The Second Machine Age: What It Means for You and Me and Our Kids

By Shlomo   Maital   

    smart machine

  Tom Friedman’s Global New York Times column, Jan. 13, is titled “If I Had a Hammer”.  It’s not about the folk singers Peter, Paul & Mary.  It’s about the Second Machine Age, and about the chess grandmaster Donner who was asked how to prepare for a chess match against a machine, like IBM’s Deep Blue computer. “I would bring a hammer,” he said. 

   Friedman reviews a new book by MIT Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee,  The Second Machine Age.  According to them,  in the First Machine Age, 1700-1950,  each new invention made human control and human labor more important.  In the Second Machine Age, we are automating cognitive tasks.   Result:  humans, and software-driven machines, may be substitutes (i.e. enemies), not complements.  Machines are becoming exponentially smarter.  “Our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology”, Friedman concludes.

    What does this mean?  For one,  “we need to reinvent education so more people can ‘race with machines’, not race against them”. 

    This implies, I believe, that we must totally rethink how we teach kids.  The only advantage humans have over smart machines is in their imaginations. So teaching and fostering creativity will be a crucial component of how we educate our children in future.  It’s the only competitive advantage we have over machines.  The only think smart machines lack, and will always lack, is the human brain’s ability to imagine things that do not exist.   No machine yet has a ‘visual cortex’.    

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