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WhatsApp And The Jobless Economy

Facebook pays $19 billion for WhatsApp, a company with 55 employees. Are we building a jobless economy?

This Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 photo shows the WhatsApp and Facebook app icons on an iPhone in New York. On Wednesday, the world's biggest social networking company announced it is buying mobile messaging service WhatsApp for up to $19 billion in cash and stock. WhatsApp has only 55 employees. (AP)

This Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 photo shows the WhatsApp and Facebook app icons on an iPhone in New York. On Wednesday, the world’s biggest social networking company announced it is buying mobile messaging service WhatsApp for up to $19 billion in cash and stock. WhatsApp has only 55 employees. (AP)

First reaction to the news last week that Facebook would buy upstart WhatsApp for $19 billion was all about the money.  Nineteen billion dollars is a lot of money.  But the next wave of reaction is about jobs.  WhatsApp, the young company selling for $19 billion, has 55 employees.  Fifty-five employees driving, in dollar terms, maybe the biggest start-up success story of all time.  If all it takes is 55 employees, where are the jobs going to be in this century’s economy?  This hour On Point:  Work, jobs and structuring a society for the WhatsApp economy.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Andrew McAfee, associate director of the Center for Digital Business at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. Co-author of “The Second Machine Age” and “Race Against the Machine.” Author of “Enterprise 2.0.” (@amcafee)

Erik Brynjolfsson, professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, director of the Center for Digital Business. Co-author of “The Second Machine Age” and “Race Against the Machine.” Author of “Wired for Innovation.” (@erikbryn)

Noah Smitheconomist and professor of finance at Stony Brook University. Writes at the economics blog “Noahpinion.” (@Noahpinion)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Atlantic: The Dawn of the Age of Artificial Intelligence — “The advances we’ve seen in the past few years—cars that drive themselves, useful humanoid robots, speech recognition and synthesis systems, 3D printers,Jeopardy!-champion computers—are not the crowning achievements of the computer era. They’re the warm-up acts. As we move deeper into the second machine age we’ll see more and more such wonders, and they’ll become more and more impressive.”

Slate: Will Technology Make Work Better for Everyone? — “Predicting the future of technology will always be tough, let alone predicting how social and technological factors will interact over time. Both ‘The Second Machine Age’ and the Economist are generally optimistic: McAfee and Brynjolfsson envision a world with “less need to work doing boring, repetitive tasks and more opportunity for creative and interactive work.” Similarly, the Economist takes the viewpoint that although ‘innovation kills some jobs, it creates new and better ones.'”

Huffington Post: Inequality, Productivity, and WhatsApp — “Whatsapp’s value doesn’t come from making anything. It doesn’t need a large organization to distribute its services or implement its strategy.It value comes instead from two other things that require only a handful of people. First is its technology — a simple but powerful app that allows users to send and receive text, image, audio and video messages through the Internet. The second is its network effect: The more people use it, the more other people want and need to use it in order to be connected. To that extent, it’s like Facebook — driven by connectivity.”

Read An Excerpt From “The Second Machine Age” By Erik Brynjolfsson And Andrew Mcafee

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