By Brian McKay
According to Investopedia universal basic income (UBI) is defined as: “a system similar to Social Security, in which all citizens of a country receive a set amount of money on a regular basis. This money is typically provided by the government or a similar public organization. This income, provided unconditionally, is given in addition to any income for which a person works. The goal of a basic income system is to allow every person to have a fair chance at an adequate quality of life. It is a way to combat income inequality and ensure that each citizen has enough money on which to live.”
It is something we need to start considering.
Let’s face it. The robots are coming. For the next 30 or so years, jobs will be automated away at an ever-rapid pace until every job is automated away around 2050. A recent study from Oxford and Yale researchers estimates that by 2026, semi-trucks will be fully autonomous. Machines will be able to work in retail by 2031 and replace surgeons by 2053. Experts estimate a 50% chance that machines will achieve High Level Machine Intelligence (HLMI) within 45 years. HLMI is achieved when machines can replace humans in all tasks with better results and lower costs.
While the Trump administration has frequently lamented the loss of jobs to other countries with less expensive labor, the main cause has been automation. Consulting firm PwC has estimated that up to 38% of US jobs could be eliminated within 15 years. Politicians in this country have frequently exclaimed that they feel the timeline is much longer without understanding the continued exponential growth in computing power.
One can see the examples of this growth in computing power everywhere. As of this composition, the equivalent amount of information is added to our collective presence as all years up to 2001, in 1 ½ hours. In 2001, it took a week to generate that amount of information. Our smart phones represent a factor of 10 million times improvement over the computer that took the astronauts to the moon.
The growth of computing power will hit an unprecedented explosion with the advent of quantum computing in the commercial realm. Reports have Google achieving quantum supremacy by the end of 2017 with a 49 qu-bit processor. The ability to have each computer bit in both the on and off state at the same time will push computing capabilities beyond anything previously seen in the standard 18-month time frame of processing power doubling. Callers to their bank’s call center might find themselves speaking with a computer in decade and not know the difference between talking to a regular person.
With these developments and estimates for the future of jobs replaced by automation, a world without work is right around the corner. Already, the effects have been seen in the marginalization of blue collar workers and the election of Donald Trump. The promises to bring back jobs were a major rallying point for the Republican base in the prior election. Unfortunately, jobs are not coming back. They will continue to disappear at an ever-growing rate. No supposedly great negotiator can stop this regardless of proclaimed proficiency.
The current attack of welfare benefits in the US is against the interests of many Trump voters that will see their jobs disappearing. In fact, no other solution exists for the future of many of them except for some sort of guaranteed income born by wealth distribution through taxation of corporations and the wealthy.
Certainly, it is lamented as “evil socialism” in a country of extreme social Darwinism but exists as the only way to ensure a basic standard of living to an ever-growing population of citizens displaced by machines. UBI is currently being tested in Finland and other markets to mixed opinions. It has the support of those in the tech industry that understand the rapidity of computing power growth; including Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Those running businesses know that employees will be replacedby machines as soon as the return on investment on automation exceeds paying employees by even just $1.
Is UBI the fix as we move to a world of mass joblessness? At this time, no other proposal seems to exist that could be considered workable. It might be that the biggest impediment to a UBI discussion exists in the myopia of our political leaders. The conversation needs to start now lest we be sucker punched at the moment a fix becomes desperately needed.