To become wealthier, a country needs strong growth in productivity—the output of goods or services from given inputs of labor and capital. For most people, in theory at least, higher productivity means the expectation of rising wages and abundant job opportunities.

Some argue that it’s because today’s technologies are not nearly as impressive as we think. The leading proponent of that view, Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon, contends that compared with breakthroughs like indoor plumbing and the electric motor, today’s advances are small and of limited economic benefit.

Others think productivity is in fact increasing but we simply don’t know how to measure things like the value delivered by Google and Facebook, particularly when many of the benefits are “free.” Both views probably misconstrue what is actually going on. It’s likely that many new technologies are used to simply replace workers and not to create new tasks and occupations.

What’s more, the technologies that could have the most impact are not widely used. Driverless vehicles, for instance, are still not on most roads.

Robots are rather dumb and remain rare outside manufacturing. And AI is mysterious for most companies. Read more from…

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