The Economic Implications of Intelligent Machines

Martin Ford

Robin Hanson, a professor at George Mason University (who also blogs at Overcoming Bias), is one of the few economists who has given serious thought to the potential economic implications of intelligent machines. In Dr. Hanson’s 1998 paper, “Economic Growth Given Machine Intelligence,” he suggests several variations on a growth model which assumes that machines achieve sufficient intelligence to become complete substitutes for, rather than complements to, human labor. Dr. Hanson’s conclusions are very optimistic, and to me, quite counterintuitive. His models “suggest that wholesale use of machine intelligence could increase economic growth rates by an order of magnitude or more.” At the same time, however, he notes the obvious reality that as machines become affordable, and very likely more capable, substitutes for human workers, “wages might well fall below human subsistence levels. ”

My immediate reaction to this is that economic growth at any level—let alone…

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