Category: automation

Google Is Spending $1 Billion to Prepare U.S. Workers for the Jobs of Tomorrow

Grow With Google

Companies working with artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies are expected to benefit dramatically from the big changes automation will bring to the world of work. Workers themselves, on the other hand, could be facing a future of unemployment and poverty. To ensure humans still have a place in the workforce of tomorrow, Google has established the Grow with Google initiative.

As company CEO Sundar Pichai explained during yesterday’s Grow with Google announcement event in Pittsburgh, PA, Google plans to distribute $1 billion over the next five years to nonprofits that specialize in training workers and helping new businesses get off the ground.

$10 million from the fund has already been committed to Goodwill. The company plans to use that money to implement the Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator, which aims to prepare members of the American workforce for jobs that require a high level of technological know-how.

Google will also embark upon a tour of the U.S., visiting libraries and community organizations to dish out training sessions and career advice as part of a commitment to deliver one million hours of employee volunteering over the span of the project.

Tomorrow’s Workforce

Google isn’t the only tech giant investing a significant amount of money in programs to ensure that people are ready for the jobs that will be available in the coming years.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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In May 2017, Apple announced plans to set up a $1 billion fund to help foster manufacturing roles in the U.S., and the company also has plans to fund coding workshops. Microsoft also recently announced their TechSpark program to help prepare for workers for coming economic changes by improving their digital skills and computer literacy.

Automation isn’t guaranteed to devastate the workforce, but it is almost certain to disrupt it. The benefits of the technology are simply too great to ignore, so companies are going to want to implement it whenever possible. Thanks to the likes of Google, we have the opportunity to train the people most likely to be affected by this change, thereby ensuring that nobody gets left behind in this new era of automation.

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World Bank Chief: Robots Have Put Us on a Dangerous “Crash Course”

Education for Automation

More and more experts agree that the world job market is in for a disruption that is unprecedented, or at least that hasn’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution. In a decade or so, automation born from artificial intelligence (AI) development is expected to take over jobs in a number of industries — from transportation to manufacturing, finance, and even information technology. To prepare for job displacement, particularly those considered to be minimum income work, some experts have been advocating for a universal basic income.

For World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, there might be another equally necessary course of action. Speaking to an audience at Columbia University in New York, prior to the World Bank’s annual meeting in Washington D.C., Kim said that it’s important for policymakers to invest in education and health.

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In the face of the looming intelligent automation and political threats against economic development—such as growing resistance against globalism—Kim warned that the world is following a “crash course.”

“If your aspirations start to rise but then there’s no opportunity it can lead to fragility, conflict, violence,” Kim explained to the BBC. “This is the crash course we’re going down.” Hence, there’s a need to create more opportunities for people, which starts by investing on human capital. This marks a change in the World Bank’s development approach.

Automation and Human Jobs

It’s normal for any meaningful development to have a good and bad side, and automation is a product of how good technology has become. AI has given birth to autonomous systems that will let cars, ships, and even planes operate themselves more safely, or run stores and factories more cost-effectively. Then, of course, as machines get better at doing work human beings used to do, it becomes more efficient to “hire” them instead.

Many have chosen to look at this intelligent automation with gloomy expectations, but some see a potential for humankind to progress. Google chief engineer and famous “future teller” Ray Kurzweil said that automation would give rise to new jobs—professions which haven’t been invented yet, he said. Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk said something similar, noting how automation would give humanity more time to pursue leisure.

In any case, both ideas seem to agree with the World Bank president’s point: to prepare for automation, one has to invest in people. “The one thing you know for sure that you’ll need, in whatever the economy looks like in the future, is people who can learn,” Kim told the BBC. “We want to create a sense of urgency to invest in people that we think is necessary given the way […] the global economy is changing.”

Automation will happen—in fact, it’s already begun. The only thing we can do now is to make sure humankind is ready to accept the new economy it will bring. What’s clear is that humanity’s ingenuity will surely find a way to cope.

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Richard Branson: Universal Basic Income Will Protect Us From the Threat of AI

Universal Basic Income: A Safety Net?

Billionaire entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson recently sat down with Business Insider Nordic (BI Nordic) during the Nordic Business Forum in Helsinki. A few months ago, Branson joined other tech elites to support Universal Basic Income (UBI). In a blog post from mid-August, Branson stated that “most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered.”

Now, in discussing Finland’s UBI experiment, Branson told the BI Nordic reporters that a safety net provided by a basic income could help counter the effects of artificial intelligence and increased automation. He said, “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.”

Image credit: Nordic Business Forum
Image credit: Nordic Business Forum

“Entrepreneurially Minded”

Many business leaders in the tech sector have voiced support of basic income programs which would see everyone receive unconditional payments to facilitate a basic level of comfort. There are basic income experiments being conducted or planned in regions all around the world.  Experts assert that while the age of automation may be approaching at a slow crawl, it is coming.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
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“Obviously AI is a challenge to the world in that there’s a possibility that it will take a lot of jobs away. [..] It’s up to all of us to be entrepreneurially minded enough to create those new jobs,” Branson said.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a choice,” SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the World Government Summit in February, referring to the inevitability of mass-scale automation. “I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.” As long as more automation awaits us in the future, we will need to devise a way to ensure that jobs lost do not result in widespread poverty. Universal Basic Income is a realistic, practical way to remedy this, and right now, no one has a better alternative.

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Politicians in San Francisco Want to Extend Payroll Taxes to Include Robots

Tax on Robots

More and more jobs are being automated, with robot workers replacing swathes of the human workforce. Much has been said about how the labor of robots will affect individuals being let go, but now we’re seeing more discussion about the broader economic effect in terms of lost tax money.

