The Great Decoupling: An Interview with Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Source: Amy Bernstein, Anand Raman, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 93 no. 6, June 2015
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Machines, it seems, can do almost anything human beings can. Now cars are even starting to drive themselves. What does that mean for business and employment? Will any jobs be left for people? Will machines take over not just low-skilled tasks but high-skilled ones too? If a man and a machine work side by side, which one will make the decisions? These are some of the questions facing companies, industries, and economies as digital technologies transform business.

Technological progress makes the world better but also brings new challenges, say Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, faculty members at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who have studied the impact of technology on economies for years. Their most recent book, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, took an upbeat view of the high-tech future. But since its 2014 publication, the two academics have been grappling with a problem whose dimensions surprise even them: why digital innovations are contributing to the stagnation in average incomes in the United States and to the disappearance of so many middle-level jobs.

In this interview with HBR editor Amy Bernstein and editor at large Anand Raman, Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain that while digital technologies will help economies grow faster, not everyone will benefit equally—as the latest data already shows….