Throughout history, technological change - whether in the form of agricultural improvements in the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, or today's artificial intelligence - has been viewed as a main driver of prosperity, working in the public interest. The reality, though, is that technology is shaped by what powerful people want and believe, generating riches, social respect, cultural prominence, and further political voice for those already powerful. For most of the rest of us, there is the illusion of progress.
Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson debunk modern techno-optimism through a dazzling, original account of how technological choices have changed the course of history. From vivid stories of how the economic surplus of the Middle Ages was appropriated by an ecclesiastical elite to build cathedrals while the peasants starved, to the making of vast fortunes from digital technologies today as millions are pushed towards poverty, we see how the path of technology is determined and who influences its trajectory.
To achieve the true potential of innovation, we need to ensure technology is creating new jobs and opportunities rather than marginalizing most people, through automated work and political passivity. We need to use the tremendous digital advances of the last half century to create useful and empowering tools, rather than "so-so" technologies that replace workers but fail to improve productivity, seizing back control from a small elite of hubristic, messianic tech leaders pursuing their own interests.
With their breakthrough economic theory and manifesto for building a better society, Acemoglu and Johnson provide the understanding and vision to reimagine and reshape the path of technology and create true shared prosperity.