Could Machine Learning be a General-Purpose Technology? Evidence from Online Job Postings
52 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2019
Date Written: October 12, 2019
There has been a great deal of speculation that machine learning might be a general-purpose technology. However, the commercial application of machine learning is relatively new and general-purpose technologies are typically identified with the benefit of many years of hindsight. For managers deciding on technology strategy, this classification will come too late. In this paper, we provide an approach to identifying a general-purpose technology before it has widely diffused, so that the classification can be used to inform decisions about technology adoption. Using data from online job postings, we compare machine learning to eight other emerging technologies in terms of breadth of industries with job postings, the importance and breadth of research roles, and the costs of innovation in organizational practices. Our results show that ML is particularly likely to be a general-purpose technology. This finding suggests that firms adopting ML should be patient, should expect to implement changes to organizational processes, and should recognize that their industries are likely to change as a result. In contrast, firms adopting other technologies should look for more direct and tangible benefits.
Keywords: artificial intelligence, general purpose technology, innovation, technological innovation, technological advancement, job postings
JEL Classification: O30, O31, O33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation