If the first industrial revolution was about creating more effective power systems, such as the steam engine, then this time around the focus is on mental tasks, says Professor Erik Brynjolfsson from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in this World Economic Forum video. As for humans, it’s not clear whether we will be complementary to these technologies, or crowded out by them, he adds.

Here are some more quotes from the clip, and you can watch the full video at the top of this page:

On the relationship between people and machines

To change the world, you need to do two things. You need to physically move atoms around, but you also need to have the intelligence to know where to put them. You need a power system, and a control system.

Technology’s always been destroying jobs, it’s always been creating jobs. But that pace is speeding up… It’s entirely possible for technology to be racing ahead and creating enormous wealth, but at the same time there is no economic law that says everybody is going to share in that wealth.

On bringing innovation to education:

When the industrial revolution automated a lot of agricultural work, all those farmers didn’t simply become unemployed. They found new industries, but that required new skills. I’m hopeful that digitisation can help with the reinvention of education.

We can’t simply double down on the old strategy of more mass education. We need to reinvent education because the kinds of skills we are being taught in the industrial age aren’t necessarily the ones we need going forward.



On ‘combinatorial’ innovation:

You’d be surprised how often I run into economists who worry that we are running out of innovations. We described the concept of combinatorial innovation – the idea that most innovations are created when you combine two previous innovations, and that means that instead of using up innovations, each innovation creates building blocks for more and more innovations.

An undergraduate student of mine wrote a simple app on Facebook in a matter of two or three weeks. Within a few months he had three million users. The reason he was able to do it so easily was because he built it on top of Facebook, and Facebook was built on Tim Berners-Lee’s world wide web, and that was built on top of the internet.

I’m not worried about running out of innovations. Every time we invent something, we make it easier to invent other things using the previous technology.

On fostering entrepreneurship

When agriculture went from 90% of the population to 2% of the population today, inventors and entrepreneurs like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many others helped create several entirely new industries that didn’t exist before. We need to do the same thing today.

Author: Erik Brynjolfsson, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. He is the co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies and a participant in the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2014.

Image: A competitor holds up one of his soccer-playing robots for the camera during the Robocup tournament in Singapore June 22, 2010. To match Reuters Life! GERMANY ROBOTS/ REUTERS/Vivek Prakash