Who’s Driving the Future? – Econlib

In this episode of EconTalk from the archives, Russ Roberts hosts Rodney Brooks for a conversation on the current state of AI alongside its projections. Rodney Brooks is a professor of Robotics Emeritus at MIT. Brooks, also a robotics entrepreneur, is the co-founder of Robust AI.

How soon will there be driverless cars? Will AI technology take over the workforce? Roberts and Brooks discuss these questions and more. Brooks finds his position on the future of technology in accordance with Roy Amara’s law: “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”



Speaking of driverless cars, Roberts and Brooks predict several challenges that may come about regarding their acceptance and use. Russ points to tech, regulation, and culture as the three key challenges in the development of driverless cars. In a world of driverless cars, questions would arise if a child was in the driverless car by themselves; Brooks presents the overall question of who is in charge?

What issues do you think will come to the surface with the widespread development of driverless cars? What should be the balance between technological excellence and human-like capability of AI? Given that this podcast was recorded in 2018, did you expect that driverless cars would be up and running by now in 2023? Is there an issue with the majority of people falling into Amara’s law? Could this norm affect the development of groundbreaking tech?

Amara’s law also reminds us of the danger of treating technology as magical. For example, Brooks shares the common theme of pundits mistaking performance for competence in technology.

How should regulation put a check on focusing solely on the capability of technology as opposed to its shortcomings? To what extent might President Biden’s recent executive order accomplish this? What is a prospective technology that concerns you in terms of its competence, and why?


Another example of our underestimation of technology in the future is illustrated by the story of showing Isaac Newton an iPhone. Newton is one of the most brilliant minds ever, and yet Brooks believes that Newton would be dumbfounded by the capabilities of the iPhone, while also making conclusions about its ability.

In terms of its capabilities, to what extent would you consider the current iPhone magic if you took the mindset of the time before it was created? What are your expectations for the future of personal devices?


Brooks, having worked in AI for forty years, believes in the ‘baby steps’ and ‘ladders’ that have been developed n the road to groundbreaking technological advancements as opposed to the trend of impatience for those achievements from the general public.

Given the prevalence of ChatGPT and AI this year, what are some the conclusions people might reach as they overlook the ladders yet to be built for its advancement? Why is the hypothesis of robots and technology developing into some sort of human demise so popular? To what extent do you think humans can stay ahead of AI?

Brennan Beausir is a student at Wabash College studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and was a 2023 Summer Scholar at Liberty Fund.


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