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[DALIAN,China] Artificial intelligence may not be so threatening after all.
Amid warnings of the economic disruption that robots and automation could unleash on the world economy as traditional roles disappear, researchers are finding that new technologies will help fuel global growth as productivity and consumption soar.
AI will contribute as much as US$15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030, according to a PwC report Wednesday. That's more than the current combined output of China and India.
Gains would be split between US$6.6 trillion from increased productivity as businesses automate processes and augment their labor forces with new AI technology, and US$9.1 trillion from consumption side-effects as shoppers snap up personalized and higher-quality goods, according to the report.
"The mindset today is man versus machine," Anand Rao, an AI researcher at PwC in Boston, said at a briefing Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions gathering in Dalian, China, where the report was released. "What we see as the future is man and machine together can be better than the human." Global GDP, which stood at about US$74 trillion in 2015, will be 14 per cent higher in 2030 as a result of AI, according to PwC's projections.
At the seaside venue, where global business executives, researchers and officials rubbed shoulders, a robot played air hockey with attendees, delegates were invited to build robots in workshops, and AI was a recurring theme at panel discussions and chats on the sidelines.
PwC found that the world's second-biggest economy stands to gain more than any from AI because of the high proportion of gross domestic product derived from manufacturing.
"The impact of AI on China will be huge and greater even than the impact on the US," Mr Rao told reporters at a briefing on the report.
Accenture Plc also released an estimated value this week. AI could increase China's annual growth rate by 1.6 percentage point to 7.9 per cent by 2035 in terms of gross value added, a close proxy for GDP, adding more than US$7 trillion, according to a report from the firm released Monday with Frontier Economics.
Still, AI involves risk. Regulators are wary of rapidly developing systems that they have little oversight of, and there are lingering suspicions about erosion of privacy and that the ultimate effect of AI could do more harm than good for people's jobs and livelihoods.
"We need to find ways to deal with any negative societal impacts that might happen, such as technological unemployment," Wendell Wallach, an ethicist and scholar at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, said on a panel Tuesday. "We have a moral obligation to make sure that technologies we put in place serve humanity as a whole, not just a small segment of it, nor a small segment of those who are best able to capitalize on technological advances." Rapid technological advances have nurtured Silicon Valley heroes over the past 15 years, but more work must be done to boost economic growth for more people, according to Tyler Cowen, an economics professor of George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, and co-author of the economics blog Marginal Revolution.
"If you're reading that we're receiving a new technological cornucopia of new products, basically that can't be true," Mr Cowen said at on a forum panel. "It would be showing up in the real wages of most people."