Now, Jane Kim of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is attempting to do something about this problem. She’s established a committee dubbed the Jobs of the Future Fund, which will serve to explore how best to smooth the transition toward more automation.

“We’re exploring continuing the payroll tax and extending it to robots that perform jobs humans currently do,” said Kim in an interview with CNBC. The money could be used to train displaced workers to fill other roles, fund free community college programs, or to foster the creation of new jobs in industries where automation is less viable.

Automated Payments

Kim’s stance on the taxation of an automated workforce echoes comments made by Bill Gates earlier this year.

“Certainly there will be taxes that relate to automation,” Gates argued in an interview with Quartz. “Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

The Laws of Robotics [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Automation seems poised to have a huge economic impact. It remains to be seen whether the advantages it brings in terms of increased productivity and the potential for new jobs outweigh its drawbacks. At this point, a sensible tax code seems to be the most sensible way of ensuring that everyone gets to reap the benefits, rather than just the business owners.

Too Much Tax?

The other side of the argument warns that enforcing a tax as this technology is starting to flourish will discourage widespread adoption. “Why would we want to put disincentives on companies using the best technology available?” asked Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, in response to Kim’s stance.

Automation is already revolutionizing the way various industries operate. It’s clear that we should make full use of this technology, but it’s high time that we figure out a way to do so that takes into account all the possible pitfalls for our economy and our society.

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The Reports Are In: AI and Robots Will Significantly Threaten Jobs in 5 Years

The Robots Are Coming to Threaten Jobs

A study from Redwood Software and Sapio Research released October 4th revealed that IT leaders believe automation could impact 60% of businesses by 2022 and threaten jobs in the process. Now, a new, separate report from PwC, the second biggest professional services firm worldwide, suggests a similar timeline; one in which people may need to practice and learn new skills — or be left behind as automation takes over.

The report, titled Workforce of the Future, surveyed 10,000 people across China, India, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. to “better understand the future of work.” Of those, nearly 37% think artificial intelligence and robotics will put their jobs at risk; in 2014, 33% had a similar concern.

A startling scenario the report envisions for the future is one in which “typical” jobs — jobs people can steadily advance in through promotions — no longer exist, prompting the aforementioned move to develop new skills. Speaking with CNBC, PwC principal and U.S. people and organization co-leader Jeff Hesse says automation is already forcing people out, though it’s not consistent across every field.

“It varies a bit by industry,” explains Hesse, “but over the next five years we’re going to see the need for workers to change their skills at an accelerating pace.” If the report’s results are anything to go by, people are ready for change: 74% expressed a willingness to “learn new skills or completely retrain in order to remain employable in the future.”

As of March 2017, PwC reports about 38% of U.S. jobs are at risk of being affected by automation by the early 2030s, with Germany closely behind at 35%; the UK at 30%; and Japan at 21%.

Required Skills and Alternative Incomes

Last year, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said there were three skills people would need to survive in a job market that continues to embrace technology: science, engineering and economics. They don’t need to be experts, but they need to understand what people in each field are capable of. In the case of robotics, those with knowledge about managing automatic software programs will be highly sought after. Hesse also suggests people research which skills their fields will be in need of.

You can’t talk about the rise of robotics and automation without asking about those unable to adjust or unwilling to learn a new skill. 56% of the people PwC surveyed think governments should take any steps necessary to protect jobs, presumably so people without technical prowess can continue to work and earn an income.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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Of course, the concept of a universal basic income has also been suggested as a possible step to offset automation’s potential to threaten jobs. The idea has been gaining a lot of support and is being talked about more, though there are still many who think there are better options. Gates, for example, believes the idea could work, but the world doesn’t have the means to pull it off just yet. Former Vice President Joe Biden believes a future that makes jobs and hard work a priority is better for everyone.

“While I appreciate concerns from Silicon Valley executives about what their innovations may do to American incomes, I believe they’re selling American workers short,” said Biden. “All of us together can make choices to shape a better future. Our workers, our businesses, our communities, and our nation deserves nothing less.”

Automation is happening more slowly than expected, but it’s a clear, impending challenge that needs to be prepared for. Whether the answer is a cash payment from governments, better job training, or other solutions, a decision needs to be made before we’re scrambling for short-term solutions.

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IT Experts Foresee 60 Percent of Businesses Affected by Automation Within Five Years

Thoughts On Automation

There are growing concerns that artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will slowly take more jobs away from people as they are further developed and become more complex. A recent study from Redwood Software and Sapio Research seems to support these worries, revealing that information technology (IT) leaders believe nearly 60 percent of businesses can be automated within the next five years. That’s much higher and sooner than The University of Oxford’s prediction saying at least 47 percent of jobs were at risk of automation in the coming decades, according to TechRepublic.

500 IT leaders evenly split between the US and the UK were surveyed, and in addition to the aforementioned percentage, an average of 70 percent said robotics have become more of a priority in the last year. The U.S. alone has already invested over $700 billion in robotics stocks, and the study shows the U.S. is more accepting of the change than the UK.

“There is no question that the US is currently the world leader in robotics automation. From heavy manufacturing to retail giants to tech innovators, the US has implemented automation solution and is seeking others,” says Redwood Software President Dennis Walsh. “While the UK has shown an openness to adopt the same automation mindset, it still lags in the US. Post-Brexit, UK companies may need to up their game in automation in order to remain competitive with their US, European and global competitors.”

Highs and Lows

There are benefits to incorporating robotics into the workforce, of course, such as a reduction in manual labor, less mundane work, and an increased speed with which jobs are completed. However, it also brings with it an increased risk to security and the price of its implementation and maintenance. That’s all before the possibility of automation leading to a workless future for society.

