πŸ“‘ What the birth of the spreadsheet teaches us about generative AI

Bookmarked https://timharford.com/2024/03/what-the-birth-of-the-spreadsheet-teaches-us-about-generative-ai/?utm_source=pocket_mylist (timharford.com)

There is one very clear parallel between the digital spreadsheet and generative AI: both are computer apps that collapse time. A task that might have taken hours or days can suddenly be completed in seconds. So accept for a moment the premise that the digital spreadsheet has something to teach us about generative AI. What lessons should we absorb?

First, the right technology in the right place can take over very quickly indeed. In the time it takes to qualify as a chartered accountant, digital spreadsheets laid waste to a substantial industry of cognitive labour, of filling in rows and columns, pulling out electronic calculators and punching in the numbers. Accounting clerks became surplus to requirements, and the ability of a single worker to perform arithmetic was multiplied a thousandfold β€” and soon a millionfold β€” almost overnight.

The second lesson is that the effect on the labour market was not what we might have expected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 339,000 accountants and accounting clerks working in the US in 1980, around the time VisiCalc started to take off. By 2022, the bureau tallied 1.4mn accountants and auditors. These two numbers aren’t directly comparable, but it is hard to argue that accountancy was decimated by the spreadsheet. Instead, there are more accountants than ever; they are merely outsourcing the arithmetic to the machine.

What the birth of the spreadsheet teaches us about generative AI by Tim Harford

Tim Harford reflects upon the invention of the spreadsheet and makes comparisons with the rise of artificial intelligence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *