For most people, it is not easy to picture the buying and selling of cognitive capabilities that have traditionally been embedded in humans – things like judgment and decision-making. Yet, thanks to recent advances in machine learning, we face the very real possibility of precisely such a ‘market for intelligence’. Given the potential of this market to transform the entire global economy, we must all begin preparing – now – for its emergence.
To be clear, machine intelligence is still in its infancy, and while some of the current applications are remarkable, none are transformational. For example, the recommendation engines employed by companies such as Amazon and Netflix – which learn our preferences and recommend which books we should buy or which movies we should watch – are a common application of machine learning. Although they may increase the sales of books and movies – and may even enhance social welfare to some extent, by increasing matches between consumers and products – they do not represent a transformation to the economy.
Similarly, in the healthcare sector, applications of machine intelligence that identify and classify tumours from medical imaging data – with a higher degree of accuracy than the best human technicians – will surely enhance the productivity of doctors; but they will not transform the broader economy.