An Unprincipled Analogy

This is my running analogy for AI as a general-purpose technology:


If this analogy isn’t far off the mark, it gives a reference class for thinking about replacement rates.

Vaclav Smil’s calculations of replacement levels of animate “prime movers” (human labor, horses, oxen) were gradually replaced animate movers, increasing their share by a bit less than 10% a decade.

So, what’s the reason for expecting AI to replace human problem-solvers faster?

There’s a couple of pieces to the answer, all of which I plan to elaborate on in the future, but two major pieces are:

  • AI automation can potentially relieve bottlenecks on growth in human production:
    • Research and development
    • Design of hardware and software systems
    • Task decomposition
  • AI is going to operate at a much higher speed than humans.


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