We are creating an intelligence that is external to humans and housed in the virtual economy. This is bringing us into a new economic era—a distributive one—where different rules apply.
A year ago in Oslo Airport, I checked in to a SAS flight. One airline kiosk issued a boarding pass, another punched out a luggage tag, then a computer screen showed me how to attach it and another where I should set the luggage on a conveyor. I encountered no single human being. The incident wasn’t important but it left me feeling odd that I was out of human care, that something in our world had shifted.
That shift, of course, has been going on for a long time. It’s been driven by a succession of technologies—the Internet, the cloud, big data, robotics, machine learning, and now artificial intelligence—together powerful enough that economists agree we are in the midst of a digital economic revolution. But there is less agreement on how exactly the new technologies are changing the economy and whether the changes are deep. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University tells us the computer revolution “reached its climax in the dot-com era of the 1990s. ” Future progress in technology, he says, will be slower.