“Are we approaching an economic singularity?”

New paper here by William Nordhaus (Nobel Prize winner in economics) titled, “Are we approaching an economic singularity? Information Technology and the Future of Economic Growth”. Working paper link is here.

I plan to read the paper in the near future but here’s Paul Christiano summarising it and making some interesting comments on the EA forum:

“Summarizing the six empirical tests:

  1. You’d expect productivity growth to accelerate as you approach the singularity, but it is slowing.
  2. The capital share should approach 100% as you approach the singularity. The share is growing, but at the slow rate of ~0.5%/year. At that rate it would take roughly 100 years to approach 100%.
  3. Capital should get very cheap as you approach the singularity. But capital costs (outside of computers) are falling relatively slowly.
  4. The total stock of capital should get large as you approach the singularity. In fact the stock of capital is slowly falling relative to output.
  5. Information should become an increasingly important part of the capital stock as you approach the singularity. This share is increasing, but will also take >100 years to become dominant.
  6. Wage grow should accelerate as you approach the singularity, but it is slowing.

I would group these into two basic classes of evidence:

  • We aren’t getting much more productive, but that’s what a singularity is supposed to be all about.
  • Capital and IT extrapolations are potentially compatible with a singularity, but only a timescale of 100+ years.

I’d agree that these seem like two points of evidence against singularity-soon, and I think that if I were going on outside-view economic arguments I’d probably be <50% singularity by 2100. (Though I’d still have a meaningful probability soon, and even at 100 years the prospect of a singularity would be one of the most important facts about the basic shape of the future.)

There are some more detailed aspects of the model that I don’t buy, e.g. the very high share of information capital and persistent slow growth of physical capital. But I don’t think they really affect the bottom line.”

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