Such a future may not be so bad, though. It would enable former workers to spend their time elsewhere, such as with family, learning a new skill, or simply living a comfortable life. Providing people with the resources to do any of these would be key, of course, like the concept of a universal basic income (UBI), which continues to gain support from the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Nobel Prize winners, and several Silicon Valley executives.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a choice,” said Musk on UBI back in February. “I think it’s going to be necessary. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better.”

Automation isn’t decades away from happening. It’s not something we can simply ignore until a more appropriate time. Automation, however slowly, is happening now, and real discussions need to be held as more people accept its existence and impact. Much like AI, Automation can be a incredibly beneficial if adopted and used correctly.

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Ray Kurzweil Says Machines Won’t Take Over Our Jobs

For Every Loss, an Opportunity

Google’s Chief Engineer — and one of today’s most notable futurists  Ray Kurzweil gave an interesting perspective on the looming job displacement due to intelligent automation. Speaking to Fortune, the famed “future teller” dismissed most people’s worries about automation.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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“Everybody would go, ‘Oh, my God, we’re going to be out of work,”’ Kurzweil told Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram. “I would say, ‘Well, don’t worry, for every job we eliminate, we’re going to create more jobs at the top of the skill ladder.’” Kurzweil added that when people ask what these new jobs would be, he’d say, “Well, I don’t know. We haven’t invented them yet.”

“That continues to be the case, and it creates a difficult political issue because you can look at people driving cars and trucks, and you can be pretty confident those jobs will go away,” he added. “And you can’t describe the new jobs, because they’re in industries and concepts that don’t exist yet.”

Kurzweil’s optimism is a reflection of his general attitude towards the future many believe artificial intelligence will bring, and with it the supposed technological singularity which he predicted would happen in 2045.

 

Eyes on the Future

Throughout the interview, the general trend was towards asking Kurzweil about his predictions for the future — after all, he’s had an impressive batting-average when it comes to his predictions. “If you Google how my predictions have fared, you’ll get a 150-page paper analyzing 147 predictions I made about the year 2009, which I wrote in the late ’90s—86% were correct, 78% were exactly to the year,” he said.

The only thing he didn’t quite get right was his prediction about self-driving cars, which he thought would be around by 2009. “It’s not completely wrong. There actually were some self-driving cars back then, but they were very experimental.”

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
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Kurzweil also gave his two-cents on the matter of AI’s potential dangers, and as the top guy behind Google’s AI and machine learning efforts, he is considered an expert on the subject. He explained that technology “has always been a double-edged sword, since fire kept us warm but burned down our houses. It’s very clear that overall human life has gotten better, although technology amplifies both our creative and destructive impulses.”

He explained:

A lot of people think things are getting worse, partly because that’s actually an evolutionary adaptation: It’s very important for your survival to be sensitive to bad news. A little rustling in the leaves may be a predator, and you better pay attention to that. All of these technologies are a risk. And the powerful ones—biotechnology, nanotechnology, and A.I.—are potentially existential risks.

Kurzweil knows the value of keeping your sights on the future without removing one’s eye from the past. Yes, like any technology before it, AI will have its good and bad sides. Instead of being all glum about it, though, Kurzweil remains positive. “I think if you look at history, though, we’re being helped [by technology] more than we’re being hurt.”

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Analysts Predict That Artificial Intelligence Will Be a $14 Billion Industry by 2023

Exponential Growth

A recent report asserts that the artificial intelligence (AI) industry will reach a compound annual growth rate of 17.2 percent by 2023. The market is set to swell to a whopping $14.2 billion over the next six years, up from just $525 million in 2015.

Understanding Machine Learning [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Natural language processing technology is set to be a huge contributor to this growth. This tech is being adopted rapidly, particularly by financial institutions, because it can carry out customer service transactions and answer common questions in the place of human employees.

As for geography, North America is expected hold the majority of the AI industry’s market share by 2023, but Europe and the Asia-Pacific region will see significant growth thanks to the rapid pace of urbanization in some areas, increasing use of smartphones, and robust automotive sectors.

The Time Is Now

Inevitably, any transition away from human labor could result in fewer jobs. The big question is whether AI and automation can produce enough new jobs to ensure that the people being replaced aren’t left unemployed.

According to the World Economic Forum, automated systems are on track to replace more then five million workers by 2020. In the U.S., some have predicted that 7 percent of jobs will be lost to automation by 2025, and a recent study found that as many as 10 million jobs in Great Britain could be swallowed up by automation over the next 10 years.

While we still have reasons to be optimistic that AI and automation could create jobs rather than just take them away, that’s not likely to happen organically — we need to make some big societal changes to ensure the benefits of AI outweigh the negatives.

These changes might mean some sort of adjustment to academic curriculum that takes into account the types of jobs that students are likely to hold 10 years from now. Universal basic income (UBI) could also be the answer, giving citizens a way to ensure their basic needs are met even after they are no longer needed at their job.

AI and automation are no longer the wave of the future — the technology is already here, and these systems are being implemented more broadly than even before. The world of work is changing, and the way society functions needs to change along with it.

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Joe Biden Just Chose a Side in the Universal Basic Income Debate

Biden Won’t Back UBI

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a economic safety net system in which everyone — regardless of their age, employment status, economic status, household size, or other factors — is guaranteed a minimum income. In other words, it’s guaranteed money that everyone gets just for being a part of society. This salary is intended to provide people with enough money to meet their basic needs without any strings attached.

