Artificial intelligence is starting to show up in many more places. It plays a role in many types of entertainment, medicine, and even law enforcement. But is it good for humans in the long run?
History may be able to offer us a few clues.

“I think a certain amount of fear is justified. I don’t think we’re facing the robot apocalypse, the Terminator scenario,” Simon Johnson, a professor of global economics and management at MIT Sloan School of Management.

Take the medieval plow – if advances in the tool didn’t lift Europe’s peasants out of poverty, it was largely because their rulers took the wealth generated by the new gains in output and used it to build cathedrals instead.

Economists say something similar could happen with artificial intelligence if it enters our lives in such a way that the benefits are enjoyed by the few, not the many. “AI definitely has the potential to increase inequality,” Johnson said. “It may benefit other people also, but that could also take a really long time. So a lot of times technological transformations eventually do help a lot of people, but eventually might be 100 years or even even more. So I think the question with that is how quickly can you share the benefits.”

Backers of AI predict a productivity leap that will generate wealth and improve living standards.
Consultancy McKinsey estimates it could add between $14 trillion and $22 trillion of value annually – that higher figure being roughly the current size of the U.S. economy.

Innovation, it turns out, is the easy bit. Harder is making it work for everyone.

History shows the economic impact of technological advances is generally uncertain, unequal and sometimes outright malign. The track record of the Internet, for example, is complex: it has created many new job roles even as much of the wealth generated has gone to a handful of billionaires.

But the productivity gains it was once lauded for have slowed across many economies.
“AI is up there in terms of potential impact, but it’s also really fast, right,” Johnson asked. “It’s coming at us much faster than electricity did, for example. That was a big deal in the early 20th century, but that took up to about 20 or 30 years to roll out fully. I already I mean, within a few days, ChatGPT was affecting jobs around the world and I think within five years the effects are going to be quite profound in many places.”