With Stephen Hawking opening an AI lab, it’s only a matter of time before smart robots take over for humans in the factory, on the battlefield, in the supermarket, and behind the counter.
When intelligent machines replace humans in the workforce, society will need to find a way support the millions of people on the planet and give them something to do with their lives.
The answer: universal basic income.
Science fiction has toyed with the idea for years, but it’s not a new concept. In the 1960s and 70s, the U.S. seriously considered the possibility of providing every citizen with a guaranteed income; some early proposals put the amount at $10,000 a year.
Imagine a horde of robotic soldiers marching off to war commanded by a few human members of the U.S. military controlling their actions while safe at home. A fleet of autonomous space ships could explore the galaxy without the need to risk human life in the depths of outer space.
The problem is twofold.
Without the need to march off to battle, go to work, or visit the grocery store, humans would need to find another motivation besides their career to give their lives meaning. Also without work, Americans will still need a way to support themselves and their families.
It’s not such a strange idea. Already we have automated checkout stands, robot butlers, and automated inventory controls. Software has replaced accountants and lawyers, while Tesla and Uber continue to work on developing driverless taxis and automated cargo trucks.
As the general public is phased out of the workforce by increasingly complex technology, there will be a need to secure the future of hard working Americans and give purpose to their lives.
Universal basic income isn’t something we need to be afraid of, as economist Stephen Dubner discuses on his Freakonomics podcast.
“If you look at the 18th and at the 19th century, some of the great scientific breakthroughs and some of the great cultural breakthroughs were made by people who did not work.”
Many people think basic income would discourage people from seeking work, but six U.S. states experimented with the idea in the 1960s and they found a drop of only 13 percent in workforce participation. Women and students tended to drop out of the workforce to focus on their studies and taking care of the household, while males tended to stick with their career because it was part of their self-identity.
— NewCo (@NewCo) October 20, 2016
Universal Basic Income: an anti-revolutionary measure seriously considered by Conservatives & Liberals 4 near future https://t.co/nvPK93APNm
— Conform! (@puzzleshifter) October 17, 2016
One Silicon Valley business is experimenting with the idea today. In Oakland, YCombinator is giving 100 people enough money to pay for their food and shelter with no strings attached. What they do with the money and their time is up to them.
The program could potentially become a model for the U.S. government.
Finland is also experimenting with the idea; the government is drafting a historic proposal to provide 2,000 residents with $630 a month, which won’t be withdrawn when they start work.
The idea is that by giving people a basic income, the government will be providing them with a safety net while still allowing them to better themselves, according to Forbes.
“The basic income experiment is one of the activities aiming to reform social security so that it corresponds better to the changes of working life.”
Ultimately, the idea of basic income may have nothing to do with intelligent machines; Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes told NPR that hard working Americans are already being phased out of traditional full-time employment.
“The reality is that work has changed. Forty percent of jobs are now contingent, meaning they’re part-time, independent contractors, Uber drivers.”
What do you think of the idea of universal basic income?
[Featured Image by greenaperture/iStock]