Science and Technology



Not to worry, according to Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.  Machines guided by artificial intelligence (AI) do not wake in the morning and ask: “What should I do today?”  That is what humans do.  AI will allow for amazing advances in how machines can handle specific tasks, including very complex and inter-related tasks.

If Moore’s Law of technological advancement holds for AI, there will be job disruptions that arrive ever more rapidly. As AI-guided machines take over tasks, so humans can focus on other endeavors.  This has critical policy and economic implications; however, worrying about machines becoming human is not one of them.

Wozniak was voicing his views at the Global Financial Leadership Conference (GFLC) held each November in Naples, Florida, and organized by CME Group.  After the fascinating session with Wozniak, the hallway conversations about technology and its policy implications among conference attendees were equally interesting.

AI’s Economic Ripples

The question of how far AI can go to replicate the human brain is an interesting one facing scientists, psychologists, policy analysts, and even economists.  Some policy analysts, such as Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy in their book, Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes ,  they put on the futurists hats in the latter part of their book. They are clearly worried about AI getting out of control and leading to real political and economic damage.

Some economists foresee the job disruptions that Wozniak expects, and they worry about an education system that may be training people for the wrong jobs.  Indeed, many argue that education systems need to be focused on equipping humans to be increasing more adaptable through their careers as the pace of technological change only increases.

Then there are the economists that worry about productivity.  In the United States and many other mature economies, measured productivity has been sluggish despite the obvious signs in our daily lives of how technology has made formerly complex tasks ever more easy and simple to accomplish.

Innovation Slump?

One perspective on this, from Professor Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, is that we are in the midst of an innovation slump contributing to the decline of economic growth rates.  Others argue that one should look out the window and observe all the incredible innovation that is happening, not the least of which the rise of the personal computer, and then advances with smart phones that have changed our lives.

This line of thought sees the productivity slump as due to mis-measuring inflation – actually not realizing that technological improvements have so improved the character of many goods and services that properly measured we may have experienced some deflation.  If inflation is lower than measured, then real GDP growth and labor productivity are being under-estimated and would be much higher.

Going back to the session at the conference, Wozniak was extremely optimistic about the future.  And equally, he was very positive about the good that has been done by technological advances, even if some bad had come with the good. “Overall it’s a force for good,” Wozniak answered to a question about tech’s place in society, later adding “I’m for humans.”



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