Photo credit: James Cridland

By Dr Anthony Chang,  MD, MPH, MS, MBA

The MIT Initiative on Digital Economy dyad Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, authors of the previous New York Times best-selling work The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity, again successfully and succinctly set the philosophical and technological framework of our shifting digital paradigm with Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future (W.W. Norton & Company, 2017).

machine, platform, crowd artificial intelligence

These authors in this erudite volume examine three new underpinnings of our technological transformation and pair these three forces with their traditional counterparts: machines (vs. minds), platforms (vs. products), and crowd (vs. core). This emerging technological and economic trifecta of machine, platform, and crowd (or in the authors’ parlance “triple revolution”) together now drive our modern world.

This astute book, well-referenced and replete with demand curves, is conveniently divided into three sections, each section delineates the interrelationship of the aforementioned couplings. Most of the chapters are accompanied by a summary and thought-provoking questions at their conclusion.

First, the authors detail how machines with machine and deep learning are creating a new world order on data and artificial intelligence. An example of this influence is Google’s AlphaGo surprising victory over the Go champion Lee Sedol.

The authors aptly advocate a mind-machine partnership but concomitantly suggest that humans continually accommodate data science as well as the Cambrian explosion of robots. The optimal division of labor between minds and machines is shifting rapidly towards machines.

Second, a platform serves as a digital infrastructure for the selection and distribution of products and services and technology giants such as Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb engender value with these enabling platforms. The path to success of technological platforms seems to be early arrival in the domain combined with opening the platform to a broad range of contributors. In short, value creation is moving from traditional products to these platforms.

Lastly, the power of the crowd with their opinions and resources in shaping the economy is very robust and has overtaken the traditional core of centralized institutions. The decentralized and self-organizing crowd is often more capable and innovative than the core. The authors describe a myriad of real life examples of how these three modern transformative forces have led to the exponential growth of a number of unicorns in Silicon Valley.

In summary, there is a necessary appreciation of three new emerging driving forces of machine, platform, and crowd so that these are in equilibria with the conventional elements of mind, product, and core. It behooves all of us to understand this nascent dynamic of these three pairs of not antagonistic, but rather synergistic forces.

Although this book contains some semi-duplicated discussions from prior books (it is more like The Second Machine Age 1.7 than 2.0), it as a standalone volume is still very worthwhile reading and serves as a cogent, cohesive, and comprehensive analysis to guide and perhaps even reassure us in this modern day technological imbroglio. Overall, this book is a must-read primer with essential technological and business principles for anyone interested in attaining knowledge clarity and understanding value creation in healthcare.


dr anthony chang ai medicine healthcare artificial intelligenceDr Anthony Chang, MD, MPH, MS, MBA

Dr Anthony Chang is the Chief Intelligence and Innovation Officer and Medical Director of the Sharon Disney Lund Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute (MI3) at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

He is the Chairman and Founder of AIMed.