Photos: MIT and the Digital Economy

Published: April 16, 2014

Alumni, faculty gather in New York City to talk advances in computing, big data

More than 350 MIT Sloan alumni met April 4 with faculty for “MIT and the Digital Economy: The Second Machine Age,” a conference featuring new research that explores how the forward march of computing, robotics, and big data is reshaping work, society, and the economy. The day also served as a showcase for work underway at the new MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, a research initiative formed to study the challenges and opportunities created by the advance and spread of digital technology.

Professor Erik Brynjolfsson welcomed attendees with an introductory talk titled The Second Machine Age (also the title of Brynjolfsson’s recently released New York Times bestseller, written with MIT Sloan principal research scientist Andrew McAfee).

“We’re crossing a threshold over the next 10 years where people will routinely be talking to machines and expecting them to carry out more and more complicated instructions,” Brynjolfsson said.

McAfee gave a short presentation titled “How Business Models Will Have to Change” and led a panel discussion on disruption with business leaders from Forrester Research, private equity firm Warburg Pincus, and venture capital firm Accel Partners.

Hilary Mason, a data scientist at Accel, “describes herself as a friend of the robots,” McAfee said, introducing her. During the panel, Mason discussed the growing realm of subjects and behaviors that can be measured and modeled using big data.

“We’re finding out that quite a lot of the world and a lot of human behavior can be modeled in a useful way,” she said.

Alex “Sandy” Pentland discussed how technological innovation is zooming ahead of social innovation and how the latter can catch up. Pentland’s new book is Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons From A New Science.

Brynolfsson interviewed CIT Group chairman and CEO John Thain, SB ’77. The pair discussed the rise and implications of high-frequency trading.

Associate Professor Sinan Aral, new to the MIT Sloan faculty in 2013, discussed the science of social media influence. Aral showed how he mines large sets of social media data to determine how an individual’s behavior on social media networks influences the behavior of others.

See full videos of the presentations at the MIT Sloan alumni website.