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The New Machine Age?

I love Ted Talks, and found one by Erik Brynjolfsson this afternoon. Brynjolfsson is the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business and is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

His video presents a counter argument to Robert Gordon’s paper that we read in class (he also has a Ted Talk!). Brynjolfsson argues that productivity is “actually doing all right”, but that it has become “decoupled with jobs, and the income of the typical worker is stagnating”. He claims that this is being mistaken as the end of innovation, but is in fact the “growing pains” of the “new machine age”.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on what he says in the talk, but I recommend you all watch it! It’s a fantastic supplement to Gordon’s paper. Who do you all think makes a more sound argument?

Here are the links:


  1. mikesmitka mikesmitka

    I’ve never met Gordon, so interested to see what he looks and sounds like…but note that Gordon isn’t arguing that innovation will cease, only that the benefits of innovation face diminishing returns. Implicit then is that biotechnology may lead to improvements in treating some disease (so far it’s been mainly a bust) but that the economic gains will be small, another year of life for a retiree versus more effective capital or labor with generic applications. Ditto the internet: since the baseline was fast communication and a lot of computing power even in the 1960s, haven’t we already realized most of the gains?

  2. oliver2 oliver2

    I really enjoyed Gordon’s talk. But he’s a bit of a gloomy guy. I think that there are plenty of other inventions that would make us a lot better off and more productive. We just think they’re too ridiculous doesn’t mean that they can’t be conceived;imagine if someone invented teleportation… We might get cures for many diseases that are incurable now. We may still find resolutions to many issues that we think are impossible to resolve. Pills that actually make people better-functioning, not depressed rather than more depressed–who know?

    The Toilet is king and we can do without Facebook, but while things are getting there, we’re not quite in Pangloss’s world just yet.

  3. deplautt deplautt

    I agree with Oliver. I thought that this talk was very interesting but “gloomy” is a good word to describe it. The benefits of innovation may be facing diminishing returns currently but that is not to say that the future does not hold the cards for another revolution that we may not necessarily be aware of yet.The education headwind that he speaks about is concerning but not something, in my opinion, that can’t be turned around. Policies that supplement the high cost of higher education should allow for changes to this major headwind that Gordon describes.

  4. HeeJu HeeJu

    I agree with the comment above. In order to seize as much benefits as possible from future tech revolution in the future, we should reform the current education system. Technology is skill biased in that its development will induce employers to seek workers with high level of training and education. While the return to college and post-graduate education is ever increasing, the number of college enrollment has been rather discouraging. Policies to supplement the rising cost of higher education is essential, but it is equally important to improve the K to 12 education so that children from all educational background can become well prepared for the college education.

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