Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future

Artificial Intelligence and Innovation and Economic Growth

Article Snapshot


Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee


W. W. Norton & Company, 2017


Successful new firms like Facebook reflect the changing balance between human minds and machines, between traditional products and platforms, and between experts and crowds. People skills will become more important.

Policy Relevance

Trends in technology will enable the creation of new businesses and new jobs.

Main Points

  • A review of successful new enterprises reveals three trends.
    • The increasing capability of machines through artificial intelligence.
    • The growth of platforms like Amazon and Airbnb, a new kind of competitor.
    • The emergence of the crowd, a reservoir of knowledge distributed all over the world.
  • These trends will require business to rethink conventional strategies.
    • The balance between the role of the human mind and machine intelligence will change.
    • The advent of new platforms will affect how products are developed and distributed.
    • Insights from crowdsourcing will supplement expertise from firms’ traditional core.
  • Social skills like empathy, leadership, teamwork, and coaching will be more important than advanced quantitative skills; those that combine social skills with quantitative skills will be the most valued employees.
  • Crowdsourcing often gets better results than consulting scientists, engineers, and technicians:
    • Knowledge can be slow to reach experts through academic channels.
    • Crowdsourcing reaches experts in diverse disciplines around the world, and many problems benefit from different perspectives.
  • The growth of Bitcoin shows that a decentralized community can use cryptography, economics, code, and networks to create shared value, but some consider Bitcoin a failure.
  • Traditional firms with a human management layer will not disappear; demand for managers is increasing.
    • Managers help coordinate a complex and changing world.
    • Human persuasion is a more powerful force than analytics alone.
    • Humans are social animals.
    • Contracts negotiated between arms-length actors cannot anticipate every situation, so firms are needed to offer a structured response to these unexpected events.
  • People are worried that jobs could disappear, as about half of all jobs can be automated; however, technology will create new jobs, benefitting employers, employees, and consumers.

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