Title: AI, Technology, and the Quest for Shared Prosperity
The Dark Ages were not as bleak as believed. Medieval advancements in agriculture and building led to an increase in wealth and the construction of grand cathedrals. However, this period was marked by profound inequality. The elite controlled most economic gains, leaving peasants impoverished. While this may seem distant from the present, MIT Professors Simon Johnson and Daron Acemoglu argue that the question of who benefits from technology remains relevant, especially in the era of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).
Exploring the Consequences of AI:
Johnson and Acemoglu’s new book, “Power and Progress: Our 1000-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity,” delves into the economic and political implications of AI. They highlight that many algorithms seek to replace humans instead of making machines useful to people. They caution against the current path of AI, which only benefits a small group of individuals and serves as a tool of social control for some governments. Acemoglu and Johnson call for a return to shared prosperity and the reharnessing of technology for the benefit of all.
What’s Missing in AI:
According to Acemoglu and Johnson, the development of AI is too focused on replicating human intelligence. They believe that AI falls short of the human mind’s agility and flexibility, making it a suboptimal replacement. The scholars advocate for technologies that enhance marginal productivity, encouraging firms to hire more workers. Rather than replacing specialized professions, AI can expand the capabilities of workers, making their services more valuable. Their philosophy is centered on the usefulness of machines and empowering workers, specifically those in lower-wage sectors.
The Political Dimension of AI:
Acemoglu and Johnson raise concerns about surveillance technologies, facial recognition tools, data collection, and AI-generated misinformation. They reference China’s use of AI for social control and the manipulation of social media platforms’ algorithms for spreading harmful information. They argue that such uses of AI perpetuate self-reinforcing dynamics that marginalize democratic participation. To counter this, they propose various policy responses, including data ownership for internet users, tax reforms favoring employment over automation, government support for diverse research, reconsideration of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and a digital advertising tax.
“Power and Progress” offers a thought-provoking perspective on the role of technology in shaping the future. Acemoglu and Johnson highlight the importance of shared prosperity and urge a reevaluation of AI development. Their ideas resonate across ideologies, calling for necessary policy changes to ensure technology benefits society as a whole. With their book, they contribute to the ongoing conversation about AI and its implications for economics and democracy.