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In Robot America, most manual laborers will have been replaced by herculean bots. Truck drivers, cabbies, delivery workers and airline pilots will have been superseded by vehicles that do it all.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
- Low-Income Stockton Residents Praise City’s ‘Universal Basic Income’ Program on May 22, 2019 at 4:55 pm
Stockton has made resident Tomas Vargas a guarantee: The city will pay him $500 a month, for free, more or less no strings attached. It’s money that he’s received since February as part of Stockton’s ... […]
- Stockton’s Universal Basic Income experiment is doomed to fail. Here’s why on May 18, 2019 at 10:33 am
What if we could solve poverty by just giving people money? It sounds too good to be true, which it is. But that hasn’t stopped a growing number of people from advocating for “Universal Basic Income,” ... […]
- With artificial intelligence looming, debate over 'basic income' heats up on May 17, 2019 at 6:58 am
When Canadian researchers Evelyn Forget and Marni Brownell speak at Stanford University next Tuesday, May 21, they'll be wading into a debate over one of the most radical socio-economic experiments to ... […]
- We’ve declared a climate emergency – here’s what universal basic income could do to help the planet on May 17, 2019 at 6:19 am
Mark Maslin is a Founding Director of Rezatec Ltd, Director of The London NERC Doctoral Training Partnership and a member of Cheltenham Science Festival Advisory Committee. He is an unpaid member ... […]
- Universal services more effective than a Universal Basic Income, argues new report on May 16, 2019 at 2:15 am
Strengthening and extending universal services would be a more effective way of tackling global poverty and improving wellbeing than a universal basic income (UBI), according to a report by the UCL ... […]
- Jim Jefferies makes a pitch for Yang's universal basic income in Best of Late Night on May 15, 2019 at 11:29 am
In the Democratic bid for the 2020 presidential nomination, we've heard a great deal from front-runners like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. But what about lesser-known candidates such as Andrew Yang? ... […]
- Universal Basic Income: The single payment that could replace Universal Credit on May 14, 2019 at 2:06 am
Under the new benefits system, everyone in the UK would receive a monthly untaxed payment to support their life choices ... […]
- Universal Basic Income: The UK May Host One of the Biggest Trials Yet on May 13, 2019 at 10:53 am
A major universal basic income trial could come to the United Kingdom, if the opposition Labour Party wins power at the next election. The idea, which would see every adult receive a fixed monthly sum ... […]
- Labour would trial universal basic income if elected, John McDonnell says on May 11, 2019 at 7:38 pm
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell. Under a Labour plan, money given in a universal basic income trial could be spent any way the recipients wanted to. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Labour would trial ... […]
- Labour to pilot Universal Basic Income scheme for EVERYONE - rich or poor on May 11, 2019 at 12:11 pm
EXCLUSIVE: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has revealed the Labour Party will trial UBI in Liverpool and Sheffield when it takes power ... […]
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