Monday, September 8, 2014

Homework assigned on 8-Sep Monday; due Wednesday September 10.

(homework all engage)
Rifkin, J. (2014). The zero marginal cost society: The internet of things, the collaborative commons, and the eclipse of capitalism.

Describes how the emerging Internet of Things is speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of capitalism.


Book Review: Jeremy Rifkin’s flawed vision of techno-utopia


Jeremy Rifkin: “The Zero Marginal Cost Society” | Authors at Google (56 minutes)


Jeremy Rifkin: Are We Moving from a Capitalist to a Collaborative Economy? (66minutes)


Group A

Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies.

This book takes a look into the future of business, work, and the economy in a digital world. In recent years, computers have learned to diagnose diseases, drive cars, and win at Jeopardy!. Advances like these have created unprecedented economic bounty, but in their wake median income has stagnated and the share of the population with jobs has fallen. In this book the authors reveal the technological forces driving this reinvention of the economy and chart a path toward future prosperity. They describe how humans will have to keep pace with machines in order to become prosperous in the future and identify strategies and policies for business and individuals to use to combine digital processing power with human ingenuity. — From book jacket.


Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee: The Second Machine Age (50 minutes)


Group B

Schmidt, E., & Cohen, J. (2014). The new digital age: Reshaping the future of people, nations and business.

In collaboration, two leading global thinkers from in technology and foreign affairs from Google give readers their widely anticipated, transformational vision of the future: a world where everyone is connected, a world full of challenges and benefits that are ours to meet and to harness. With their combined knowledge and experiences, the authors are uniquely positioned to take on some of the toughest questions about our future: Who will be more powerful in the future, the citizen or the state? Will technology make terrorism easier or harder to carry out? What is the relationship between privacy and security, and how much will we have to give up to be part of the new digital age? In this they combine observation and insight to outline the promise and peril awaiting us in the coming decades. This is a forward-thinking account of where our world is headed and what this means for people, states and businesses. With the confidence and clarity of visionaries, the authors illustrate just how much we have to look forward to, and beware of, as the greatest information and technology revolution in human history continues to evolve. On individual, community and state levels, across every geographical and socioeconomic spectrum, they reveal the dramatic developments both good and bad, that will transform both our everyday lives and our understanding of self and society, as technology advances and our virtual identities become more and more fundamentally real. As their nuanced vision of the near future unfolds, an urban professional takes his driverless car to work, attends meetings via hologram and dispenses housekeeping robots by voice; a Congolese fisherwoman uses her smart phone to monitor market demand and coordinate sales (saving on costly refrigeration and preventing overfishing); the potential arises for “virtual statehood” and “Internet asylum” to liberate political dissidents and oppressed minorities, but also for tech-savvy autocracies (and perhaps democracies) to exploit their citizens’ mobile devices for ever more ubiquitous surveillance. Along the way, we meet a cadre of international figures, including Julian Assange, who explain their own visions of our technology-saturated future. This book is an analysis of how our hyper-connected world will soon look.




book reviews

“press release” book review

opinion pieces



12 thoughts on “Monday, September 8, 2014

  1. I enjoyed a lot of the topics brought up by Schmidt and Cohen in their book The New Digital Age. Regardless of whether I agreed with the likelihood of an occurrence, every topic mentioned by the Huffington Post was an intriguing idea worthy of discussion. I appreciated their imagination; I did not always feel that they were viewing the future from the perspective of someone in the future. Rather, it felt that sometimes they viewed the future from a current perspective. For example, privacy is a concept that touches many different future scenarios. They speculate that privacy will become impossible with data permanence, and that a demand for photographic consent will emerge. I would propose that in a future where children are raised to understand that there are no secrets on the internet, humanity will become accustomed to a much higher level of transparency. Any commotion caused nowadays by the lack of privacy is due to the switch from total anonymity in the past. My generation has learned to expect some lack of privacy in anything conducted online. Just like bullying a kid with fists, we have simply switched mediums. Kids use social network information as irresponsibly as they used to use their fists.

    In contrast, I felt the points about cyber terrorism and virtual statecraft were both especially relevant, and intertwined. If a physically weak nation has a lot of technical specialists, they can easily leverage that power to destroy others. Speed will become of the essence. Population will become irrelevant when considering true global power. If a small country can control the entire network technically, then it does not matter whether they are outnumbered.


  2. I agree with Robert D. Atkinson critique of Jeremy Rifkin: “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”. Although I have not read his entire book, based on my understanding of his argument, I do not understand how his predication could come true. For there to be zero marginal cost in a process that means that the process could continue forever. There would be no constraint on the process. While I understand that Rifkin is saying that the cost can be greatly reduced using “technology”, we are still far from creating processes with zero marginal cost. However, I do appreciate Rifkin approach to imagining the optimal outcome from technology. By doing so, we can begin to think about some of the long-term drawbacks of constantly increasing the standard of living.

