Reading list: 5 MIT books from 2021

As the turmoil continues in 2020 into 2021, people are looking for lighting. How is COVID-19 reshaping supply chains, and what can we learn from the rollout of a vaccine? What will the business look like moving forward, and how can we succeed while working remotely?

These five books offer a look at these pressing issues, as well as old topics like how to navigate the future of automation and how to invest wisely.

MIT Professor Andrew Lo and Sloan Stephen R. Foerster from Ivy Business School

Few would dismiss investment advice from Nobel Prize-winning economists and “Wall Street’s wisest men”. In their book, Lo and Foerster offer a look inside the minds of 10 notable investing figures, including Myron Scholes, Robert Merton and Robert Shiller, for advice on diversification, market timing, and whether the right mix of risk and reward can be achieved.

The authors also identify seven principles for developing an “ideal portfolio”—which is “it’s all about adjusting to our current income, spending habits, financial goals, environment, and expected returns.”

Sloan lecturer at MIT Robert Posen and technology writer Alexandra Samuel

It is clear that remote work is more than just an epidemic trend. Buzen and Samuel encourage everyone from early career pioneers to managers to approach working from home with a “one-to-one” mindset, while embracing the habits and mindset of a small business owner.

“This is because each home office is, essentially, its own independent project,” the authors wrote. “Passing yourself as Remote, Inc. means that you have the responsibility and accountability of your employer, but also flexibility and independence.”

In addition to the employee mindset, this model relies on great managers who help employees be individually productive and contribute to the overall success of the team.

Daron Acemoglu, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

AI promised to boost productivity and improve medicine, transportation, and the workplace. But research and development in artificial intelligence has been deficient, with technology threatening democracy and individual liberties, MIT professor Daron Acemoglu says in a feature article entitled Redesigning AI, a Boston review book.

“Our current path leads to excessive automation of work with a refusal to invest in human productivity; further progress will displace workers and fail to create new opportunities,” Akimoglu wrote. But he notes that the path of AI is not predetermined: “The future of AI is still open and could take us in many different directions.” Government involvement, rule-making, and democratic oversight can help correct the course.

Acemoglu’s article follows short responses from AI researchers, action advocates, economists, philosophers, and ethicists.

MIT Media Lab researcher Kate Darling

Darling, an expert on robot ethics and politics, takes a fresh look at how humans approach our relationship with robots — looking at how we interact with animals. Like animals, robots are likely to complement human workers, not replace them. Darling investigates how robots – like animals in the past – are integrated into human spaces and systems, the emerging evolution of robotic companions, and a “sounding very futuristic world” for human robotics.

Animals have long been used by historians and sociologists to think about what it means to be human, but animals also have much to teach us about our relationship to robots, Darling wrote. “The robotic technologies that are increasingly woven into the fabric of our daily lives pose questions and choices we will face as societies.”

Yossi Shevi, MIT professor, director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics

The race to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, developed in less than a year, has been compared to the 1960s campaign to put people on the moon. In his new book, Chevy writes, that the race for the moon was easier in many ways. While NASA needed to develop rockets to take a few astronauts to the Moon, billions of units of a safe and effective vaccine were needed for billions of people. NASA was given eight years to get to the moon, but a vaccine needed to be developed as quickly as safely possible.

Scheefe takes a look at the scientific knowledge that made the vaccine possible, how it was produced and widely distributed by various governments, and how vaccine providers had to overcome misinformation and convince people to get the vaccine. The developers had to overcome a shortage of materials – for example, glass vials were needed to keep the vaccine cold – and industrial capacity to create complete supply chains. The logistical effort was akin to bringing the hottest new game to retailer shelves for the holidays, “but with the added stress, blockages and delays in distribution will lead to more people dying,” writes Sheffy. The various findings provide valuable lessons on how to approach the launch of products in high demand.

Read next: The 2022 Return to Work and Telecommuting Toolkit

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