Sam Altman, the President of Y Combinator, Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX, Stewart Butterfield of Slack and Flickr, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, are just some of the big names who have publicly supported UBI. Former Vice President Joe Biden is now taking the opposite position, arguing that the US needs to “build a future that puts work first.”

Image Credit: David Lienemann/Wiki Commons
Image Credit: David Lienemann/Wiki Commons

“Our children and grandchildren deserve the promise we’ve had: the skills to get ahead, the chance to earn a paycheck, and a steady job that rewards hard work,” Biden wrote in a Biden Institute blog post. “While I appreciate concerns from Silicon Valley executives about what their innovations may do to American incomes, I believe they’re selling American workers short.” He finished the post by saying, “All of us together can make choices to shape a better future. Our workers, our businesses, our communities, and our nation deserves nothing less.”

UBI and the Future

According to McKinsey & Co., 45 percent of jobs today will be gone within 20 years because of automation. Although the US has already endured massive changes in its economy and job market, when it transformed from a society of farmers (84% in 1810) to what we are today (only 2% of the population are farmers), automation will cause a change that’s both larger and faster than we’ve ever seen before. UBI could mitigate against the effects of rapid technological unemployment and allow people to transition into new kinds of work as the economy changes.

The Overseas Development Institute recently conducted a meta-analysis of over 160 studies spanning 30 countries and 56 cash transfer programs. They found positive results from these programs in education, employment, health and nutrition, and savings and investment. So, while Biden is calling to train people for the jobs of the future, he may be underestimating the importance of a tool like UBI in transitioning the American public to that future.

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Two New Tire Concepts Use Tech to Make Your Next Car Safer

Continental Tires has developed a series of smart tires that can warn drivers of and even automatically adjust to dangerous conditions.

Each year, 800 deaths due to vehicle collisions caused by winter weather conditions (sleet, snow, freezing rain, etc) occur in the United States. Continental’s new tire technology concepts, ContiSense and ContiAdapt, will help drivers deal with these conditions, and even features degrees of automation.

ContiSense tires will be equipped with sensors that are able to read external and internal conditions — communicating them directly to a driver’s smartphones. The technology allows a warning to be sent in the event of tire damage far faster than current tech, which doesn’t trigger a warning until the tire pressure has already started to fall. ContiSense’s technology allows data to be transmitted via electrically conductive rubber to a sensor, or via Bluetooth to the user’s phone.

Similarly, ContiAdapt tires are able to automatically adjust tire pressure and rim width in response to changing road conditions in real time. The system offers four different default settings for “wet, uneven, slippery and normal conditions.” The tires can take in information from the environment and adapt to the safest driving surface.

Technology is completely revamping how we drive. From electric cars to cars that drive themselves, technology is ensuring that the future of personal transport is cleaner, safer, and more readily available to all.

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Richard Branson Just Endorsed Basic Income — Here Are 10 Other Tech Moguls Who Support the Radical Idea

It might seem odd for tech entrepreneurs to take an interest in income distribution policy. But an increasing number of high-profile Silicon Valley executives are endorsing universal basic income(UBI), a system in which everyone receives a standard amount of money just for being alive.

Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson became the latest mogul to endorse the radical idea, writing in a blog post that “most countries can afford to make sure that everybody has their basic needs covered.”

sir richard branson universal basic income finland automation
Image Source: Twitter/ Richard Branson

On the one hand, basic income is a way to reduce poverty, but tech folks like Branson also see it as a way to solve the growing problem of robot automation, which they themselves are helping to create.

Here are some of the highest-profile entrepreneurs who have endorsed UBI.

Stewart Butterfield

Basic income advocates have long argued that the security of getting regular income would encourage people to take risks and invest.

Butterfield, CEO of the messaging app Slack, seemed to agree when he wrote on Twitter in early August that “giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism.”

Pierre Omidyar

In February, the eBay founder donated$493,000 through his philanthropic organization, Omidyar Network, to an experiment in basic income taking place in Kenya later this year.

The experiment is put on by GiveDirectly, a charity that delivers cash transfers to people in East Africa as a means to lift the from poverty.

The findings will be “unlike those of any past study and provide evidence-based arguments to shed light on the discussions around the future of work and poverty alleviation policies,” according to a February statement.

Andrew Ng

In the wake of Donald Trump winning the US election, Ng, co-founder of Coursera and chief scientist at Baidu, wrote on Twitterthat “More than ever, we need basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.”

Ng has expressed his support for basic income before. In January, he said at the Deep Learning Summit that basic income deserves serious consideration. He also claimed the government should help fund lifelong education to keep the workforce strong.

Sam Altman

The president of Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s largest start-up incubator, Altman has repeatedly come out in favor of basic income, arguing that the robot-run economy will almost certainly materialize this century.

Y Combinator has launched a basic income experiment in Oakland, California to see how the system works in reality. Roughly 100 people are receiving $2,000 a month, no matter what.

Elon Musk

elon musk tesla driverless coast-to-coast
Elon Musk interviewed by Chris Anderson at TED2017 – The Future You, April 24-28, 2017, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Image Source: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, told CNBC in a recent interviewthat “there’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.”

He added that he couldn’t foresee any other solutions to the threat of robots taking everyone’s jobs than a system of basic income. Since automation would make cause both unemployment and economic output to rise, society might have no choice but to distribute a portion of the money to everyone equally.

Bill Gross

In his May 2016 investment outlook, Gross, co-founder of investment advisory firm Pacific Investment Management, suggested the US should spend money on “a revolutionary new idea called UBI — universal basic income.”

