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A.I. Will Transform the Economy. But How Much, and How Soon?


Artificial intelligence can be used for image recognition, like in this display at a recent technology conference.

Researchers are scrambling to understand the potential implications of artificial intelligence.

Credit: Saul Loeb/Agence France-PresseGetty Images

There are basically three big questions about artificial intelligence and its impact on the economy: What can it do? Where is it headed? And how fast will it spread?

Three new reports combine to suggest these answers: It can probably do less right now than you think. But it will eventually do more than you probably think, in more places than you probably think, and will probably evolve faster than powerful technologies have in the past.

This bundle of research is itself a sign of the A.I. boom. Researchers across disciplines are scrambling to understand the likely trajectory, reach and influence of the technology — already finding its way into things like self-driving cars and image recognition online — in all its dimensions. Doing so raises a host of challenges of definition and measurement, because the field is moving quickly — and because companies are branding things A.I. for marketing purposes.

An "AI Index," created by researchers at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other organizations, released on Thursday, tracks developments in artificial intelligence by measuring aspects like technical progress, investment, research citations and university enrollments. The goal of the project is to collect, curate and continually update data to better inform scientists, businesspeople, policymakers and the public.

The McKinsey Global Institute published a report on Wednesday about automation and jobs, sketching out different paths the technology might take and its effect on workers, by job category in several countries. One finding: Up to one third of the American work force will have to switch to new occupations by 2030, in about a dozen years.

And in an article published in November by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists from M.I.T. and the University of Chicago suggest an answer to the puzzle of why all the research and investment in A.I. technology have so far had little effect on productivity.

 

From The New York Times
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