More powerful computing systems can predict the weather better than any meteorologist or beat human champions in complex board games like chess.
But for several years, economists have asked why all that technical wizardry seems to be having so little impact on the economy.
The issue surfaced again recently, when the government reported disappointingly slow growth and continuing stagnation in productivity. The rate of productivity growth from 2011 to 2015 was the slowest since the five-year period ending in 1982.
There are benefits to using electronic health records, Dr. Sutherland says, but grappling with the software and new reporting requirements has slowed him down. He sees fewer patients, and his income has slipped. “I’m working harder and getting a little less,” he said.
Lohr reports that the productivity puzzle has given rise to a number of explanations in recent years — and divided economists into technology pessimists and optimists.
The most prominent pessimist is Robert J. Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University. His latest entry in the debate is his new book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth.” Mr. Gordon contends that the current crop of digital innovations does not yield the big economic gains of breakthrough inventions of the past, like electricity, cars, planes and antibiotics.
The optimists are led by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-directors of the M.I.T. Initiative on the Digital Economy.
They argue that there have always been lags between when technology arrives and when people and institutions learn to use it effectively. That has been true for a range of technologies, including the electric motor and the internet, which contributed to the last stretch of healthy productivity growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The gains from current tech trends like big-data analysis, artificial intelligence and robotics, they say, will come. Just wait.
Some economists insist the problem is largely a measurement gap, because many digital goods and services are not accurately captured in official statistics. But a recent study by two economists from the Federal Reserve and one from the International Monetary Fund casts doubt on that theory.
Technology spending has been robust, rising 54 percent over a decade to $727 billion last year, according to the research firm IDC. Despite all the smartphone sales to consumers, most of the spending is by companies investing in technology to increase growth and productivity.
But an industry-by-industry analysis, published by the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, found that the march of digital technology across the economy has a long way to go.
The McKinsey researchers examined 22 industries, measuring not only investment but also the use of technology to change how work is done. Some industries, like technology, media and financial services, were well along, while others, like health care and hospitality, trailed.
Only 18 percent of the American economy is living up to its “digital potential,” the report concluded. And if lagging industries do not catch up, we will not see much of a change in national economic statistics, said James Manyika, a director of the McKinsey Global Institute.
Since the financial crisis, the Obama administration has moved aggressively to push medicine into the digital age.
As part of the economic recovery package, Congress enacted the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009. The legislation provided for federal incentive payments of $44,000 a physician to shift to electronic health records.
For Lohr’s full June 5 story, click here.