“Cowen argued 10 years ago that the previous set of general purpose technologies—machines and factories powered by fossil fuels and electricity—had run their courses, at least in the United States and other developed economies. When eventually nearly everyone had a car, electric appliances, and indoor plumbing, technological improvements were being made just at the margins. The result was a significant slowdown in the rates of productivity growth and incomes.
The online crew assembled by AEI expressed some optimism that a whole bunch of new technologies were on the verge of jumpstarting our sluggish economy. Strain declared himself very confident that the Great Stagnation is not permanent. He suggested that entrepreneurs were even now exploring how to adapt a whole suite of new technologies—batteries, vaccines, artificial intelligence, driverless trucks—to their best economic uses and whose benefits will become increasingly evident over the coming decade.
Tucker chimed in that it takes a while for entrepreneurs and innovators to figure out how to profitably apply ideas and new technologies. She noted that her fellow economists have been offering two excuses for why advances in digital technologies were not showing up in productivity figures. The first is that the enhancements were not being measured properly. The second is that the elaboration of general purpose technologies, e.g., steam and electricity in the 20th century, needs 20 to 30 years of experimentation before businesses can figure out how to really rev them up to boost productivity. She pointed out that people initially thought electricity was about the light bulb, but what really promoted economic growth was powering machinery in factories and electric appliances at home.
Cowen cautioned that many technological advances would doubtlessly improve human welfare but still might not show up in U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and productivity statistics.”