Are you ready for the digital future?

Like so many people who enjoyed their previous book, The Second Machine Age by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, I was excited by the prospect of their latest, Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future. It’s an interesting and enjoyable book too, but not aimed at readers like me who have long followed their work and the wider literature. Rather, Machine, Platform, Crowd is aimed at the general business audience, and each chapter ends both with a bullet-point chapter summary and with a section of questions for people to think about in the context of their own business and organisations. For example, “What is your machine learning strategy? How far along are you in bringing machine learninginto your ogranization?” or “How and how much are you using the crowd?” or “Are there new ways to use technology for decentralization in your industry that don’t necessarily involve markets?”

The framework of the book is a ‘triple revolution’: ‘machine’ refers to the AI and ML revolution; ‘platform’ is self-explanatory; ‘crowd’ is the growing role of open source, crowdsourcing etc. The argument is that each is in a changing relationship with a counterpart – respectively, the human mind, products, and the ‘core’ or internal expertise and capabilities of organisations. The three sections of the book explore each relationship, mind-machine, product-platform, core-crowd, in turn.

There are lots of nice examples and anecdotes. I loved the literal ‘paperwork mine’, and underground repository of paper records on US Federal Government retirees in a former limestone mine. Completing the paperwork takes the same length of time now as in 1977 (61 days), while the state of Texas, which has digitized its processes, takes 2 days. I think the book will do very well, and is head and shoulders above the typical run of business ‘how to’ books. So I still think Shapiro and Varian’s (1998) Information Rules remains the best single book on the implications of digital technology for business, but ‘MPC’ is a worthy update for the next stage of the digital technologies .

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