UBI emerged in the 1960s, so technically it isn’t new, but Gross understands that it’s still radical to most people. “If more and more workers are going to be displaced by robots, then they will need money to live on, will they not? And if that strikes you as a form of socialism, I would suggest we get used to it,” he said.

Ray Kurzweil

Kurzweil, a futurist and the co-founder of Singularity University, has expressed an interest in UBI to cover the basic necessities in life.

In a recent Q&A at Singularity University, he said people who are no longer forced to work for a monthly paycheck could instead pursue their passions.

“You’ll do something that you enjoy,” he said. “That you have a passion for. Why don’t we just call that work?”

Albert Wenger

A founder of several companies and now a partner at venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, Wenger has written extensively about the benefits of UBI on his blog.

Most people, Wenger wrote in May, “have resigned themselves to the fact that their earlier dreams of what they wanted to do in life will not be realized.” He says economic inequality is to blame, and a future of basic income could help rectify those missed opportunities.

Tim O’Reilly

O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media, has said he doesn’t necessarily believe the hype that automation will threaten US employment. But he does acknowledge that UBI is a good idea and “just the beginning of the discussion.”

For O’Reilly, what’s important is that work gives people both meaning and identity.

That’s how a basic income system could truly be successful, he says. It would reshape the definition of work itself, and give people more flexibility to do the things that feel most personally fulfilling.

Chris Hughes

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is an active supporter of UBI, telling NPR in September that the system could go a long way toward rebuilding Americans’ faith in an economy many people see as “broken in many ways.”

“Rather than try to restructure our economy so it looks like the 1950s, I think we have to be honest with ourselves,” he said.

Since jobs are already disappearing, Hughes urges people to consider what systems we’ll need to create if millions more follow.

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Another Silicon Valley Billionaire is in Favor of Universal Basic Income

Follow the Money

As automation becomes more and more ingrained in everyday tech, we’re likely to see robots taking on all kinds of jobs previously staffed by humans. This will most likely leave many out of the job they were previously qualified for. Universal basic income (UBI) is often touted as a solution to this problem, and support for the idea is growing in Silicon Valley.

Flickr and Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield is the latest tech billionaire to declare that he’s backing UBI.

“Doesn’t have to be much, but giving people even a very small safety net would unlock a huge amount of entrepreneurialism,” Butterfield said on Twitter earlier this month. His stance echoes recent comments made by Sir Richard Branson regarding UBI’s potential to encourage people to start their own business ventures and independent projects.

Billionaire’s Row

Many of the wealthiest in the tech industry have been very vocal about the need for UBI. Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been particularly outspoken, recently predicting that the rise of automation will force the government’s hand in introducing UBI.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also made his support known, and Bill Gates expressed an interest, although he maintains that we’re not yet ready to make such a leap.

Of course, there are dissenting voices too. Dallas Mavericks owners and AXS TV chairman Mark Cuban has stated his opinion that UBI would be one of the “worst possible responses” to a lack of paid work caused by automation.

The biggest question with UBI is where the money would come from. Some have argued that taxing robots is the way to go, while others think that current welfare practices could successfully be reformed to fit a new landscape. It would no doubt take a lot of work to get UBI up and running on a large scale — but if it was, it has the potential to change a lot of lives for the better.

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NASA Admin: “By the Time You’re a Junior, What You Learned as a Freshman is Obsolete”

Fundamental Skills

As automation looms over the world of work, the changing face of labor factors more and more into decisions about which college course makes for the best investment of time and money. In a recent discussion with Futurism, Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. — a graduate of the University of Alabama and the acting administrator of NASA — had a few pointers for students and educators about how to navigate this increasingly bumpy terrain.

Lightfoot began by noting how quickly progress moves in today’s world, and how this may leave some young people (and some educators) at a loss: “By the time you are a junior in college, what you learned as a freshman is already obsolete.” Of course, he notes that there are some basics you will always need, “there are some fundamental skills that are required either way. If you are in a science program, you need science. If you are in a technology program, you need engineering and math. That’s just the bottom line.”

But still, issues remain.

Regardless of what fundamentals you learn, by the time that you graduate college, much of the information you acquired there will no longer apply—and things are only going to get worse as our research into automation and artificial intelligence continues to advance.

This said, Lightfoot maintains that higher education does teach students a lot of valuable lessons — they just might not be on the syllabus (yet). Ultimately, he outlined what needs to change to prepare young people for the world, and workforce, of tomorrow.

Teamwork Makes Dream Work

Most college courses require students to work alongside one another sooner or later. The way Lightfoot sees it, this kind of experience plays an essential role in preparing the sort of candidates who are going to excel at an organization like NASA.

“There are a couple of skills that will always be needed,” says Lightfoot. “That’s being able to work on a team, to work well with other people, and to understand that you’re never an individual in this. I can tell you, there’s not a soul in this agency that can say ‘I did something.’ No. We did something.”

An organization like NASA can’t complete its important work without every cog in the machine working in sync. Automation and robotics are going to change the kind of job opportunities left available to college graduates in the next decade and beyond, but good collaboration skills will still be valuable.

“You need to learn to communicate,” adds Lightfoot. “Those skills are very important, and they’re something that you can always teach and will always be important.” It may not be much, but in the end, having skills in human-centered interactions will help ensure you are employable in the world of tomorrow.

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The Age of Automation Is Coming, Just More Slowly Than Expected

What Are We Waiting For?

For years, we’ve been told that automation is coming, and that it’s going to have a profound effect on the world of work. However, while robots are already taking care of everything from construction work to delivering packages, widespread adoption of this technology isn’t happening quite as quickly as some would have expected.

