COLUMN – Ideas in the Second Machine Age: INTRO (About the status quo)

A dear friend of mine and trusted colleague recently said over supper; “we must not accept the status quo.” “The status quo is anything but our friend” he continued. “It (the status quo) would doom me to be an old Ossi (a condescending description for somebody from the former so-called German Democratic Republic) forever.” (…and me a boneheaded hayseed, I thought to myself). “We must not accept what people tell us to be the rule, the way we ought to live our life, to apply the same blue print over and over again. We must not accept the status quo”. In the end, we both agreed not to.

Actually, my friend was referring to the circumstances and restraints in life, which most people just take for granted and obey to, instead of questioning them and pushing their boundaries. But at the same time – since he is passionate about data science, too – you can understand his rejection of the original conditions as the new mantra of the digital revolution, the time that people often refer to as the second machine age.

In this new age – the time of the fourth industrial revolution – nothing is more brittle than the status quo. Our perception and reality of the world we live, work, and believe in changes at a unforeseeable pace under the influence of new technologies. Just like in the previous revolutions – of steam engines (1784), of mass production and electricity (1870), and of automated production (1960) – new ideologies emerge, many change their face, and some just perish forever.

This blog is a loose summary of professions and ideas, which I (and the scientific community) believe will change (or have already changed) considerably in the next years. Three things about this summary are absolutely worth noticing. First, this summary is not going to be a comprehensive one, at all. On my quest for stories, I am rather spontaneously driven by my curiosity and the passion of the people I meet. Secondly, there is no general rule for what data science, digitalisation, or Artificial Intelligence (AI) are going to do with our work, life, and ideas. If any bottom line can be of guidance in this process of constant change then it might be the quote by Erik Brynjolfsson, the author of The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies [1], that “(T)the main lesson of thirty-five years of AI research is that the hard problems are easy and the easy problems are hard.” It will be more likely to replace a programmer one day (ouch) than a barber. Lastly, this summary is not intended to be a pessimistic one. I would like to show how this new revolution can improve the life of all of us and how many good ideas can flourish in the time of the second machine age.

Enjoy and please discuss (openly)!

[1] BRYNJOLFSSON, E., & MCAFEE, A. (2014). THE SECOND MACHINE AGE: WORK, PROGRESS, AND PROSPERITY IN A TIME OF BRILLIANT TECHNOLOGIES. WW NORTON & COMPANY.