By Rachel Metz
If you want to determine the true impact the AI revolution will have on the US economy, well, you may have to wait a bit. That was, essentially, the message from experts speaking this week at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Next conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they discussed the future of work and the changes — expected and as-yet-unknown — that artificial intelligence, robotics, and other emerging technologies will bring to the US job market.
Robert Solow, a Nobel prize-winning economist and MIT professor, said on stage that it’s “hard to say” whether AI will bring about a different kind of technological shakeup than ones we’ve seen in the past. At the moment, it looks broadly similar, he said. But we still don’t know much about what an AI-based economy will look like, including how much investment companies will have to make in things like buildings and equipment, and what the labor demands will be for employees.
“Coal mining was different from auto manufacturing, different from retailing, and an AI-based economy will be different from the others,” he said.
Lots of AI-related products and services exist purely in the digital realm. Karen Mills, administrator for the US Small Business Administration under President Barack Obama, noted that while semiconductors more or less defined the last 50 years of innovation and drove a huge amount of economic growth, they were physically manufactured goods.
“(AI is) not a physical good; it’s a service,” she said, “and one of the questions is, ‘Does that change the economy if it’s not a capital good?’”
One big problem that could have lasting effects, she thinks, is a mismatch between the skills companies need in new employees and those that employees have or know that they can readily…