Much innovation not reflected in statistics

Susan Athey, ex Microsoft and now Expedia and winner of a prestigious medal for being the best US technology economist, was interviewed by journalist Ana Fuentes

The following are extracts from her article:

Q. Global growth, now running at 3.5%, might be a lot higher if we took into account the whole contribution from digitalisation – agree?

A. We all realise we are much more productive at work thanks to IT and yet this is not reflected in productivity figures – (N.B. essentially Robert Solow’s famous observation)

I imagine there are many benefits reaching consumers in ways which are not reflected in prices – better quality doesn’t necessarily cost more – you allow children to go to the park on their own and take a telephone, you can locate them whenever you want – such information advantages are very valuable to you but not reflected in the prices – and it’s a challenge measuring them

Q. Will we have redundancies?

A. In the short term, there may well be people employed operating manual systems whilst there are others working in parallel doing the same job using IT – eventually, when companies become confident to switch from the old to newer system, productivity will increase but redundancies result

Also, other companies may be moving internal applications to the cloud so their IT people will be busy rewriting code for the migration – but, once completed, many of them will not be needed because the new systems will be more agile and secure

Q. How can we measure the value of everything we have within our reach?

A. It’s complicated – for example, measuring the fact that today an adolescent in any part of the world can receive the same classes online as Bill Gates’ children

The sad thing is that at some level, this should make us happier – but people base their happiness on what they have in relation to others – so how can you say people today are happier just because they have access to incredible classical music which 200 years ago only kings could hear

Q. Some large companies have not launched any new products for years – any comments?

A. Competition is especially important for innovation – once tech companies become big and powerful, their users can become loyal to their products, perhaps signing contracts which tie them in – such companies can thus survive for quite some time without innovating

Others become more bureaucratic and find it difficult to maintain a high level of innovation


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