The Robots Are Coming: The Humans will need to consider Universal Basic Income



I have had a job since I was 13 years old.

Which means, I have been working for 42 years of my 55 years of life.

That sure sounds like a lot of work.

I have enjoyed working.  I like working.  I like working less at 55 than when I was 25 and 35 but I still enjoy the entire experience.

Having work, of any kind, during the past 42 years has provided me with a living for myself and my family.  It has permitted to go and do things I could not have otherwise done.  I have had the honor and privilege of meeting amazing people – and some not amazing people – over the past 42 years.

I’ve had great success.  I have had monumental failures, as well.

While I believe that failure is a key element of learning in one’s life I would be lying if I suggested that my favorite thing about work is failing.

It’s not.

Yet, throughout those 42 years I have often wondered, as I am sure many do, what else could I have done with my time.  What other accomplishments might I have been able to pursue.  Other interests.

Other goals, hopes, dreams and aspirations were put on hold because of working.

It is a reflection I have more about my children’s future today than about my own.

The rapidly growing evolution of Artificial Intelligence or, AI, is soon to redefine what we consider to be work.

It will also redefine what it means to make a living and, more importantly, how one will make a living.

Jobs we know about today will cease to exist in the future.  I might add that the future is not as far off as you think, either.

Some have estimated that as many as 50% of U.S. workers will see their jobs automated over the next 20 years.

A stat that I pulled off Brookings underscores the following:

“A McKinsey Global Institute analysis of 750 jobs concluded that “45% of paid activities could be automated using ‘currently demonstrated technologies’ and . . . 60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their processes automated.”[6] A more recent McKinsey report, “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained,” found that 30 percent of “work activities” could be automated by 2030 and up to 375 million workers worldwide could be affected by emerging technologies.[7]

This is all a big deal.

Because, when AI comes in a big wave, and it is most certainly already here in smaller waves, every living human being in the world will be impacted.

This will become, perhaps, the most disruptive human triggered event in human history.

Of course, wars, poverty, famine, global warming and all of the other things that humankind has had a role in creating or exacerbating were hugely disruptive.

The key here, though, is disruptive how?

Disruptive good?  Bad?

Probably both.

Further, like most things in life whether it is good or bad may well depend on your point of view and perspective.

In 2016 I spent some time with people whose brain cells work differently and better than mine on Necker Island at an event presented by Singularity University and hosted by Sir Richard Branson.

The discussion centered around exponential technologies and how they are changing the world we live in every single second of every single day.

I don’t recall exactly where but I do remember that at some point in this gathering the conversation began to revolve around the concept of Universal Basic Income or, UBI.

There are lots of definitions of UBI floating around the place but here is one I think represents, for me, a fairly decent description:

“Universal basic income (UBI) is a model for providing all citizens of a country or other geographic area with a given sum of money, regardless of their income, resources or employment status. The purpose of the UBI is to prevent or reduce poverty and increase equality among citizens.”

I admit when I first started listening to the conversation with, at the time 40 years of working in a variety of jobs in my life behind me, I wasn’t enamored with giving people money for not working.

After all, in the United States there are those who might call our welfare program for many decades to simply have been a form of UBI.

The outcome of that was the creation of generations of Americans of every race, gender, background, region and experience in every part of the country who were tied to a system that actually deprived them of opportunity rather than creating opportunity for them and their family.

Yet, if one examines the concept of UBI closer and ties it to the growing impact of AI in the lives of everyone in the world we would be foolish to not begin having a conversation about what the real world will look like in 20 years as it pertains to work, jobs and earning and living.

Advocates of UBI spend too much time, I believe, on waxing poetic about giving people money without conditions so that they can focus their energy on being creative, visionary and inventive.

Yes, I suppose it is true that had I had access to UBI over the past 40 years I could have done some amazing things.

Or, I could have not done anything.

For me the point of a UBI isn’t about releasing people’s inner passion for everything other than work.

It’s about creating equity, opportunity and stability for the world in which we are going to live.

There exists on this planet some 200 million plus people who do not have a job and nearly 3 billion people who do have a job.

We already know that in this current state of the world there is great inequity that creates strife and conflict.

Now, add to that number hundreds of millions of more, perhaps billions more, who will be out of work in a figurative blink of an eye and what do we think the world will look like?

I don’t think it will look very good if those millions, and billions, of people are without work or work that provides them with any real ability to make a living.

I do know that this to be true:  If people aren’t worrying about putting food on the table, how they will pay their bills, or a host of other worries that come into their life because of lack of enough money, their life is a better life.

A better life for more people on the planet results in a better world for more human beings.

Universal Basic Income has to be at the center of the discussion of the future of our world in a soon-to-be AI existence.

I am still not sold on the implementation ideas that many have presented as it relates to UBI.

I am sold, however, that it is no longer a question of if, but when, we will need to decide on the future of the world we will live in with AI.

I would like us, as the humans, to beat the robots to the punch.

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