Philadelphia Reflections

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Right Angle Club 2017
Dick Palmer and Bill Dorsey died this year. We will miss them.

Artificial Intelligence

James Marsh

Earlier this year, the Franklin Inn Club and the Right Angle Club held lectures on the same subject (Artificial Intelligence) on two successive luncheons. The Franklin Inn was addressed by a member, Jim Marsh a former engineer, and the Right Angle by a member who was formerly in charge of investing the retirement portfolio of the Dupont Company. Essentially they said the same thing about two apparently unconnected industries. Artificial Intelligence is rapidly acquiring new abilities, and it's soon going to revolutionize the whole world.

At least, judging by the speed things are changing in the computer world, unreported advances will soon fill in the gaps which will make dramatic change inevitable. That's slightly different, and much of it is beyond American control. The central advance is for computers to utilize massive extensions of their present abilities, enabling them to test huge new conjectures rapidly by writing code for computers without depending on human innovation. Machines have a bigger, more permanent memory, and can test and implement wide varieties of new ideas beyond human abilities to keep up. That is unless human innovation blows us up first.

What is AI?

Apparently, trucks are apparently just on the edge of loading and pulling out of a loading block, and driving across the country--without a driver and without an accident. Human autos will be greatly reduced in number, possibly replaced by driverless taxis. Fewer potholes, fewer street repairs. People out of work, nothing to tax.

The stockbroker probably had a longer view than the engineer. so both of them may be right, at slightly different times. Artificial intelligence will increase supply, and also increase demand, but at different times. That will generate two collisions, one with supply in excess and the other with demand in excess, but at different times. So, in the short run, we have lower prices, and in the long run, we have greater growth. Or even vice versa , a crash followed by a boom, or possibly a boom followed by a crash, and it doesn't much matter whether it is triggered by crude oil prices, or the price of silk stockings.

How soon? Ah, that's the question. Right now people are behaving as though they think it may be two or three years. That may be true, but it seldom is true that people anticipate the future accurately. More often, what everybody knows, isn't worth knowing.

Originally published: Wednesday, November 15, 2017; most-recently modified: Monday, May 13, 2019