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Susan Athey

Susan Athey is an influential American economist renowned for her contributions to the fields of economics and technology. Born on November 29, 1970, Athey has made significant strides in applying economic theory to the digital economy, particularly in the areas of online advertising, platform markets, and the economics of the internet. She is the Economics of Technology Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business and previously taught at Harvard and MIT. Athey's work often intersects with technology, focusing on the impact of digital platforms on businesses and consumers. Her research has provided valuable insights into auction theory and the design of digital marketplaces, contributing to the practical understanding of pricing and policies in online environments. As the first female winner of the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal in 2007, Athey has been a trailblazer for women in economics. She serves as a role model and mentor in her field, combining rigorous academic research with real-world applications, particularly in technology and digital strategy. Her work continues to influence both economic theory and business practice.

Books Mentioned on People I Mostly Admire #83 with Susan Athey:

Susan Athey’s Impactful Journey in Economics and Technology: Insights from ‘People I (Mostly) Admire’ Podcast

Introduction: Susan Athey’s Path to Economic Impact

In episode 83 of “People I (Mostly) Admire,” host Steven Levitt delves into the world of economics and technology with Susan Athey, a renowned economist known for her groundbreaking work in these fields. This article focuses on the first third of their conversation, exploring Athey’s journey and her influential role in both academic and practical aspects of economics.

The Unconventional Route to Microsoft and Beyond

Athey’s career trajectory took a unique turn when she joined Microsoft in the mid-2000s, a move that was unusual for an academic economist at the time. Her role at Microsoft involved tackling complex problems like competing with Google in search engine technology. This experience provided Athey with a unique perspective on the intersection of economics, technology, and real-world applications, setting the stage for her future contributions in various sectors.

Pioneering Work in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Athey’s work at Microsoft introduced her to the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence. She was one of the first economists to recognize the potential of these technologies in transforming social science research. Her exploration into predictive models and their applications in economics paved the way for future innovations in the field.

The Economist’s Role in Public Policy and Global Challenges

Athey’s journey extended beyond the corporate world into significant public policy roles. She played a crucial part in the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy, showcasing the vital role economists can play in addressing global challenges. Her involvement in these areas reflects the growing importance of economic perspectives in public policy and crisis management.

Expanding Horizons in Economics and Tech

In the second part of episode 83 of “People I (Mostly) Admire,” host Steven Levitt continues his conversation with Susan Athey, an economist whose work spans technology, public policy, and academia. This section of the podcast explores Athey’s pioneering involvement in machine learning and artificial intelligence, her role in shaping public policy, and her contributions to solving global challenges like climate change and vaccine distribution.

Pioneering Role in Machine Learning and AI

Athey discusses her early exposure to machine learning and AI at Microsoft, where she was one of the first economists to recognize and explore the potential of these technologies in social science research. She reflects on the unique challenges and opportunities presented by predictive models and how they differ from traditional economic models in understanding cause and effect.

Economist’s Perspective on Public Policy

Athey’s work has had significant implications in public policy, particularly in her involvement with the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy. Her insights demonstrate the crucial role of economists in complex decision-making processes, highlighting the intersection of economics, technology, and health in modern policy-making.

Tackling Global Challenges: Vaccine Strategy and Carbon Capture

Athey discusses advanced commitments in the context of vaccine development and carbon capture initiatives. She explains how her experience with vaccine strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic informed her understanding of market dynamics and the importance of incentivizing innovation through advanced commitments, a concept she applies to her work in climate change mitigation.

Exploring New Frontiers in Economics and Environment

In the final part of episode 83 of “People I (Mostly) Admire,” host Steven Levitt continues his insightful conversation with Susan Athey, an economist known for her innovative work at the intersection of technology, public policy, and environmental issues. This section of the podcast sheds light on Athey’s contributions to addressing global challenges like climate change and her views on the role of economics in these crucial areas.

Advanced Commitments in Vaccine Strategy and Carbon Capture

Athey discusses her involvement in the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy and the concept of advanced commitments. She explains how this approach, which involves committing to buy a product before it’s made, can drive innovation and investment, especially in areas like vaccine development and carbon capture. This strategy played a vital role in accelerating vaccine production during the pandemic and has potential applications in combating climate change.

The Challenge of Carbon Removal and Climate Change

A key focus of Athey’s recent work is the challenge of carbon removal as a necessary step to mitigate the effects of climate change. She highlights the importance of developing technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the complexities of creating a market for such technologies. Athey’s work in this area underscores the need for innovative economic solutions to drive environmental progress.

The Impact of Big Tech and AI

Athey shares her thoughts on the impact of big tech companies and artificial intelligence on society. She discusses the evolution of data use, the integration of various data sets to create comprehensive profiles, and the potential risks associated with such practices. Her insights point to the need for careful consideration of privacy and security in the age of digital information.

Conclusion: Athey’s Multidisciplinary Approach to Addressing Global Challenges

Susan Athey’s discussion with Steven Levitt in this podcast episode highlights her multifaceted approach to some of the most pressing challenges of our time. From her pioneering work in economics and technology to her influential role in public policy and environmental issues, Athey’s contributions provide valuable insights into the complexities of the modern world.