Published On: Wed, Oct 25th, 2023

Advantages of AI over Human Intelligence 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a topic of great interest and debate in recent years. Many discussions focus on the potential for AI to replicate human intelligence and replace human workers. However, there is an alternative perspective that suggests AI can provide “machine usefulness” to augment human workers’ capabilities without usurping their jobs. This approach aims to create productivity gains and spread prosperity, rather than concentrate power in the hands of a wealthy elite.

Moving in the Wrong Direction

MIT economist Daron Acemoglu warns that society is currently moving in a direction that replaces jobs with AI and increases societal surveillance. This trend reinforces economic inequality and concentrates political power further among the ultra-wealthy. Acemoglu emphasizes the importance of making transformative choices to shape the impact of automation on jobs and society.

The Power and Control of Technology

Acemoglu highlights that major innovations, including automation and AI, are closely tied to matters of societal power and control. While technology can enhance productivity, the crucial question is how the resulting economic benefits are shared. The development of AI can take various directions, either bringing broad-based benefits or further enriching a narrow elite.

Augmenting Workers’ Tasks for Prosperity

Acemoglu proposes a future in which AI augments workers’ tasks rather than replacing them, leading to shared prosperity. The objective is not to make machines intelligent in themselves, but to make them increasingly useful to humans. By focusing on enhancing human capabilities, AI can contribute to the workforce’s well-being and spread economic growth.

Historical Examples

To support his argument, Acemoglu draws on historical examples to illustrate that the widespread benefits of new technology are not guaranteed but depend on how it is implemented. He cites the Industrial Revolution, during which it took at least a century for the productivity gains to be widely shared. Initially, real earnings did not rise, working hours increased, and labor conditions worsened. Acemoglu also points out that Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin made conditions worse for slaves in the United States. These examples demonstrate the potential for innovation to benefit a few at the expense of the many, highlighting the need for careful consideration of technology’s impact.

The Path to Shared Prosperity

Acemoglu argues that society should strive for what he and Simon Johnson term “The Productivity Bandwagon.” This concept refers to a condition in which technological innovation is adapted to help workers rather than replace them, leading to shared prosperity. The Productivity Bandwagon is not automatic but depends on technology’s nature, how production is organized, and the sharing of gains. Acemoglu emphasizes the importance of worker power in this process, which has eroded in recent decades. However, he also acknowledges a tradition among technologists to make machines more useful to humans, suggesting that AI could follow this path.

Concerns and Questions

Fotini Christia, the Ford International Professor of the Social Sciences, offers commentary on Acemoglu’s talk, praising their book “Power and Progress” for addressing the forces of technology and channeling them for the greater good. Christia raises important questions about the potential impact of AI compared to previous technological advancements, the responsibility of different societal groups, and the effects of AI on developing countries.

The Role of Worker Power

Acemoglu acknowledges the need for greater worker power to shape the implementation of AI and suggests that workers themselves should propose productive uses for the technology. He emphasizes that workers must not only protest but also pursue policy changes to influence the outcome. Redirecting technology and making it a social choice require optimism and collective effort.

Vulnerability of Developing Countries

Acemoglu highlights the vulnerability of developing countries to the effects of AI. He mentions China’s exportation of AI surveillance technologies to governments in many developing nations, which raises concerns about privacy and individual rights. Additionally, countries that rely on low-wage industries for economic progress may face challenges as AI developments potentially undercut labor force participation.

The Dangers of Unrestrained Information

Acemoglu warns that the accumulation of vast amounts of information by private companies or central governments can have negative consequences for the majority of the population. If information is used without constraints, it can lead to antidemocratic practices and increased inequality. He cautions that an overemphasis on automation may not yield significant productivity gains, as some technologies may simply be cheaper substitutes for human workers without increasing overall productivity.

In conclusion, the future of AI holds the potential for both positive and negative outcomes. To ensure shared prosperity and widespread benefits, society must focus on augmenting human tasks rather than replacing them. The Productivity Bandwagon, accompanied by worker power and thoughtful policy changes, can help shape a future where AI enhances human capabilities and spreads economic growth. However, without careful consideration and collective action, AI could exacerbate inequality and concentrate power in the hands of a few. It is crucial to make deliberate choices and prioritize the well-being of workers and society as a whole.

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