    The Second Machine Age makes an awesome point that I have not considered before; What if advances in technology is disproportionally effecting the wealth of Americans. The Kodak-Instagram example was amazing. Kodak at it’s peak employed 145,000 workers whereas Instagram now only employs 4,600. However, whereas Kodak employed significantly more people, Instagram is valued at several times what Kodak was every valued at. Wealth from these massive technology IPOs is only going into the hands of the few. Whereas the industrial age brought about the automation of physical processes, the digital age is bringing about the automation of mental processes, and humanity will have to adapt. This adaptation might mean those who are able to work with computers will become the elite of society where those who can not will fall. This adaptation can also mean a newfound focus on computer science within elementary and secondary schools. The ideal being a populous that is keeping up with technological change and continuously pushing the field forward. Whatever the adaptation, the data has spoken and those who can work with a computer will most likely enjoy a standard of living higher than those who can not.


  3. While I do not doubt the imminent impact technology has had and is going to have on the world, I am disturbed by these visions of “techno-utopia” where technology ends up being the solution to every problem, as Rifkin seems to suggest. First of all, the idea of a zero marginal society as a result of technology does not make any sense to me. Even if money becomes obsolete, I think the form of currency would simply change into something that manifests itself in this techno-utopia. Furthermore, Rifkin does not seem to address any of the potentially severe problems technological advancements could incur – piracy, identity theft, privacy issues, etc.

    Schmidt and Cohen attempt to address some of these issues, but I think their claims have many shortcomings. It is unclear whether or not they are trying to be outrageous with some of the scenarios they present (subduing rebellious youth with smartphones? sending spoiled children to the slums of Mumbai through hologram?). Granted I have not read the book and my impression is biased based off the reviews I’ve read. I won’t repeat everything written in the New Republic article, but the author makes many compelling stabs at Schmidt & Cohen’s arguments. If the internet is to be the new “world” of the future, it is unlikely to remain ungoverned. Especially if Schmidt & Cohen’s theories about nations switching over to digital governance comes true, I think the internet will cease to hold the same value it does today – a place to freely exchange and receive ideas, a place for recreation and relief, to name a few. This freedom is already being challenged today.

    Schmidt and Cohen seem to write from the perspective of privileged white males who believe that a westernized, democratized, and capitalist society is the “best” and that everybody else in the world also wishes to subscribe to these beliefs or will eventually come to see the light. Also, despite their attempts at making future scenarios, the future they draw does not seem very different from the present – the internet will present countless new opportunities, but also opportunities for evil. One argument that Morozov makes that I think is interesting is that technology already allows for many of the theories Schmidt and Cohen propose to happen, yet they haven’t. For instance, “Nothing prevents a virtual government in exile from appointing a virtual minister of the interior who “would focus on preserving the security of the virtual state.” They can already do it today. But in the absence of material resources and a police force—the kinds of things that ministers of the interior have in the physical world—it would change nothing.”

    I suppose I appreciate the breadth of issues they address, and their daring to imagine what a future dominated by technology/the internet could look like. And it is not important whether or not their predictions come true. I think what I have an issue with is the idea of technology saving the world, or that people will relinquish all material desires for digital ones. I have no doubt technology will become an increasingly major part of our lives in the future, but I do not like the idea of being completely consumed, or even allowing technology to make every decision for me, especially if I’m not aware that it is doing so. I don’t want to live in a world completely centered around technology, no matter how efficient or dazzling it may seem.


  4. Brynjolfsson, McAfee, and Rifkin all play into a technologically powered future that has a profound impact on the socioeconomic landscape of today through changing incomes, business models, and general day to day market economics. All three try to seek out current cutting-edge technologies and extrapolate them out to form economies that displace people and corporations to create the internet-connected “smart” world.

    Rifkin’s view on a zero-margin world seems to be very out of place (partly because the first article was very flagrantly counter attacking his points) because the tech connected world does not truly remove middle-men. Rather it shifts them into a position to be able to work longer distances and more times. In addition, the connected marketplace offers more people to launch more products, often higher quality products which have higher margins but end profit is smaller. This brings us into his truly insightful section on communal economies. I was truly amazed at the quantification of not-for-profit work that is put into everything from Youtube videos and blog posts to communal farms and credit unions. In a large way the music industry has already become very decentralized: the demise of the record companies started with tapes and now has arrived at Soundcloud. The difference is that those “mixtapes” of the 90s can now go global without a record company and thus the traditional music market is bypassed altogether.

