Book Summary:Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future


Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing our digital future is a book written by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. Both are professors at MIT and co-directors of the Digital Economy initiative at MIT. They wrote this book as a continuation of their previous book the second machine age which they wrote back in 2014 and was widely successful. Their previous book focused more on what changes will technology bring to our society in the years to come while Machine Platform Crowd focuses more on the economic impact of our current technology in the future.
As the title suggests this book covers mainly three different technologies; Machine, Platform, and the crowd. The most important point that this book is to get across is best illustrated by this quote “companies need to rethink the balance between minds and machines, between products and platforms, and between the core and the crowd.” Each technology will have an impact in the future of the economy.
In the section about machines, the authors focus on how better decisions can be made with more automation. In addition, how automation decreases the weight of the HiPPO (an acronym for highest paid person’s opinion) in an organization leading to better decision making. In the book, they also say that they don’t believe that machines will completely eliminate humans from decision making but that machines will help humans to make better decisions. This is because humans have what is called common sense which has been proven to be extremely difficult to replicate by machines. In this chapters, the authors also mention examples where machines have progressed beyond what humans had thought possible. For example, they mentioned when a computer was able to beat the current Go champion. This and many more examples prove how computers have improved their decision-making ability and how it can complement humans to make better decisions.
The next section that they talk about platforms which they define as a “digital environment with near-zero marginal cost of access, duplication, and distribution.” This innovation is fairly new since the rise of the internet because in the physical world it is impossible to access, duplicate, and distribute something with near-zero marginal cost. This gave rise to companies such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Airbnb, and many more. Many of this platforms have allowed millions of people to connect and to buy and sell goods at a scale that wasn’t possible before. This has also allowed many of these companies such as Uber and Airbnb to grow without owning any physical assets such as drivers or houses. During this chapters, the authors also talk about the complements which are the microeconomics concept that when demand increases cost decreases.
Finally, They talked about the crowd which they defined as “the new participants and practices enabled by the net and its attendant technologies.” Before the crowd existed there was only the core which are the organizations, groups, institutions, and processes of the pre-Internet era. The authors argue that the crowd and the internet have allowed to take some human bias away from the core. This is because on the Internet it doesn’t matter your race, gender, or other factors. In there you are just one more person looking for information and no institution can deny you access to that. The crowd has also allowed many people from great distances to work together this being dong medical research, working remotely, and many more. It has also allowed doing surveys more easily or asks people for creative advise in marketing campaigns, and more.
Each one of this technologies has changed society as it was known before and in conjunction with humans, they will continue to change humanity for the better. I believe that this is the point that both authors were trying to make.
In-depth topic:

One topic that really intrigued me in this book was Artificial Intelligence. I had read a good amount about the topic before, so what really surprised me about this book was the positive opinion that the authors had about it. Generally what I had read said that it would lead to great advances in humanity and more efficiency, however, it would leave humans useless. This is because they would be able to do everything better than us. In the book, the authors even mentioned a story that reflects this point of view. The story says that in the future every human will go to work with a dog. The human’s job will be to feed the dog and the dog’s job will be to make sure that the human doesn’t touch the computers. I find this topic extremely interesting because I believe artificial intelligence will radically change society as we know it today, so it was relieving to hear some positive outlook on the matter.

Personal Recommendation:

Personally, I enjoyed this book a lot. It was very informative and it explained very well this three revolutionary technologies. I believe that anyone considering to work in the technology industry should read this book or one that covers similar subjects just to know what the new technologies have to offer. I also found this book to be really eye-opening in about all the business opportunities available if one were to develop something related to this technologies.

5 thoughts on “Book Summary:Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future

  1. Artificial intelligence does seem to be on the rise, and I am fascinated to see where it will go. It’s scary to think that one day humans could be “useless”, however I do feel that there are certain attributes to being human, like emotion and intuition, that will always be valued.


  2. Great in-depth analysis on AI! AI has already exponentially grown productivity and we may have to confront the inevitable economic shift — self-driving trucks have started to threaten the trucking industry and AI/machine learning technology has streamlined numerous business processes. As we progress towards our uselessness, it will be interesting what ripple effect that will cause.


  3. I really enjoyed reading about the author’s take on companies such as Uber and Airbnb being service-based and therefore having minimal costs associated with inventory and physical assets. The rise in technological advancements certainly lends the sharing economy to an innovative future. I’m excited to see where AI fits in with such companies!


  4. I really enjoyed the authors’ dog analogy that you shared. It’s very interesting to think that all we humans may be needed for in the not so distant future is to “feed the dog” and “not touch the computers.” I agree with your statements regarding AI as well, I’ve always thought it to be a pretty scary innovation, but hearing about the authors’ positive opinion on it gives me hope that AI can and will be used alongside humans rather than replacing them.


  5. Nice summary. This book is the first one that I’ve almost used as a textbook for this class. I think they do a nice treatment of these three technologies – past, present, and future.


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