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WORKING PAPER

Advanced Technologies Adoption and Use by U.S. Firms: Evidence from the Annual Business Survey

Erik Brynjolfsson
Kristina McElheran
Emin Dinlersoz
Nikolas Zolas
Zachary Kroff
David N. Beede
Cathy Buffington
Nathan Goldschlag
Lucia Foster

National Bureau of Economic Research
December 2020

We introduce a new survey module intended to complement and expand research on the causes and consequences of advanced technology adoption. The 2018 Annual Business Survey (ABS), conducted by the Census Bureau in partnership with the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), provides comprehensive and timely information on the diffusion among U.S. firms of advanced technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, robotics, and the digitization of business information. The 2018 ABS is a large, nationally representative sample of over 850,000 firms covering all private, nonfarm sectors of the economy. We describe the motivation for and development of the technology module in the ABS, as well as provide a first look at technology adoption and use patterns across firms and sectors. We find that digitization is quite widespread, as is some use of cloud computing. In contrast, advanced technology adoption is rare and generally skewed towards larger and older firms. Adoption patterns are consistent with a hierarchy of increasing technological sophistication, in which most firms that adopt AI or other advanced business technologies also use the other, more widely diffused technologies. Finally, while few firms are at the technology frontier, they tend to be large so technology exposure of the average worker is significantly higher. This new data will be available to qualified researchers on approved projects in the Federal Statistical Research Data Center network.

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