In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth”, Robert Gordon pinpoints 1970 as the time when a period of unprecedented innovation and growth ended. He uses a striking visual to drive this point home alongside all his data. If you were to take a person from 1870 and place them in 1920 the world would be unrecognizable to them. If you were take a person from 1970 and place them in 2020, the world would be changed but effectively still the same as it was in 1970, plus or minus a few billion transitors.
If you agree with Gordon, and many do, then the emergence of the powerful, mysterious, and subtle large language models (LLMs) such as chatGPT should be tremendously exciting. And it is not only chat interfaces but the last few years of AI have seen protein folding solved, full self driving deployed, and many other advances.
And yet, AI accelerationists claim that exponential increases in the capability of AI systems will result in massive job loss and re-alignment in the economy. Sam Altman recently asked “how much would a plumbing job cost versus building an iOS app in 2030?”, implying that the value of physical labor will sharply increase while AI will drive the value of digital labor to 0. Similar sentiments abound across Twitter and in conversations at tech parties.
If we have truly been in the midst of 50 years of stagnation, than we should be seeking advances which can re-acclerate us on a path of growth and innovation. AI could actually be that. Should we not embrace the chance to deploy scary AIs which operate in ways we do not understand and yet make everyone, from doctors to programmers to beurocrats more productive?
After decades of slow growth, surely a few years of technological disruption will be a good thing.