Will: This great run is probably over

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Robert Gordon's "The Rise and Fall of American Growth" argues that an unprecedented and unrepeatable "special century" of life-changing inventions has produced unrealistic expectations, so the future will disappoint: "The economic revolution of 1870 to 1970 was unique … . No other era in human history, either before or since, combined so many elements in which the standard of living increased as quickly and in which the human condition was transformed so completely." In many ways, the world of 1870 was more medieval than modern. Three necessities -- food, clothing, shelter -- absorbed almost all consumer spending. No household was wired for electricity.


Why Growth Will Fall

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Robert Gordon has written a magnificent book on the economic history of the United States over the last one and a half centuries. His study focuses on what he calls the "special century" from 1870 to 1970--in which living standards increased more rapidly than at any time before or after. The book is without peer in providing a statistical analysis of the uneven pace of growth and technological change, in describing the technologies that led to the remarkable progress during the special century, and in concluding with a provocative hypothesis that the future is unlikely to bring anything approaching the economic gains of the earlier period. The message of Rise and Fall is this. For most of human history, economic progress moved at a crawl. According to the economic historian Bradford DeLong, from the first rock tools used by humanoids three million years ago, to the earliest cities ten thousand years ago, through the Middle Ages, to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution around 1800, living standards doubled (with a growth of 0.00002 percent per year). Another doubling took place over the subsequent period to 1870. Then, according to standard calculations, the world economy took off. Gordon focuses on growth in the United States.


AI is reinventing the way we invent

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Amgen's drug discovery group is a few blocks beyond that. Until recently, Barzilay, one of the world's leading researchers in artificial intelligence, hadn't given much thought to these nearby buildings full of chemists and biologists. But as AI and machine learning began to perform ever more impressive feats in image recognition and language comprehension, she began to wonder: could it also transform the task of finding new drugs? The problem is that human researchers can explore only a tiny slice of what is possible. It's estimated that there are as many as 1060 potentially drug-like molecules--more than the number of atoms in the solar system. But traversing seemingly unlimited possibilities is what machine learning is good at. Trained on large databases of existing molecules and their properties, the programs can explore all possible related molecules.


The Real Payoff From Artificial Intelligence Is Still a Decade Off

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It has been 21 years since IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer checkmated chess champion Garry Kasparov, marking a historic moment in the development of artificial intelligence technologies. Since then, artificial intelligence has invaded everyday objects, such as cell phones, cars, fridges, and televisions. But the world economy seems to have little to show for the proliferation of smartness. Among advanced economies, productivity growth is slower now than at any time in the past five decades. National GDPs and standards of living, meanwhile, have been relatively stagnant for years.


The Real Payoff From Artificial Intelligence Is Still a Decade Off

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It has been 21 years since IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer checkmated chess champion Garry Kasparov, marking a historic moment in the development of artificial intelligence technologies. Since then, artificial intelligence has invaded everyday objects, such as cell phones, cars, fridges, and televisions. But the world economy seems to have little to show for the proliferation of smartness. Among advanced economies, productivity growth is slower now than at any time in the past five decades. National GDPs and standards of living, meanwhile, have been relatively stagnant for years.