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Artificial intelligence could be the answer for productivity woes
Source: Jessica Sier




Artificial intelligence could be the most revolutionary force affecting productivity in the United States economy, says the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

"Everyone in Silicon Valley thinks statisticians are mis-measuring the productivity provided by the internet, but it's not that," says John C. Williams, on a trip to Sydney this week.

The productivity gains from the inventions of electricity and the combustion engine had much more influence on humans' ...
The productivity gains from the inventions of electricity and the combustion engine had much more influence on humans' output capacity.

"Instead, the technologies that we now use and love mostly affect our consumption of leisure rather than affect our output in factories or offices."

Positive data showing the US economy is nearing full employment and that inflation is edging higher prompted the US central bank to recently raise interest rates for the second time in three months.

The US Fed also announced it will push ahead with plans to gradually shrink its $US4.5 trillion ($6 trillion) bond portfolio.

But wages and productivity growth remain stubbornly low, prompting the question: are economists mis-measuring the advent of the digital economy and the role of the internet in sophisticated labour markets?
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The productivity gains from the inventions of electricity and the combustion engine had much more influence on humans' output capacity, says Mr Williams, and the only innovation in recent times that might rival those is artificial intelligence.

"AI is interesting because that says we could replace sophisticated human functions with computers," he told an audience at the University of Technology Sydney. "Potentially, that could be revolutionary in terms of our productivity."

Productivity growth in the US has averaged 0.6 per cent over the last five years, down from 2.2 per cent during 1947-2007, according to JP Morgan data.

It's a problem affecting Australia as well, with the Reserve Bank of Australia also flagging the role of the internet in domestic productivity output.

Mr Williams also reiterated the US Federal Reserve's plan to "normalise" interest rate movements and said the US had reached a "turning point" in its transition from economic recovery to expansion.

"The more public understanding, the less chance that [our] actions will fuel unnecessarily volatility in the markets," said Mr Williams.

"Therefore, our process has been widely telegraphed and it will continue to be gradual, predictable and transparent, or in a word, boring,"

The pick-up in inflation and solid unemployment rate have solidified the US Federal Reserve's case for keeping the US economy expanding for as long as possible.

"Gradually raising interest rates to bring monetary policy back to normal helps The Fed keep the economy growing at a rate that can be sustained for a longer time," said Mr Williams.

"If we delay too long, the economy will eventually overheat, causing inflation or some other problem. At some point, that would put us in the position of having to quickly reverse course to slow the economy. That risks stalling the expansion and setting us back into recession."

While Mr Williams is not a member of the Federal Open Market Committee this year and does not vote on monetary policy directly, economists broadly agree he is a relatively good signal of future policy. He was the director of research at the San Francisco Fed when now-Fed chair Janet Yellen was president of the bank.



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