In This Review

Production in the Innovation Economy
Production in the Innovation Economy
Edited by Richard M. Locke and Rachel L. Wellhausen
The MIT Press, 2014, 288 pp
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
W. W. Norton & Company, 2014, 320 pp

Both these books feature ideas about the future of innovation from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Locke and Wellhausen’s volume, based on research for MIT’s Production in the Innovation Economy Commission, offers a sober, cautiously optimistic assessment and foresees the coming of some promising, perhaps even transformational, innovations in manufacturing technology in the coming decades. The contributors stress the fact that in order to have a significant positive effect on the U.S. economy, research and development on manufacturing must be paired with a healthy manufacturing sector. The book also notes that although there is no great mismatch between the skills possessed by the U.S. labor force and the skills required by the U.S. economy, the American educational system could still do a better job of preparing students for the kinds of jobs they are likely to seek.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee enthusiastically predict that the next several decades will witness transformational changes in the United States and elsewhere, mostly as a result of advances in information technology. They also argue that knowledge will evolve more quickly as the global economy allows ever more people to participate in the process of innovation. Among their more intriguing predictions are the arrival of computers and sensors that will greatly improve the diagnoses of medical conditions and technologies that will allow for direct conversation between people all over the world through automatic spontaneous translation. But rapid changes, they warn, will also pose serious challenges to existing institutions, and the benefits of innovation will be unevenly distributed. That will lead to calls for cushioning the impact on those who will find themselves disadvantaged.