August 31, 2017

Artificial Intelligence Will Make Every Human Being Rich

Last week Ezra Klein had a post at Vox explaining why he wasn’t worried about AI taking all of our jobs:

But this, to me, is the story of labor markets in the past few hundred years: As technology drives people out of the most necessary jobs, we invent less necessary jobs that we nevertheless imbue with profound meaning and even economic value.

A possible response to this is that if AI achieves human-level intelligence, there will be no jobs AI can’t do, and so no jobs we can invent that AI won’t outcompete us for. But that’s a narrow view of what makes human beings human: Human-level AI is not human-level sociability, or appearance, or personality, or a million other things. There is a reason that yoga tapes haven’t replaced yoga instructors, and in fact, simply seem to increase demand for them.

I used to write and think a lot about the economics of human level AI – though much of what I know I learned from Robin Hanson. And the key thing that most people miss about AI is that it “closes the loop” of economic growth. Our current economy grows continuously because our investment in machines and technology increases the resources we have to invest in more machines and more technology.

Yet, this process is the fundamental speed limit because humans are a key input, and without more humans, the productivity of each additional machine diminishes a bit. More advanced technology helps, but the pace of discovery is limited, again in part because discovery requires human beings.

Human level AI changes that fundamental relationship. More machines host more AI, which develop more technology which builds more machines. The loop is closed. The fundamental speed limit is removed. Growth explodes. It only stops because some other resource becomes limiting. Either it’s that AI is not quite human and so somewhere humans are the limit of its natural resources. The value of natural resources then becomes so high that even owning a small amount would make someone massive wealthy by today’s standard.

And, to cut to the chase, the government will redistribute to make sure everyone owns at least a little bit. I feel deeply confident that this redistribution will happen. It will not result in anything close to income or wealth equality, but it will result in what is by current standards massive wealth for essentially every human being. The resulting lifestyle will be much closer to today’s idle rich than the chronically unemployed.

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