Let’s say computers come for most of our jobs. This may not seem likely at the moment; computer scientists and economists offer wildly varying ideas for how deeply automation will affect future employment.
But for the sake of argument, imagine that within two or three decades we’ll have morphed into the Robotic States of America.
In Robot America, most manual laborers will have been replaced by herculean bots. Truck drivers, cabbies, delivery workers and airline pilots will have been superseded by vehicles that do it all. Doctors, lawyers, business executives and even technology columnists for The New York Times will have seen their ranks thinned by charming, attractive, all-knowing algorithms.
How will society function after humanity has been made redundant? Technologists and economists have been grappling with this fear for decades, but in the last few years, one idea has gained widespread interest — including from some of the very technologists who are now building the bot-ruled future.
Their plan is known as “universal basic income,” or U.B.I., and it goes like this: As the jobs dry up because of the spread of artificial intelligence, why not just give everyone a paycheck?
Imagine the government sending each adult about $1,000 a month, about enough to cover housing, food, health care and other basic needs for many Americans. U.B.I. would be aimed at easing the dislocation caused by technological progress, but it would also be bigger than that.
While U.B.I. has been associated with left-leaning academics, feminists and other progressive activists, it has lately been adopted by a wider range of thinkers, including some libertarians and conservatives. It has also gained support among a cadre of venture capitalists in New York and Silicon Valley, the people most familiar with the potential for technology to alter modern work.
Rather than a job-killing catastrophe, tech supporters of U.B.I. consider machine intelligence to be something like a natural bounty for society: The country has struck oil, and now it can hand out checks to each of its citizens.
These supporters argue machine intelligence will produce so much economic surplus that we could collectively afford to liberate much of humanity from both labor and suffering.
The most idealistic thinkers see the plan as a way to foster the sort of quasi-utopian future we’ve only encountered in science fiction universes like that of “Star Trek.” As computers perform more of our work, we’d all be free to become artists, scholars, entrepreneurs or otherwise engage our passions in a society no longer centered on the drudgery of daily labor.
The Latest on: Universal basic income
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The Latest on: Universal basic income
- Stockton mayor who pushed guaranteed income isn't reelectedon November 27, 2020 at 4:13 pm
The mayor of Stockton, California, has conceded he lost reelection after receiving national attention for starting a universal basic income program ...
- 7 Universal Basic Income programs from around the globeon November 25, 2020 at 2:18 pm
UBI — Universal Basic Income — programs are not as hot as stablecoins and DeFi but there are more and more UBI pilots that are mushrooming around the world. I am noticing pilots that move into impleme ...
- Covid-19 is a case study in how universal basic income can fix hungeron November 24, 2020 at 5:21 am
Covid-19 has forced nearly every government to experiment with some form of UBI. The results may help challenge longstanding political opposition to the idea.
- Pope Francis talks about Uighurs, George Floyd and Universal Basic Income in new interviewon November 23, 2020 at 7:25 am
The book-length interview is the product of a series of exchanges between the pope and Austen Ivereigh, his English-language biographer.
- The pandemic is encouraging tests of universal basic income and job guaranteeson November 23, 2020 at 5:08 am
Christine Jardine, a Scottish politician who represents Edinburgh in the UK parliament, was not a fan of universal basic income before the pandemic hit.
- CityLab Daily: Voters Oust Stockton Mayor Who Backed Basic Incomeon November 20, 2020 at 10:54 am
What cities need from the Biden administration in the first 100 days, and a pizza worker’s lie prompted one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.
- How universal basic income can expand educational and career opportunitieson November 18, 2020 at 1:28 pm
Mayor Aja Brown of Compton, Calif., announced that the city will be launching a universal basic income (UBI) pilot program for 800 qualifying low-income residents later this year. Called the Compton ...
- Stockton mayor who pushed guaranteed income loseson November 18, 2020 at 12:12 pm
One of the youngest mayors in the country, who garnered national attention for starting a privately funded program to give poor people $500 a month in ...
- Kenya trial examines effect of universal basic income during pandemicon November 17, 2020 at 9:01 pm
With the social and economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic striking hundreds of millions around the world, the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) has been raised as a potential solution. Unique ...
- Universal basic income is regressive: Tharmanon November 17, 2020 at 1:23 pm
A universal basic income (UBI) is regressive and means that large numbers of people have to be taxed more heavily, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on ...
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