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Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. By Tyler Cowen. New York: Dutton, 2013.

Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. By Tyler Cowen. New... 338 Book Reviews Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagna- tion. By Tyler Cowen. New York: Dutton, 2013. Writing in an engaging, easy-to-read style, Tyler Cowan provides a useful explanation of the role of technology—specifically, machine learning (the use of algorithms by computers to learn from data)—in reshaping society and its economic landscape. His main tenet is that people who utilize these machines will gain in a meritocratic system built around the knowledge economy. Those that do not will fall into an underclass that bears the brunt of technological transitions. As a result, society will become increasingly divided into winners and losers. In short, average is over. Cowan provides a number of examples of how people will work with technology in the future. He draws at length on freestyle chess, a form of cyborg chess in which teams of humans in conjunction with computer chess programs compete against others. This example is not about the superior- ity of machines in raw computing power (think about IBM’s Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in 1997). Instead, it is about how people can ben- efit by harnessing the power of computers in the pursuit of their own goals in collaboration rather than competition. The book draws on this example to explore how to integrate humans and machines in new ways. Cowen high- lights the potential benefits in the future, if people are willing to work for them. Like Gregg Easterbrook and Peter Diamondis, Cowan presents a world in which there is potential for societal advancement through technol- ogy (Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, 2003; Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, 2012). One area that I find overplayed in Average Is Over is in how this vision of the future will impact higher education. Cowan thinks that college will be beneficial for only a small minority and that others will benefit more from cheaper and shorter alternatives—perhaps more online MOOC-style courses, TED talks, or as-needed learning from Wikipedia. I think that he has some interesting ideas that higher education needs to think about as a collective, but it seems that he misses the point of increasingly interdisci- plinary, use-inspired educational opportunities already present at traditional universities and the importance of that in the world he presents. It is never clear how accurate futuristic messages will be; however, Average Is Over provides an interesting hypothesis with clear implications. It will be up to society as a whole to shape the outcomes desired. Reviewed by Michael Schoon The Al-Qaeda Doctrine: The Framing and Evolution of the Leadership’s Public Discourse. By Donald Holbrook. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. While there is no dearth of work on al-Qaeda, this book stands out for its rare rigorous empirical engagement with the subject. The book aims to http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations Brill

Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. By Tyler Cowen. New York: Dutton, 2013.

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Publisher
Brill
Copyright
Copyright © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
ISSN
1075-2846
eISSN
1942-6720
DOI
10.1163/19426720-02102010
Publisher site
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Abstract

338 Book Reviews Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagna- tion. By Tyler Cowen. New York: Dutton, 2013. Writing in an engaging, easy-to-read style, Tyler Cowan provides a useful explanation of the role of technology—specifically, machine learning (the use of algorithms by computers to learn from data)—in reshaping society and its economic landscape. His main tenet is that people who utilize these machines will gain in a meritocratic system built around the knowledge economy. Those that do not will fall into an underclass that bears the brunt of technological transitions. As a result, society will become increasingly divided into winners and losers. In short, average is over. Cowan provides a number of examples of how people will work with technology in the future. He draws at length on freestyle chess, a form of cyborg chess in which teams of humans in conjunction with computer chess programs compete against others. This example is not about the superior- ity of machines in raw computing power (think about IBM’s Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov in 1997). Instead, it is about how people can ben- efit by harnessing the power of computers in the pursuit of their own goals in collaboration rather than competition. The book draws on this example to explore how to integrate humans and machines in new ways. Cowen high- lights the potential benefits in the future, if people are willing to work for them. Like Gregg Easterbrook and Peter Diamondis, Cowan presents a world in which there is potential for societal advancement through technol- ogy (Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, 2003; Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, 2012). One area that I find overplayed in Average Is Over is in how this vision of the future will impact higher education. Cowan thinks that college will be beneficial for only a small minority and that others will benefit more from cheaper and shorter alternatives—perhaps more online MOOC-style courses, TED talks, or as-needed learning from Wikipedia. I think that he has some interesting ideas that higher education needs to think about as a collective, but it seems that he misses the point of increasingly interdisci- plinary, use-inspired educational opportunities already present at traditional universities and the importance of that in the world he presents. It is never clear how accurate futuristic messages will be; however, Average Is Over provides an interesting hypothesis with clear implications. It will be up to society as a whole to shape the outcomes desired. Reviewed by Michael Schoon The Al-Qaeda Doctrine: The Framing and Evolution of the Leadership’s Public Discourse. By Donald Holbrook. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. While there is no dearth of work on al-Qaeda, this book stands out for its rare rigorous empirical engagement with the subject. The book aims to

Journal

Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International OrganizationsBrill

Published: Aug 19, 2015

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