Improvements in artificial intelligence and robotic technology will eventually take over so many jobs that the government will need to provide displaced workers with a basic universal income just to ensure their survival, according to one tech industry giant.
Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, recently told CNBC that computers, AI machines, and other robots will eventually become so advanced that they will take over jobs now held by humans, ultimately forcing the government to sustain them through regular payments.
“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation… I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen,” he explained. On a positive note, he added, “people will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things. Certainly more leisure time.”
Musk’s concerns are nothing new, nor are they his alone. More than half of the tech professionals in Ireland believe that their jobs will be automated within the next 10 years, business news website FORA reported last week, and a 2015 report from the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) said that 60% of students were chasing careers that were on the verge of becoming obsolete due to improvements in technological fields, according to The Independent.
In fact, the FYA report found that nearly three-fourths of young people currently entering the workforce were doing to in career fields that will be “radically affected by automation” within the next 10 to 15 years, the UK news publication added. A 2014 report from Oxford University similarly found that nearly one-third of all UK jobs could be made obsolete by robotics, AI and computer technology within the next 20 years.
President Obama: this is “a conversation we need… to have”
As CNBC explains, when a country adopts a universal basic income, it provides each member of its population with a regular check from the government. This summer, Switzerland considered a referendum that would have instituted a universal basic income of 2,500 Swiss francs (or $2,578) per month. Voters rejected the plan, but chances are the idea will be revisited in the future.
President Obama discussed the possible loss of jobs to technology and the potential of instituting a universal basic income program in the US during an interview this summer with Wired. During a discussion with the website’s editor-in-chief, Scott Dadich, and Joi Ito of MIT’s Media Lab, he said that such issues were part of “a conversation we need to begin to have.”
“Whether a universal income is the right model – is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people? – that’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years,” President Obama said during the interview. “Jobs that are going be displaced by AI are not just low-skill service jobs; they might be high-skill jobs but ones that are repeatable and that computers can do.”
“What is indisputable, though, is that as AI gets further incorporated, and the society potentially gets wealthier, the link between production and distribution, how much you work and how much you make, gets further and further attenuated – the computers are doing a lot of the work. As a consequence, we have to make some tougher decisions,” he continued, adding that that the US needed to “reexamine what we value, what we are collectively willing to pay for.”
While there may be some hurdles to overcome, Musk told CNBC that overall, he sees increasing automation in the workplace as a good thing, because of the increased amount of time people can devote to what he referred to as “more interesting” professional pursuits. One of the first steps in adjusting to this brave new world, the FYA report suggested, is to focus more on teaching young workers digital skills and entrepreneurship, according to the Independent.
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