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Unleashing the Power of AI
Will Outsourced Digital Brains Redefine Scientific Progress and Catapult Economic Growth?
A couple of weeks ago Microsoft launched it’s BioGPT language model, a more in depth version of our beloved (and feared) ChatGPT but focused on biological sciences. We have also seen other AI models and tools aimed at helping drug discovery, developing new materials and many others. And I believe this is a preview of things to come, we will use more of these outsourced digital brains to help us develop new and better ideas which will in turn have an accelerating effect in scientific progress and economic growth in the coming years.
The Not-so-sexy Truth of Scientific Progress
Believe me, scientific progress is hard and an incredibly complex topic. Not only because I consistently failed all of my biology lessons in school, but also because I founded and ran a biotech company for 6 years and oh boy, this stuff is HARD!(and expensive) Doing basic research, test, get the results, improve upon your mistakes, and so and and so forth, for years until (hopefully) you come up with a useful piece of research. Something that you can transform into a patent, a product, or a service that might spin off into valuable solutions to problems affecting people worldwide, or a life changing advance in basic science that other might build great things upon your grain of sand in the endless shore of human knowledge.
And it is also a SLOW game, because let’s be honest the state of the art of human scientific endeavors is built upon the shoulders of giants each new research is built upon the ones that came before, but the low hanging fruits of science have already been claimed, even though there is still MUCH to be learned and discovered.The difficulty of developing new ideas increases as time goes on, because more and more stuff is already “invented” so we require more specialised people, investing time and money into that specific research that may or may not be useful for humanity as a whole. In a nutshell new ideas are harder to find.
Research and Economic Growth
Now I know that applied science is built upon the advances in basic research and all that, but, what dives forward our economies and what impacts our lives is the applied side of sciences, (no disrespect to any researchers in basic science reading this, I love you, and you’re precious) that’s what improves our agricultural yields, what makes our lives better and what (hopefully) will save our species from the problems we are facing.
But how can we measure all of this in an easily digestible manner without getting lost? Well, luckily for the world, economists exists and have been pondering about this for a long time, and one of the key tools they use for measuring economic progress is using the number of patents being produced by a country.(I know ,it is not a PERFECT proxy of progress or economic growth, but it is widely used and has been a good tool so far, used by many economists and in case you’re curious to know why here you go.)
And we got data to back this up, just see the number of researchers as % of total population in the US OECD and other countries since the 50s it has increased but it still represents a incredibly small % of the population dedicated on creating and inventing the ideas and things that drive forward economic growth.
So ok we have an increase in the number of researchers since the 50s so then this would mean that since then the number of patents has been steadily growing and also the economy should be growing somewhat along this same trend right?
Here we see that patente numbers was relatively stable throughout the 20th century until the 1980s when the classification for the US patent changed increasing the number of patents and then an explosion in recent years (this can be attributed to many factors I will not cover this time… maybe later ;) ) So then let’s see how economic growth measured by GDP (Gross Domestic Product)
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So now we have a rising number of researchers and patents but a stable economic cycle of ups and downs which could mean the impact of each new idea is decreasing or that its impact in proportion to the total size of the economy is individually not so noticeable even though probably for it’s field alone it could be a great leap forward.
Ok, But What About AI
The thing that we’ve seen is that AI even though it’s like THE topic that everyone (even me) is talking about, we’re all riding the HYPE TRAIN for AI. So it’s still the new shiny toy humanity is playing and fiddling with. But this technology will continue to develop and improve upon itself, and the next generation of AI models will be based on these and will accelerate faster and faster.
Because we have seen examples of AI working alongside researchers, enhancing their capabilities of production and research on labs, accelerating the speed of their experiments or giving inspiration for new ideas. Just as an example a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine, just finished his PhD in one of the top research institutes here in Germany and he was playing around with ChatGPT, and he gave it a proper context of the things he had worked upon these past couple of years and the AI gave him a potential enzymatic reaction that was unfettered by his biases and the ones of his research team, and next week they will be testing it to see if it is possible or not.
Maybe the reaction proposed by the AI will be nothing, and he doesn’t know yet, but just extrapolate that example a couple of years into the future when the AI models are improving faster and faster (just like Sundar Pichai mentioned a couple of weeks ago) and we will be having more and more researchers and inventors working alongside these AIs enhancing their productivity and capacity to develop new and better ideas.
This is something that is still debated , a lot of people in the fields of computer science and silicon valley are predicting that the coming AIs will continue to perform better and better and continue expanding, automating more and more of the economic activities and reach a point of intelligence where it overcomes a human or even humanity itself launching itself into unknowable levels of intelligence in an ever increasing feedback loop of improvements into what is known as the Technological Singularity.
But on the other hand there are some economists that see this possibility, but also claim that there might be bottlenecks in the future for this to come into fruition. On one hand there could be a incapacity of AI to automate or optimize an essential input. (for example the AI is incredibly smart but it requires a specific mineral and it cannot automate or accelerate it’s manufacturing or extraction for example) And the other might be a limit of the difficulty of developing new ideas we have seen previously and reaching something of a ceiling that slows down it’s capacity for creating new ideas.
Where do we go from here?
So now we got these two ideas will AI bring forth an almost “rapture” like moment of elevating scientific discovery and technological acceleration into a point so fast beyond our comprehension that we might as well just see what happens as passive observers while the world radically changes.
Or on the other side a forecast of AI as a great tool that will help automate and facilitate many things of the economic development and intelectual ppursue of new knowledge but that after it’s initial boom it could fizzle out due to certain bottlenecks we aren’t aware of at the current moment.
Personally I’m more of a bit of both I do believe AI has the potential to radically redefine the way humanity relates with itself and both our digital and physical world if done properly but we need to take a more proactive approach to this topic, create more discussions bring in more points of view into the conversation and see how we can make the most out of this potentially amazing technology.
And so what happens once we have purely AI researchers? What will be the incentives to even keep humans doing science, sure at first it is not possible to run a research center only with AIs but in the near future that might be the most cost effective way to be doing research
This could lead us into a new industrial revolution, what many have been calling the fourth industrial revolution might finally explode and bring forth it’s much promised advances instead of just a somewhat slow stream of incremental advances. Breaking through the slow growth rates we’ve had while at the same time ever faster and faster developing new and better solutions for the crisis we face from different diseases, to energy and the climate crisis.
Hopefully AI will be the catalyst for elevating humanity as a whole in the coming decades to standards of living we could have never imagined for our species as a whole. So let’s make the most out of these tools, and use them towards improving humanity as much as possible.