20th centuries such changes occurred over the course of decades. Today, machine-driven changes seem to take place almost overnight. In an era of artificial intelligence, the Web, and smart phones machines don't just carry out our requests but actually shape our decisions, our thinking.

One of today's thought leaders in the human/machine relationship is Andrew McAfee, (@amcafee), a principal research scientist at MIT. McAfee and his associate at MIT Erik Brynjoffsson have co-authored three books on how we use machines and the impact that those machines have on our lives, our work, and our businesses. In 2016 they published The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies.

Their latest work, Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future is due to be available in June. That work will form the basis for McAfee's keynote address at Interop ITX on Thursday, May 18, Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing the Digital Revolution.

[Read the full article at InformationWeek]

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: Interesting
  • 6/6/2017 8:31:51 AM

I don't doubt that it will happen eventually but we'll need a gigantic leap in solar technology to make it happen.  I keep seeing news stories pop up about new solar products but the ROI is still 25-30 years on fully solar home systems.  That really needs to get down to about 5 years before it becomes mainstream.  The products do look better than they ever have but not looking like a solar panel doesn't bridge the gap between putting a traditional roof on a house that you own and putting a solar roof on when the median homeownership duration is about 6 years. 

Re: Interesting
  • 6/5/2017 10:52:50 PM

I very much look forward to the day when the electric grid becomes a thing of the past and every hoe is engergy independent.   I fantasize when all our windows and roof tiles are producting energy for us.  There is already so much solar panel technology that blends seemesly into the background.

Re: Interesting
  • 5/31/2017 9:39:14 AM

I agree that we tend to develop emotional relationships with machines/tools.  The power grid is a great example.  The general reaction to a power outage is universal.  Cell phones are slowly killing off the telephone network but the power grid is still growing.  Maybe one day we'll have enough advancement in personal solar that the power grid becomes a thing of the past but I suspect it is going to be our largest machine for quite some time.  The rate of change just isn't great enough that there's a foreseeable end to power distribution. 

Re: Interesting
  • 5/30/2017 4:08:55 PM

@SaneIT - I find it interesting that you point out that the electrical grid is the largest machine because it has become so much a part of our lives that we don't even see it any longer.


Human's have always had emotional relationships with their tools.  Eversince modern times items such as a sword became an extension of one's self and it was imbued with emotional energy. When someone looses their tool they feel like they have lost a part of themselves and they quickly look to replace it.

Re: Technological Determinism
  • 5/17/2017 11:57:39 AM

It's probably a safe bet that technology "has us." but it's probably been that way all through the ages. PBS has an excellent program about the London Slums having folks live through several decades from the 1860s to the 20th century noting that the factories and machines made a huge difference in people's live especially those living at the bottom of the rung. Only with time does it seem we collectively learn how to use technology in not only useful ways but in fair ways for all people in all society's rungs.

Re: Technological Determinism
  • 5/16/2017 10:35:20 PM

Great questions bkbeverly.  My responses are below.

Do we have technology or does technology have us?

I am affraid technology has us. If you don't think so, next time you are in a public place filled with people just note how many of them will be buried in their phones. To find a person actually looking around is as rare a a blue flamingo.

Have we become 'thingified'?

I think most have but this was aways the case, it was just different things.

Have we become possessed by our possessions?

Depends on your circle, but for the most part the electronic age has made this statement more true than ever.

How long can I go without checking for texts, emails or FaceBook updates?

Usually around 4-5 hours to be honest. Never said I was immune to peer pressure.

Am I at risk of a repetitive motion injury to my thumb?

Never thought about that, I wonder if that would be considered a preexsiting conditon ?

Am I texting people in the same room?

Oh No, Not that bad yet.

Technological Determinism
  • 5/15/2017 5:05:18 PM

Without having read the books and going by what is in the piece along, this sounds like good old-fashioned technological determism.  Sociologist Wiilliam Ogburn devised the Cultural Lag theory. This theory suggests that the material culture which includes technological advancement often carves the path for the non-material culture. In effect, he argued that techological advancements often determined how people worked, used their disposable income for leisure and shaped their beliefs, mores, norms, etc. For example, Xerox went from being the name of a reprographics company to a verb that serves as a synonym for copying a document. Same thing for faxing (fax comes from the name of a document transmission technology that sends a reasonable facsimile of the original). Even now Google is both a noun and a verb.

Syncronically (within discrete pockets of time), the prevailing technology shapes how people work, learn, love and play. However diachronically (across time), some have argued that our technology outdistances our morality.  Just by reading the headlines, it could be said that we have guided missles but misguided motives. Without question, technology has made this world a neighborhood, but not a brotherhood. By no means am I suggesting that science is bad.  The problem is that we try to use Science, Technology, Engineering and Math as tools for improving the human experience, without realizing that STEM cannot be a substitute for individuals and institutions having to do the basic ongoing work of learning to live together.

So yes, I applaude technological advances ad the advancement of STEM. And while technology gets ahead of culture, that's OK as long as at some point, we remember that our technology should serve as the means by which we live and not the reason for which we live.

To that extent, I would challenge us with these questions - Do we have technology or does technology have us? Have we become 'thingified'? Have we become possessed by our possessions? How long can I go without checking for texts, emails or FaceBook updates? Am I at risk of a repetitive motion injury to my thumb? Am I texting people in the same room?

Technological determinism - much has changed and yet much has not.

Re: Interesting
  • 5/12/2017 8:39:41 AM

The examples of trains, airplanes and the telephone network are great examples and I would throw our electric grid into that mix.  There are few machines as big as the power distribution systems that are in place around the world and fewer that people depend on in the same way.   I do wonder though about smaller systems that while maybe only impacting a small number of people so greatly changed the their lives that the ripple touched us all, maybe farming or manufacturing advancements for example. 

  • 5/11/2017 2:20:16 PM

These sound like really interesting books. I have put them on my ist to purchase. I like books of this type and find the conncetions between man and machine to be fascinating.