On Wednesday, June 14, Daron Acemoglu joined Markus’ Academy for a lecture on his book Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity. Acemoglu is the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
[0:00] Introduction [9:02] Is the “productivity bandwagon” guaranteed? [24:19] Should we prevent harmful innovations? Wrong question [32:03] How can we secure shared prosperity? New tasks and worker power [40:19] Could AI be different? [49:26] What can we do?
A summary in four bullets
Economists tend to think that the “productivity bandwagon” is guaranteed: as firms try to hire more workers they will increase wages.
However to secure shared prosperity from technological progress you need two things: (1) Technology has to go in a direction that improves workers’ productivity. (2) Institutional and ideological paradigms must give workers a chance to benefit from that marginal productivity.
We must redirect technological change towards new tasks for greater worker productivity, better information for workers, and greater worker autonomy. AI has an unparalleled ability to do so and complement knowledge work.
It is not clear that we need big tech. It is the way the market has gone: it has led to huge foundation LLM models, trained on the entire internet, with the goal of dominating the search market. An alternative would have been to have smaller scale models that are more domain-specific, which would have been much more open for many companies to enter.