    The other two’s opinions on the other hand seem to pride the use of technology a little too much. For example, their view of driverless cars does not take into account the sheer infrastructure changes that would need to happen to allow them to become widespread. In addition, all of their viewpoints aims to say the average citizen will benefit but in fact their own viewpoints suggest that the increased proliferation of technology will only widen the inequality gap.

    As we look further into the future, the authors depict tales of a transitional society that can only be brought into good light through a disciplined society in the realm of Manoan scenarios. Climate change and income inequality must be thwarted to ensure a true transcendence of humanity, else there a host of other possibilities to consider.


  5. The first review of Rifkin’s novel makes a compelling argument as to why the author, Rifkin, is incorrect. It seems far fetched to believe that in 50 years jobs will be obsolete, especially considering the rate of growth that is necessary for this to occur. It also seems unrealistic to thing that capitalism will cease to exist as well. You need to have a driving force that keeps a society functioning, and in our current world capitalism is what makes it possible. Capitalism also provides motivation for others to do things, so without that what would be the reason to continue moving forward? Rifkin also claims that the cost of things will be zero, though today there is still a high cost to purchasing items and despite prices of some things having decreased, they haven’t decreased enough to warrant this argument.

    Brynjolfsson and Mcaffee’s novel seems more well grounded though it still does over reach in its statements. Their two arguments for the reason that productivity rates haven’t shown what is happening, institutional lag and statistical mismeasurement seem accurate. In regards to institutional lag, it does take companies a lot of time to update their technology even if it’s already available. And the example for statistical mismeasurement for the music industry shows how even if it former ways of measuring sales have decreased, through social media and other new methods, like internet radio, the proliferation of music is greater than ever now. Their argument that technology increases inequality is also compelling. It is true that the more as a society we rely on technology, the more educated you need to become to work with the technology, leaving those that don’t access access to education behind.


  6. I really enjoyed Rifkin’s talk. He approach the subject of where our society is going from an economic perspective. I think this is a really unique perspective and the points that he is making about marginal cost would have never occurred to me. However, he talks about how in Germany they are putting electric companies out of business in the same way that the music industry is struggling. How is that a positive thing? Green energy is great but is the switch to that causing rises in employment and disrupting other areas of the economy? He tries to explain what could replace our economic system, but I do not entirely understand what he is referring to. However, I agree with his sentiment that when technology is release, people are going to find a way to get it without paying for it and that will really force a change in how our economy functions. The Second Machine Age points out a very important possibility: that machines can take our every day roles and we won’t be able to compete. And there really isn’t a good solution to that. Its a really uncomfortable point that bothers us at a very basic survival instinct level. This point makes me really want to read the book ad understand the point of view they developed better.


  7. Jeremy Rikfin’s “Zero Marginal Cost Society” is far too optimistic and far-fetched. Rifikin is making way too many assumptions about the future stating that we are headed towards a collaborative commons in which there will be nearly free goods and services provided. He mentions that the internet of things will eventually provide all goods/services at almost no marginal costs. However, Jeremy Rifkin’s ideas have no basis. I agree with several of the points that Atkinson makes in his article. Atkinson reviews the assumptions made by Rifkin and argues why they are wrong. Rifkin mentioned that “ within less than 50 years, technology will have developed to the point where there will be virtually no more jobs, where the marginal cost of everything will be zero and where capitalism will cease to exist” and that ““The Internet of Things is already boosting productivity to the point where the marginal cost of producing many goods and services is nearly zero, making them practically free.” These assumptions do not make sense since the cost of producing goods has increased of the last 100 years and there has never been any sort of downward trend. Also productivity growth rates have been decreasing over the past few years. He also believes that the internet of things will help the earth become more sustainable. I agree with Atkinson that if everything is becoming free, that would definitely have an impact on environmental stresses. It doesn’t make sense that the planet can become sustainable. I would like to point out that if the future of the U.S. and other prominent countries were to have these prospects, what would that mean for countries like Uganda that do not have access to these modern technologies. People with access to all these free goods will be more wasteful and take away more from the people without access. However, Rifkin asserts that a free planet means less consumption. It seems that just about the opposite is bound to happen based off of Rifkin’s assumptions and Atkinson’s review.

    On the other hand, Brynjolfsson and Mcaffee’s statements are still somewhat reasonable. I really liked their statement how technology can increase inequality because as we rely more and more on it we are increasing our own knowledge of it, and therefore we are not giving third world countries/ impoverished nations, who do not have internet, any power to move ahead. The internet of things will create even more stronger divisions between educated and uneducated- causing potentially lack of communication between the groups.


