Report on Whether AI Could Drive Explosive Economic Growth
I’ve cross-posted the introduction so people can see what it’s about. Happy to respond to questions and comments here (though I won’t be able to respond for a week).
Since 1900, the global economy has grown by about 3% each year, meaning that it doubles in size every 20–30 years. I’ve written a report assessing whether significantly faster growth might occur this century. Specifically, I ask whether growth could be ten times faster, with the global economy growing by 30% each year. This would mean it doubled in size every 2–3 years; I call this possibility ‘explosive growth’.
The report builds on the work of my colleague, David Roodman. Although recently growth has been fairly steady, in the distant past it was much slower. David developed a mathematical model for extrapolating this pattern into the future; after calibration to data for the last 12,000 years, the model predicts that the global economy will grow ever faster over time and that explosive growth is a couple of decades away! My report assesses David’s model, and compares it to other methods for extrapolating growth into the future.
At first glance, it might seem that explosive growth is implausible — that it is somehow absurd or economically naive. Contrary to this view, I offer three considerations from economic history and growth theory that suggest advanced AI could drive explosive growth. In brief:
The pace of growth has increased significantly over the course of history. Absent a deeper understanding of the mechanics driving growth, it would be strange to rule out future increases in growth.
One important mechanism that increased growth over long-run history is the ideas feedback loop: more ideas → more people → more ideas. Sufficiently advanced AI systems could increase growth further via an analogous feedback loop: more ideas → more AI systems → more ideas.
When you plug the assumption that AI systems can replace human workers into standard growth models (designed to explain growth since 1900), they often predict explosive growth.
These arguments don’t prove that advanced AI would drive explosive growth, but I think they show that it is a plausible scenario.
For AI to drive explosive growth, AI systems would have to be capable enough to replace human workers in most jobs, including cutting-edge scientific research, starting new businesses, and running and upgrading factories.
We think it’s plausible that sufficiently capable AI systems will be developed this century. My colleague Joe Carlsmith’s report estimates the computational power needed to match the human brain. Based on this and other evidence, my colleague Ajeya Cotra’s draft report estimates when we’ll develop human-level AI; she finds we’re 80% likely to do so by 2100. In a previous report I took a different approach to the question, drawing on analogies between developing human-level AI and various historical technological developments. My central estimate was that there’s a ~20% probability of developing human-level AI by 2100. These probabilities are consistent with the predictions of AI practitioners.
Overall, I place at least 10% probability on advanced AI driving explosive growth this century.
The report also discusses reasons to think growth could slow; I place at least 25% probability on the global economy only doubling every ~50 years by 2100.
This research informs Open Phil’s thinking about what kinds of impact advanced AI systems might have on society, and when such systems might be developed. This is relevant to how much to prioritize risks from advanced AI relative to other focus areas, and also to prioritizing within this focus area.
We elicited a number of reviews of drafts of the report.
The structure of this blog post is as follows:
I clarify the question the report is answering: what would explosive growth actually look like? More.
I say more about why Open Phil is interested in the question of explosive growth. More.
I discuss the three reasons to think that explosive growth could occur this century. More.
I briefly discuss objections to explosive growth occurring this century. More.
Note, many issues discussed in the report are not included in this blog. I’d recommend that readers with a background in these issues read the report instead.