Despite concerns over the possible risks posed by artificial intelligence, economist Jason Furman believes the technology holds the key to revitalizing economies around the world.
The economic debate over artificial intelligence (A.I.) has been raging with fervor in the last few decades, particularly as automated and cognitive technologies have reached new (and pervasive) levels of sophistication. From Apple’s Siri to self-driving cars, our devices are achieving unprecedented levels of intelligence.
Some commentators worry that by replacing cognitive tasks, A.I. technologies would eliminate the need for a human labor force in specific sectors of the economy. Others argue that these machines will actually create new jobs that would not have been possible otherwise, both increasing employment opportunity and raising incomes.
For Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman, the matter is more nuanced. At a recent conference entitled AI Now: The Social and Economic Implications of Artificial Intelligence Technologies in the Near Term, he gave a speech addressing some of these major concerns. What’s Mr. Furman’s biggest worry about A.I.? “That we do not have enough of it.” Here’s why:
Decreased Productivity Growth
In the last 20 years, countries all around the world have seen productivity growth enter a protracted decline. According to Furman, in 30 of the 31 “advanced economies,” productivity growth has been “slowing from a 2% average annual growth rate from 1994 to 2004, to a 1% average annual growth rate from 2004 to 2014.” The Wall Street Journal reports that weak investment before and after the recession, coupled with the slowing pace of innovation, has contributed most significantly to this decline.
And despite all the economic stimulation coming from the tech sector (for the countries that use them, robots added an estimated 0.4 percentage point to the their annual GDP growth between 1993 and 2007), it is this overall decline that has economists worried. “The slowdown in productivity growth has had profound consequences,” Furman continues, “contributing to slower growth in real wages and increasing our long-run fiscal challenges.”
How A.I. Can Help
Most important for Furman is the promise of robotics, A.I., and general automation to revitalize productivity growth around the world — after all, these cognitive technologies now play increasingly central roles in our daily lives. From its ability to quickly and accurately analyze customer transactions in marketing, to its superior image processing techniques in radiology, Furman cites a number of ways in which our day-to-day lives are being benefitted by the technology.
But while adoption of cognitive technology is impacting the lives and work of more and more individuals, Furman insists that work remains to be done on a macroeconomic scale. “We will need a much faster pace of innovation in these areas to really move the dial on productivity growth going forward,” he says. To do so, the economist argues that we need to “support research, foster the AI workforce, promote competition, safeguard consumer privacy, and enhance cybersecurity.”
Because improving upon and innovating with cognitive technologies requires the best and the brightest employees, it necessarily requires a better trained workforce, and a better trained workforce in turn increases the demand for the development of A.I. This process drives competition, a key ingredient in “the creation and adoption of new technologies and innovations,” and a critical piece of the productivity growth puzzle.
“The biggest worry I have about A.I. is that we will not have enough of it,” Furman concludes, “and that we need to do more to make sure we can continue to make groundbreaking discoveries that will raise productivity growth, improving the lives of Americans and people throughout the world.”
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