Automation can make businesses more efficient, and there are plenty of incentives for companies to invest in the idea. However, there’s a tangible lack of trust in this kind of new technology among many executives, at least for the time being. The old ways are being put to pasture, with a wholly different approach put in their place, and that can be an uncomfortable notion.

“Some of these pretty profound innovations are going to take time to diffuse,” said Andrew McAfee, the co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, and co-author of the book The Second Machine Age.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
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This standpoint is evidenced by comments made by outgoing General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt earlier this year. “I think this notion that we are all going to be in a room full of robots in five years … and that everything is going to be automated, it’s just BS. It’s not the way the world is going to work,” argued Immelt.

For some companies, reticence to commit to automation is all about a lack of trust in the technology. For others, the biggest obstacle is finding a way to integrate human workers with robots and computers in the most efficient way. However, there’s something to be said for a cautious approach, as automation is going to have a profound, far-reaching effect on the way we live our lives.

Brave New Work

When we think about automation, it’s easy to jump to the problem of human employment. If machines are taking on more tasks, there’s going to be less work to go around for living, breathing employees.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the automated systems will provide jobs in their own right, both in terms of manufacture and design, as well as ongoing maintenance. Many companies will want to pair machine workers with humans to maximize the strengths of both.

It’s also worth mentioning that automation is set to take care of a lot of jobs that human workers don’t want to do. There are lots of roles in factory construction lines and other similar settings that are repetitive and strenuous enough to cause severe physical injury over time. Machines can simply be replaced if and when they succumb to wear and tear.

All this being said, we are going to need to figure out how people who rely on jobs that are going to be automated will make a living. Universal Basic Income is one compelling solution, although it’s not without its problems.

UBI isn’t cheap — conservative estimates put the cost of implementing such an idea in the United States at no less than $1.5 trillion per year. If it’s being put forward as a solution to jobs lost thanks to automation, companies who are pursuing that technology are likely be taxed heavily to foot the bill, which may actually end up slowing the adoption even further.

The technology that makes heavily automated workplaces possible is only one piece of the puzzle. For a huge shift such as this, there are all kinds of social considerations that have to be taken into account, and those changes tend to take a little longer than technological advances.

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Sir Richard Branson Thinks the World Needs to Consider Universal Basic Income

A Stipend for Self-Esteem

English business mogul Sir Richard Branson thinks the modern world could benefit from universal basic income (UBI). The Virgin founder published a blog post on the company’s website outlining why he believes the system deserves consideration.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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In the post, Branson describes his experiences during a recent trip to Finland, where a nationwide experiment with UBI that provides 2,000 Finns with an unconditional income of €560 (roughly $655) monthly was launched earlier this year.

UBI has frequently been touted as a potential solution for the unemployment surge expected to result from the increased use of automation in the workplace. However, Branson praises the idea for more human reasons — specifically the sense of self-esteem that comes from not having to worry about having the baseline amount of money needed for life’s essentials.

In his post, he expresses a hope that giving people this leg up would allow them to utilize their own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to carve out a better life for themselves. “A key point is that the money will be paid even if the people find work,” observed Branson. “The initiative aims to reduce unemployment and poverty while cutting red tape, allowing people to pursue the dignity and purpose of work without the fear of losing their benefits by taking a low-paid job.”

Branson, of course, knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. Since founding a magazine at the age of 16, the business magnate has pursued a string of hugely successful ventures, including a mail-order record shop, a music label, and an international airline, all of which have contributed to his current net worth of $5 billion.

Pay It Forward

Branson adds his name to a growing list of very wealthy, technologically savvy individuals who have pledged their support for research into UBI.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently made an impassioned case for UBI following an excursion to Alaska. For decades, the state has implemented a version of the idea, which is funded using revenue from natural oil resources, rather than via taxation.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk stated at the 2017 World Government Summit that he believes UBI is something of an inevitability. As he sees it, the bigger problem is giving people something to do when automation makes them unnecessary in the workplace, which dovetails with Branson’s idea that a basic income could act as a springboard for individual entrepreneurship.

However, not every billionaire shares this take on UBI. Dallas Mavericks owner and AXS TV chairman Mark Cuban has been very critical of the concept, describing it as “one of the worst possible responses” to job losses caused by automation.

Billionaires may know money, but they’re not always the best sources for opinions on social policy — that being said, other experts who have spoken on the subject have delivered arguments that are broadly similar to Branson’s. UBI might not be the be-all, end-all for dealing with poverty and unemployment, but it could certainly give people a better foundation upon which to build a full and prosperous life.

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Study Shows That Minimum Wage Hikes Put More Jobs at Risk of Automation

Benefiting Whom, Exactly?

The desire for a higher wage is pretty self explanatory. However, the impact a minimum wage increase could have on society is not so clear.

In an effort to shed light on this subject, researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) conducted a study, and they’ve concluded that a minimum wage hike might not necessarily lead to happier workers. In fact, it could lead to fewer workers as such an increase has historically resulted in the loss of more jobs to automation.

For this study, authors Grace Lordan of the London School of Economics and David Neumark of the University of California, Irvine looked at minimum wage changes in the United States from 1980 to 2015. They realized that these changes affected the number of so-called “low-skill” or minimum wage jobs — such as packing boxes or using sewing machines — in various industries in the country.

In other words, if a wage hike meant it would cost more to hire a human to do a job than it would to have a machine do it, employers often chose the machine.

“Based on [current population survey] data from 1980-2015, we find that increasing the minimum wage decreases significantly the share of automatable employment held by low-skilled workers, and increases the likelihood that low-skilled workers in automatable jobs become unemployed,” the authors wrote in the paper’s abstract.

