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What kind of progress?

A recently published book explores the historical relations between technology and prosperity – to understand the present and get ready for the future

 

How to reconcile the power of technology with balanced development and progress, with the goal of reaching prosperity for all, and at all times? Essential objectives that should not merely be taken for granted. Accomplishments that should enhance social life and a production culture that places well-rounded individuals – and the whole of humanity – at its heart. To understand how we could attain all this, we also need to understand all that has already been achieved and Potere e progresso. La nostra lotta millenaria per la tecnologia e la prosperità (Power and progress. Our thousand-year struggle over technology and prosperity) – written in collaboration by Daron Acemoglu Simon Johnson (both professors at the MIT in Boston) – helps readers do just that.

The book, recently published in Italy, attempts to answer one question: what actually is progress? A question that leads to many others, accompanied by as many answers linking past to present. The two authors focus on technological change – from medieval agricultural advancements to the Industrial Revolution and our current Artificial Intelligence – as the main driver for prosperity, something that should have brought us only benefits but whose impact was actually rather varied depending on who had control over it. Acemoglu and Johnson debunk the modern myth of techno-optimism (actually, of techno-optimism in any age) – true enough, we are doing much better than our ancestors, but the extensive range of innovations that arose over the last thousand years did not lead to widespread common welfare at all. What can we do, then? According to the two economists, we need a new and more inclusive vision of technology, a perspective that can arise only when social and production systems realise that innovation must really serve everyone. Acemoglu and Johnson conclude their extensive account of past and present progress and technology by illustrating how we could act: technological progress should be steered into a more general direction; digital technologies should be reconfigured; social relations, together with institutional activities and policies, should aim to refine the concrete tools required for an intervention. The stated final goal, as we said above, is a single one: ensuring that technology gives rise to new jobs and new opportunities rather than marginalising the majority of people. Of further notice and usefulness is the bibliography included at the end, almost a book in itself.

Just like any work concerning theory as well as practice, not all readers may agree with all that Acemoglu and Johnson’s latest literary effort contains, but these approximately 600 pages on the “thousand-year struggle over technology and prosperity” are nonetheless worth a careful read.

Potere e progresso. La nostra lotta millenaria per la tecnologia e la prosperità (Power and progress. Our thousand-year struggle over technology and prosperity)

Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson

il Saggiatore, 2023

A recently published book explores the historical relations between technology and prosperity – to understand the present and get ready for the future

 

How to reconcile the power of technology with balanced development and progress, with the goal of reaching prosperity for all, and at all times? Essential objectives that should not merely be taken for granted. Accomplishments that should enhance social life and a production culture that places well-rounded individuals – and the whole of humanity – at its heart. To understand how we could attain all this, we also need to understand all that has already been achieved and Potere e progresso. La nostra lotta millenaria per la tecnologia e la prosperità (Power and progress. Our thousand-year struggle over technology and prosperity) – written in collaboration by Daron Acemoglu Simon Johnson (both professors at the MIT in Boston) – helps readers do just that.

The book, recently published in Italy, attempts to answer one question: what actually is progress? A question that leads to many others, accompanied by as many answers linking past to present. The two authors focus on technological change – from medieval agricultural advancements to the Industrial Revolution and our current Artificial Intelligence – as the main driver for prosperity, something that should have brought us only benefits but whose impact was actually rather varied depending on who had control over it. Acemoglu and Johnson debunk the modern myth of techno-optimism (actually, of techno-optimism in any age) – true enough, we are doing much better than our ancestors, but the extensive range of innovations that arose over the last thousand years did not lead to widespread common welfare at all. What can we do, then? According to the two economists, we need a new and more inclusive vision of technology, a perspective that can arise only when social and production systems realise that innovation must really serve everyone. Acemoglu and Johnson conclude their extensive account of past and present progress and technology by illustrating how we could act: technological progress should be steered into a more general direction; digital technologies should be reconfigured; social relations, together with institutional activities and policies, should aim to refine the concrete tools required for an intervention. The stated final goal, as we said above, is a single one: ensuring that technology gives rise to new jobs and new opportunities rather than marginalising the majority of people. Of further notice and usefulness is the bibliography included at the end, almost a book in itself.

Just like any work concerning theory as well as practice, not all readers may agree with all that Acemoglu and Johnson’s latest literary effort contains, but these approximately 600 pages on the “thousand-year struggle over technology and prosperity” are nonetheless worth a careful read.

Potere e progresso. La nostra lotta millenaria per la tecnologia e la prosperità (Power and progress. Our thousand-year struggle over technology and prosperity)

Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson

il Saggiatore, 2023