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Why the robot takeover of the economy is proceeding slowly
Source: Luke Sharrett

Vik Singh's company has powerful artificial intelligence software that helps firms hunt down the best sales leads. Getting somebody to use it -- well, that's a story that says a lot about the US expansion.

US businesses have every incentive to adopt labor-saving technologies, replacing factory workers with robots and desk jobs with smart software. In some areas, such as finance, machine decision-making is advancing quickly. In others, there are obstacles. Overall, while the penetration of automation in the economy is happening, it is taking place at a slower pace than futurists expected.

Singh tells customers how his system can help trim sales prospecting staff and boost revenue. Managers are intrigued but sometimes reluctant to entrust a high-touch business such as sales to a black box.

"They just don't understand it," says the co-founder and chief executive officer of Infer Inc. in Mountain View, California. "And they don't believe it."

Hundreds of companies are trying to disrupt the way we consume, work, or move. The economy's growth potential could be higher if smart machines could turbocharge how humans go about their tasks.

Higher productivity, or output per hour, would boost corporate profits and may help US workers finally get a pay raise.

That economic nirvana just isn't happening yet.

Productivity in the US rose only 1.1 per cent last year and rather than being replaced by technology, more workers are being hired. Employers have added an average 159,000 new jobs a month so far in this expansion compared with 99,000 in the previous upswing.

Over the same period, investment in intellectual property products, such as software, has barely edged up as a share of GDP versus the last cycle.

"Low labor productivity is the biggest problem with the story that I tell," said Andrew McAfee, co-director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-author of "The Second Machine Age," a book about the next wave of technology. "Some of these pretty profound innovations are going to take time to diffuse."


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