The researchers determined that a $1 minimum wage increase led to a 0.43 percent decline in automatable jobs. Such a wage increase led to a full one percent decline in the case of manufacturing, and older, low-skilled workers employed in that industry were particularly likely to be negatively affected by the wage increase.

A loss of just .43 percent of jobs may not seem like much, but it translates to “millions of jobs across the entire U.S. economy,” according to MIT Technology Review.

The Cost of Automation

While the current federal minimum wage in the U.S. has remained unchanged since 2009 — $7.25 an hour — 30 states have higher minimum wage laws. These are, of course, meant to ensure that the “minimum wage” is the same as the “living wage” — the amount of money a person needs to earn to be able to afford such expenses as rent, food, and other necessities.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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However, as the NBER study showed, such wage policies should be carefully considered in the face of intelligent automation. Legislators must ask themselves if increasing the minimum wage would help workers keep their jobs or speed up losses due to automation.

Today’s automated systems are more intelligent than ever before, and machines are now capable of performing even higher-skill jobs thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. In short, today’s machines are far more advanced than the ones available to employers during the three decades covered in the NBER study.

A number of industries in the U.S. have already started feeling the effects of automation. From Amazon’s “employee-less” grocery store to the factories using autonomous vehicles to transport goods, workplaces that feature routinized tasks are already turning to automated systems.

Experts predict this trend will speed up over the coming years and decades. According to a recent study by consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, 40 percent of jobs in the U.S. are at a high risk of being taken over by robots by 2030. In the U.K., some 30 percent of jobs are vulnerable, while Germany and Japan could lose 35 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

While troubling, studies like these serve a valuable purpose as they give us time to prepare for the future effects of automation before we’re actually living with them. As long as we pursue ways to mitigate the increased use of automated systems — perhaps through universal basic income (UBI) trials, retraining or education programs, or taxes on robots — the world will be able to benefit from the technology.

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Automation May Lead to a Workless Future for Humans. Here’s How We Can Cope.

The Automation of Everything

To add to our apprehensions about the future, it seems we’re running out of letters with which to name successive generations: after Baby Boomers, came generation X, then Millennials (aka Gen-Y), who have now been succeeded by Generation Z. Whether or not one finds any symbolism, omen, or irony in this is beside the point. What is important to ask is: what kind of world will those born in the XXI century grow up in?  

Will the automation of everything leave many people behind, bringing despair and disappointment? Or will it urge humanity to redefine self-actualization? Will the realization of one’s potential no longer be defined by career success or measured by net-worth?  If and when it becomes unnecessary for a significant portion of the population to be working, will we be able to adapt our value system to allow for guilt-free leisure, encourage more creative exploration, and recognize the value of lifelong learning?

Just days after the e-commerce giant from Silicon Valley dazzled the world with the introduction of Amazon Go, it has made the first commercial delivery by drone.  The fantasy world of tomorrow — with flying cars and cashless stores — seems to be turning into the mundane reality of today. This fantasy, though, is all too real for people whose livelihoods are threatened by it. Just imagining a scenario where the jobs of cashiers and retail salespersons in the U.S. are fully automated, we are looking at adding 7.5 million people to the ranks of the unemployed.

For comparison, since the beginning of XXI century, the American economy has been adding, on average, 0.8M jobs per year.  Whether it’s Uber, Google, Apple, Tesla, or any other company that will bring a viable driverless technology to the market, it is not a matter of if — but when. Here again, 3.5 million jobs in America could disappear in a heartbeat, should this technology become commonplace. Loss of just those two narrowly-defined professions could undo 14 years’ worth of job creation.

Beyond those vivid examples, a widely-shared blog on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda platform projects that roughly half of all jobs will be lost to automation in less than two decades. One could take solace looking at past experiences — where some vocations fade away, but the new ones come in their stead. Many analysts argue, though, that this time will be different. If those predictions come true, and we are indeed heading for a workless future, now would be high time to kick off a policy discussion on how we must prepare for it.

Just as we intellectually recognize that the world of tomorrow will have much less employment, (or at least, much less of what we define as employment right now), the job-creation rhetoric continues to dominate our political discourse. This proverbial tomorrow may take a decade (or two, or five) to arrive. Undoubtedly, some version of it will — and burying one’s head in the sand is no solution. Focusing on the skills necessary to compete for the yet-to-be-invented jobs is only part of the puzzle. As the gap widens between population growth and automation on one side, and job creation to meet the needs of our machine-powered future on the other, we have to begin making serious adjustments to maintain social cohesion.

What if continued automation of work — be it legal research, or medical diagnostics, or writing of newspaper articles — delivers productivity gains that can be distributed among the population without the need for everyone to contribute in a traditional way?  Should such future be imagined, it will require a major paradigm shift in how our society is organized, how we define contribution, where we find fulfillment, and how we draw meaning from our daily activities.   

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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Coping With a Jobless Future

The first question, which is already being vigorously debated, is how can one support oneself when one is not expected to be working. Unconditional basic income, or “digital dividend,” is one concept that’s gathering momentum. Some jurisdictions have either toyed with the idea or are piloting it.  “The political debate needs to engage the taboo topic of guaranteeing economic security to families — through a universal basic income.” writes David Ignatius for The Washington Post.  

This novel policy proposal is often contrasted with welfare, with the resulting arguments being both for and against. The problem with that discourse is that it’s framed in terms of the current situation — where policies are designed to discourage “freeriding” of some upon the efforts of others. What we should be considering instead is the circumstance where all humans are freeriding on the efforts of machines. The latter do not create demand, which in turn creates a serious conundrum for our economic system.  

