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The invention of the toilet was 'much more important than Facebook,' says economist Joseph Stiglitz

The toilet was a more important invention than Facebook, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said on Monday, but said advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are a "real concern".

At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Stiglitz was asked during an on-stage session whether past inventions like the toilet were more important than recent inventions in digital technology, sometimes known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

"Toilets and electricity were much more important than Facebook … those innovations really did change our standards of living, increasing health. Having a better advertising engine is important for advertising, but doesn't fundamentally change a deep way our standard of living," Stiglitz said.

Facebook was not specifically mentioned in the question to Stiglitz.

Joseph Stiglitz
Bloomberg | Getty Images
Joseph Stiglitz

The "Fourth Industrial Revolution" was a term coined by World Economic Founder Klaus Schwab two years ago, relating to the upcoming changes caused by technology, such as artificial intelligence.

"The Fourth Industrial Revolution … even have artificial intelligence so they can analyze problems that may fundamentally change the way our economy and society functions," Stiglitz said.

"That is the real concern, what will it do to jobs?" He pointed out that even the "techno-optimists," who seemed so positive on AI five years ago, "are not so sure" about it today.

Stiglitz then went on to speak about all the jobs that could he lost as a result of AI. The economist said that within five years there is a belief all trucks in the U.S. will be self-driven.

"That may be an optimistic timeline in ten years, but truck driving is one of the main occupations of relatively unskilled workers … and the worry is what kinds of jobs will these people, they have lost their manufacturing jobs … and they will now lose their truck driving jobs, what will the jobs be that society will be able to bring to them?" Stiglitz said.

"If we don't answer that question well, the problems of inequality we talked about the beginning will get worse."