Future generations will call today the beginning of a radical social, technological and economic revolution. Erik Brynjolfsson, renowned MIT professor and leading authority on how businesses can leverage emerging technologies, concludes that harnessing advances in artificial intelligence (AI) is the grand challenge for our society. To business leaders, Brynjolfsson asserts that digital disruption can be managed for humanity’s greater good, but only through a proactive approach that capitalizes on the opportunities and recognizes the challenges of new technology.
This transition to utilizing AI and machine learning (ML) is what Brynjolfsson, co-author of New York Times best-seller “The Second Machine Age” (Norton, January 2016), and most recently “Machine, Platform, Crowd” (Norton, June 2017), calls the “second wave” of the second machine age.
“The key thing to understand about ML is that it represents a fundamentally different approach to creating software: The machine learns from examples, rather than being explicitly programmed for a particular outcome,” writes Brynjolfsson in his Harvard Business Review cover story, “The Business of Artificial Intelligence.” This presents an array of possibilities for automating tasks that previously only humans could do, creating new business models and occupations – and destroying old ones. This disruption to human employment poses challenges as great as the opportunities afforded to the economy by the new technology.
Through his speaking, teaching and writing, Brynjolfsson takes on complex questions, explaining them simply and clearly, while revealing his inspiring vision for how to prepare for the rapidly emerging second machine age. He tempers his techie’s sense of optimism about AI opportunities, particularly for entrepreneurs and business managers, with a sense of realism and a warning. “We need to make fundamental changes in both policies and operations. Businesses need to rethink how they work. Individuals need to take personal responsibility for learning the new skills that are needed going forward,” explained Brynjolfsson in a recent HBR IdeaCast interview. “If we do all those things I’m pretty optimistic. But I wouldn’t want people to become complacent … I want us to think about how we can use technology to create shared prosperity for the many, not just the few.”
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