By Trey Price, American Consumer Institute
Artificial intelligence (AI) has transitioned from being science fiction to a burgeoning industry, exciting Venture Capitalists across the world. AI is currently poised to revolutionize many industries, and researchers have begun to examine its impact on the economy. Some early studies show increased productivity in the workplace and the potential for economic gains.
While its applications are still new, preliminary evidence suggests that AI improves efficiency in workplaces. The study, The Impact of AI on Developer Productivity: Evidence from GitHub Copilot, examined how AI assistance would impact programmers’ work. The study found that programmers getting assistance from AI finished their task 55.8 percent faster than the control group which did not have AI assistance and performed with a 7 percent higher accuracy rate compared to the control group.
The increase in speed indicates how AI can be used in a workplace to boost efficiency without compromising the accuracy of work produced. This improvement in productivity has been found outside of programming as well, with AI used in medical imaging to help doctors to better diagnose their patients. AI as it exists now is proving to be a labor-optimizing technology more than anything else, and like previous innovations, it will likely lead to significant economic benefits.
When trying to determine the impact of AI on the economy some researchers have been using models to predict the potential effects. A second study, Notes from the AI Frontier: Modeling the Impact of AI on the World Economy, examined the potential impact of widespread AI adoption on companies, and conversely, the potential consequences for companies should they not adopt AI tools. That study predicted that by 2030, AI would increase Gross Domestic Product compared to today.
Early adopters are set to benefit from AI the most, with this second study predicting it could lead to some companies doubling their cash flow, but also requiring a significant upfront investment when adopting it early and learning how to use it effectively. Companies that lag in adapting AI stand to lose money with a predicted 20% decline in cash flow, according to the study.
For workers, the second study also predicted jobs that require performing repetitive tasks would likely decline but also that it will spur the growth of other jobs involving social and digital skills, making the effect on unemployment minimal. This is a projection rather than a fact, but it is in line with other labor-optimizing technologies in history, such as the spinning Jenny in the Industrial Revolution which significantly improved the efficiency of textile factories.
AI has the potential to not only improve efficiency in established industries but also to create new opportunities. Another study examined how AI is being used in innovative ways such as creating new drugs. The study argued that AI could become a method of inventing in itself rather than a way to speed up existing processes. The authors compare this to how the invention of optic lenses meant for eyeglasses transformed science by allowing for the creation of microscopes and telescopes, which opened up new opportunities for scientific research.
Similarly, much like how computers and the internet created new opportunities that were unimaginable beforehand, reasonable expectations for how AI could create new avenues for growth should be considered when discussing the impact of AI.
While we know AI can be used to improve efficiency in the workplace, its potential beyond that benefit is still largely unknown. Projections on how and the extent to which this increased efficiency will materialize, and the future economic benefits are just something we don’t know yet.
Trey Price is a technology policy analyst for the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information, visit https://www.theamericanconsumer.org/ or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.