The New York Times had a story two weeks ago, Creating a Pastry Chef from Scratch, that has troubled me. The story explains that pastry chefs are in high demand. Students graduating from school almost always have an immediate job. Economics 101, or Economics 401, for that matter, would suggest that pastry chef salaries would be rising, right? But things have changed. Restaurants simply hire a new person rather than raise wages. What permits this is the fluidity of knowledge and a surplus of general labor that can be quickly trained for anything. As story author Noam Scheiber suggests, this could be web authoring, or a lot of occupations. I'll note that Silicon Valley is somewhat of an anomaly, but wages there do hit ceilings for likely the same phenomenon as pastry chefs.
(Image from Pillsbury)
If you recall Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) in the original Jurassic Park was disturbed that Jurassic Park entrepreneur John Hammond simply read the research of others rather than actually generating the knowledge. Malcom was concerned about the loss of accountability and respect for the acquired knowledge. Spoiler Alert - In the film, he was right.
When cold fusion was first reported in the late 90s, there was real concern that free energy would devastate the Earth's resources. Fast-forward to today, and those laboratory results were likely a chemical rather than nuclear reaction, and today we are still consuming expensive fossil energy instead of Mr. Fusion. But those concerns and discussions are possibly relevant to free knowledge.
Another New York Times article this week highlighted commercial and Pentagon investment in artificial intelligence (AI). As with Jurassic Park, the AI innovators are sweeping together the research of others, adding a pinch of their own "horn of toad" and stuff starts to happen.
It is a conundrum, isn't it? We don't want to return to a time when knowledge was kept inside monastery towers. But free knowledge is increasingly a universal solvent, perhaps even dissolving civilization.