The population of Earth officially reached 8 billion this week. Hooray! It’s hard to imagine what so many people are up to. While I hope that humanity can learn how to leave only gentle footprints on the planet, I’m excited about the creativity and inventiveness that a growing human population can bring.
One measure of human progress is the dwindling percentage of people involved in agriculture. If a smaller fraction of the population can generate enough calories to feed everyone, more people will have time to build houses, care for the sick, create art, invent new technologies, and do other things that enrich human life.
Today, roughly 1.5 percent of U.S. jobs are in farming, which enables most of us here to pursue other tasks. Still, a lot of people are involved in various forms of routine, repetitive work. Just as the agricultural workforce fell over centuries from a majority of the population to a tiny minority, AI and automation can free up more people from repetitive work.
This is important because we need lots of people to work on the hard tasks ahead of us. For instance, deep learning could not have reached its current state without a large community building on one another’s work and pushing ideas forward. Building applications that will improve human lives requires even more people. Semiconductors are another example: Building a modern chip requires clever effort by many thousands of people, and building the breakthroughs that increase processing power and efficiency as Moore’s Law fades will take even more. I’d like to see a lot more people pushing science and technology forward to tackle problems in energy, health care, justice, climate change, and artificial general intelligence.
I love humanity. We must do better to minimize our environmental impact, but I’m happy that so many of us are here: more friends to make, more people to collaborate with, and more of us to build a richer society that benefits everyone!