‘There is no more neutrality in the world.
You either have to be part of the solution,
or you’re going to be part of the problem.’
The high tech high rollers build the robots, code the algorithms, and wire up the machine intelligence that threaten jobs. If they’re the problem, what’s their the solution?
Elon Musk: Universal basic income is “going to be necessary” because “there will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better,”
Richard Branson: “A lot of exciting new innovations are going to be created, which will generate a lot of opportunities and a lot of wealth, but there is a real danger it could also reduce the amount of jobs. Basic income is going to be all the more important. If a lot more wealth is created by AI, the least that the country should be able to do is that a lot of that wealth that is created by AI goes back into making sure that everybody has a safety net.”
Mark Zuckerberg: “The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail. Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”
Sam Altman: “Eliminating poverty is such a moral imperative and something that I believe in so strongly. There’s so much research about how bad poverty is. There’s so much research about the emotional and physical toll that it takes on people.” (Altman’s company Y Combinator is conducting its own UBI experiment in Oakland.)
Ideas like this get labelled “progressive,” meaning “ahead of their time, which in turn means “over my dead body.” We saw a few posts back that Pres. Johnson’s visionary Triple Revolution Report and National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress ended up in the dustbin of history. Another technology/jobs initiative had already landed there two decades earlier:
“In 1949, at the request of the New York Times, Norbert Wiener, an internationally renowned mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote an article describing his vision for future computers and automation. Wiener had been a child prodigy who entered college at age eleven and completed his PhD when he was seventeen; he went on to establish the field of cybernetics and made substantial contributions in applied mathematics and to the foundations of computer science, robotics, and computer-controlled automation.
“In his article — written just three years after the first true general purpose electronic computer was built at the University of Pennsylvania — Wiener argued that ‘if we can do anything in a clear and intelligible way, we can do it by machine’ and warned that this could ultimately lead to ‘an industrial revolution of unmitigated cruelty” powered by machines capable of ‘reducing the economic value of the routine factory employee to a point at which he is not worth hiring at any price.’”
Wiener’s article was never published, and was only recently (in 2012) discovered in MIT’s archives. Outspoken technology commentator Douglas Rushkoff hopes UBI meets a similar end. In a recent Medium piece, he called UBI “Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam.” His main critique? UBI doesn’t go far enough:
“They will basically tell you that a Universal Basic Income is a great idea and more effective than any other method of combating technological unemployment, the death of the Middle Class and the automation of the future of work.
“They don’t propose a solution to wealth inequality, they only show a way to prevent all out mass social unrest and chaos, something that would inconvenience the state and elite.
“The bottom 60% of the economy, well what do you suppose is in store for us with the rise of robots, machine learning and automation …?
“California might get a lot of sunshine and easy access to VC, but they aren’t blessed with a lot of common sense. They don’t know the pain of rural America, much less the underclass or warped narrative primed by Facebook algorithms or the new media that’s dehumanized by advertising agents and propaganda hackers.
“What if receiving a basic income is actually humiliating and is our money for opioids and alcohol, and not for hope that we can again join a labor force that’s decreasing while robots and AI do the jobs we once did?
“The problem lies in the fact that there won’t be a whole lot of “new jobs” for the blue and white collar workers to adapt to once they sink and become part of the permanent unemployed via technological unemployment.
“With housing rising in major urban centers, more folk living paycheck-to-paycheck, rising debt to income ratios and less discretionary spending, combined with many other factors, the idea of a UBI (about the same as a meagre pension) saving us, sounds pretty insulting and absurd to a lot of people.
“Since when did capitalism care about the down trodden and the poor? If we are to believe that automation and robots really will steal our jobs in unprecedented numbers, we should call Basic Income for what it is, a way to curtail social unrest and a post-work ‘peasant uprising.’
“Getting [UBI] just for being alive isn’t a privilege, it’s a death sentence. We are already seeing the toll of the death of the middle class on the opioid epidemic, on the rise of suicide, alcoholism and early death all due to in part of the stress of a declining quality of life since the great recession of 2008.”
If UBI doesn’t go far enough, then what does? Mark Zuckerberg used the phrase “new social contract” in his quote above. More on that coming up.