  8. Regarding Schmidt & Cohen’s book (2014) “The new digital age”, I was intrigued by Julian Assange’s (2013) comment about privacy in his opinion piece: “But while Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Cohen tell us that the death of privacy will aid governments in ‘repressive autocracies’ in ‘targeting their citizens,’ they also say governments in ‘open’ democracies will see it as ‘a gift’ enabling them to ‘better respond to citizen and customer concerns.’ In reality, the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable, moving the ‘good’ societies closer to the ‘bad’ ones.” To me, this connects with this comment by Morozov (2013): “Coming from senior executives of the world’s most powerful intermediary—the one that shapes how we find information (not to mention Google’s expansion into fields like fiber networks)—all this talk about the disappearance of intermediaries is truly bizarre and disingenuous.” The issue of third party involvement in online privacy is a big one (see Varian (1996) article “The Economic Aspects of Personal Privacy” ), and in regard to this issue, I agree with Morozov (2013) that the future does not look like it’s headed toward lack of intermediaries.


  9. Personally I understand where Rifkin’s ideal stem from. I understand that “the marginal cost of human labor will plummet to zero”. The idea of buying everything on amazon and buying anything i want with a click of button has put my life in world of fantasy. It’s actually something we should be proud of. We should be proud that we can live in such a free and experimental time of the world. However, I understand why constraints should be placed to encourage the world to grow. It is all but true that the universe seems to grow at an exceeding rate, but Rifkin might be the one too afraid to move into the future. He may just be the one not ready to deal with all the new struggles that lie ahead.

    Now Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee may just offer a more optimistic outlook on things. “It’s also the ease with which these new capabilities and new ideas can be combined and recombined.” Our society has now spread and collected information like no other. We should be proud of the new age that lies ahead, but carry ourselves with precaution rather than lead us into an age of fear.


  10. I really connected with Rifkin’s ideas about the techno-utopian society causing huge waves of unemployment. Hi argument is very logically connected that technology advances will drive marginal costs to zero and that not only jobs but also businesses will be lost since the goods and services will become very cheap or even free. He also talks about the effect of humans being passive bystanders as technology sweeps up all the work in the world – which is definitely a big problem in a transformative society.


  11. These readings/videos were all about the extreme view of the future. I found many of the insights talked about to be interesting but not necessarily plausible as presented. Rifkin’s thoughts about the Internet of Things (IoT) leading to a three-pronged internet consisting of energy, communications, and logistics/transport was very interesting. I don’t quite buy that this new utopia is right around the corner or that this an entirely new economic system. I feel like this is more of an evolution of the capitalist system. I found it a little bit disturbing that he has such influence over several countries in the EU which does make it more likely that his view of the future is the one that the west will adapt.

    I much preferred the view of the future presented in The Second Machine Age. It seemed like the most balanced view of the readings I read. However the authors did have an overly optimistic view of how the digital age will affect employment. These readings also seem to state that we will have infinite amounts of free time in the future and will be spending our time collecting more zero cost goods. My question would be where are we going to store these goods and where are we getting the raw materials for all these goods? I feel that this will lead to an extreme version of the consumer culture and deplete our natural resources faster (both in terms of per person and because of population growth caused by healthcare advances).


  12. The New Digital Age… okay, more technological utopianism. For example: “just put a little doubt into the minds of North Koreans, and the repressive regime will just crumble!” Well… maybe. If that were the case, why didn’t it crumble yet? They talk about these brave people risking their lives for a little connectivity; didn’t they spread the doubt to their friends? Furthermore, as we’ve seen repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan, knocking over a flawed regime is much easier than building up a reasonable one. But to Schmidt and Cohen, whatever! They can run Google, so they can solve anything!

    I’m reminded of the Soylent folks talking about how it’ll cure world hunger. (as if the only problem now were that we couldn’t produce enough calories.) What is it about tech people that makes them (us) think they can solve every problem singlehandedly?

    About Rifkin, sounds like the same thing: things are becoming zero marginal cost, so basically free, which will be great! But I’m torn between two possible futures:
    1. more people can make a living by creating stuff, like those Youtube-famous people in Generation Like, or the few wildly successful ebook writers
    2. fewer people can make a living by creating stuff; worldwide distribution means that only the .0001% best artists will reach all 7 billion people. Meanwhile, the people who run the networks (Youtube, iTunes, Amazon) squeeze out every bit of profit they can, making their 10,000 employees even richer but driving artists to take up side jobs just to make ends meet.

    I can’t tell which side will be enabled by the zero-marginal-cost collaborative society. What do we do if it’s not clear what the effect of increasing/decreasing a driver of change will be?


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