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Positive Futures (continued)

So that’s bad, right? Well, only half so. Brynjolfsson and McAfee have been studying what happens to economies, organizations, and labor as technological innovation follows Moore’s law to the hilt. But where others see impending disaster, they see encouraging growth. As the leaders of MIT Sloan’s new Initiative for the Digital Economy, they believe that inventing organizations and institutions that complement this new digital-era economy is a grand challenge for our times. With the initiative, they are issuing that challenge to their colleagues and contemporaries.

“There’s no economic law that says when technology creates wealth, it also automatically creates the same number of jobs or that everybody benefits evenly,” says Brynjolfsson, the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, the Schussel Family Professor of Management, and chair of MIT Sloan Management Review. “We’ve been lucky that’s more or less what happened for most of the past hundred years, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to happen going forward.” “What happens to the median worker is something that will depend on our ability to innovate on other dimensions, like economic institutions and inventing new industries and new business models,” he says.

“So far, our technologist friends at MIT have been doing a great job, and it’s time for us to step up at the business school to keep up with them. We need to invent new economic institutions, new industries, new business models, and new ways of organizing work that will thrive in this emerging world of accelerating technology.”

And here’s where Brynjolfsson and McAfee break away from peers like George Mason University’s Tyler Cowen, whose 2011 book, The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, argued that technological innovation has fallen off and will not drive new wealth, and Northwestern University’s Robert Gordon, whose August 2012 paper, “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds,” inspired significant discussion. Brynjolfsson and McAfee describe themselves as digital optimists. They believe not only that technological innovation has not and will not stagnate, but that it can also mean a better economy and a better society for everyone.

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