As radical as the universal basic income idea may sound, in strict terms, it’s a simple technical solution to a significant social problem. It would be far more difficult to imagine, let alone incorporate, a new value system where unemployment is not stigmatized. Adopting norms in a society — where one’s contribution is no longer defined by “economic output,” — is a challenge of a different scale and complexity altogether. To address it before the societal tensions boil over, we will need a ton of courage, a lot of blue-sky thinking, and a great deal of policy experimentation.

We must begin by openly acknowledging and ultimately facing the reality. As political careers are made and broken on the promises of job-creation, it will require a great deal of courage for our leaders to take responsibility and initiate a frank debate on the possible workless future. To better cope with the uncertain future, we’ll have to develop a new vocabulary to articulate the dilemmas we have yet to face.

It is also the intellectual framework within which we look at our economic systems that needs to change. Here we can start with redefining GDP to better account for non-compensated contribution (such as childcare and housekeeping) or better yet, move towards a wider matrix such as Social Progress Index or any other methodology that recognizes human contribution and progress in new ways. Perhaps we should also retire terms like labor productivity and, instead, refocus on measuring self-actualization.

One of the simplest, and yet also more complicated, questions to ponder in a world free of traditional employment, is what will we do with our free time? It would be good to ease our way into it by looking at the “6 Hour Workday” policies that Sweden is introducing “to increase productivity and make people happier.” Shorter work days will  help prevent burnout and allow people a space to find other activities from which they can derive meaning. For those who are employed, a job isn’t just a vehicle to earn one’s living, it is a means to address the basic human need for belonging. Exploring how this need could be met outside of the workplace would be a worthy undertaking.

Given that the ambition of an individual today is often conflated with professional aspirations and then measured by one’s career success, ambition of the future could potentially be viewed through the prism of building one’s capacity for imagination and aspiration to learn, generate, and exchange ideas. Popularizing the idea of a sabbatical breaks in professional fields beyond academia (where it is already fairly commonplace), would help us in making this a smoother transition.

All of those efforts will have to go hand-in-hand with addressing the rising inequality and recognizing the Spiritual Crisis of the Modern Economy, “where failure [to find a job after losing one] is a source of deep shame and a reason for self-blame.”

The imagined future where humans may not have to work — as machines will be taking care of ever-widening range of our needs and wants — is not assured, but it is highly probable. We can debate the timeline and keep stuffing this difficult conversation into a can, so that we could kick it down the road. What would be more constructive, though, is delving into this debate headfirst, trying out new policies, learning from one another, and shaping our workless future to minimize its discontents. Our kids (the Gen-Zs) will thank us for it!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Futurism or its affiliates.

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Does Basic Income Solve Anything? Grasp the Arguments for and Against

Society and working life are changing at an incredible pace today. Sitra Megatrends 2016 is one publication, among others, that introduces the idea that humankind will change more in the next 30 years than in the past 300. This can already be seen as changes in the nature of work and the disappearance of professions. In the future, many companies will not need a large number of employees to produce large profits. One example is Instagram, which had only 12 employees when it was sold to Facebook in 2012 for USD 1 billion. In comparison, the 20th-century photography giant Kodak employed more than 140,000 people at its peak. This example is indicative of the potential change that digitalisation is capable of bringing about.[i]

Even if the boldest predictions about the impacts of digitalisation on the labour market do not come true, polarisation and uncertainty in the labour market is likely to increase in the future.

Many people feel that basic income is the best long-term option for dealing with change caused by technological development.

Many people feel that basic income is the best long-term option for dealing with change caused by technological development. Basic income is considered a flexible way of guaranteeing a minimum income for people in a situation where demand for everyone’s work is not sufficient, income comes from many sources, and social security’s rigid classification of people as employed or unemployed is no longer appropriate. Other reasons used to justify basic income include the need to simplify the social security system, plug loopholes and dismantle disincentives.

Basic income is defined as an income paid personally to all members of society on a regular basis without conditions or means testing. Further income can be earned without losing basic income. Several models for implementing basic income have been proposed, focusing on how to finance the system and other details. However, the models still require development in order to realise the expectations set for basic income.

Many of the models take increased earnings into account when taxing income. Although the benefit is, as a general rule, the same amount for everyone, steps can be added, for example, based on the recipient’s age or some other criterion. Various means-tested components of social assistance can be retained alongside basic income. In addition to basic income, the term ‘citizen’s wage’ has also been used in Finnish discussions. At times, this has referred to income without a work requirement and at other times, to income that requires some sort of service to society. Terms like citizen’s income, participation income and negative income tax have also made part of the discussion.

Finland’s Basic Income Experiment Focuses on Facilitating Employment

Even during the early stages of industrialisation, social reformists proposed that dividends on the income from common property be distributed on a regular basis or as a lump sum. In particular, land and natural resources were considered to be such common property. Similar ideas have also been proposed today, especially in reaction to increases in the wealth gap that may be caused by digitalisation. Some people believe that income taxes are not the only legitimate way of financing basic income, because all wealth is ultimately the result of collective activities. Thus, financing for basic income should be arranged in another manner, for example, by taxing property or capital and the income from them, or even by some sort of robot tax. However, most basic income models link income taxation and basic income, possibly supplemented by other financing.

Many countries are already planning basic income experiments.

Basic income and the ideas surrounding it have been discussed as a way of reforming social security for several decades. In recent years, this debate has been activating in different parts of Europe and North America and also in some so-called ‘poorer’ countries. Many countries are already planning basic income experiments. Several Dutch cities want to launch their own basic income experiments. Canada too, is also preparing an experiment, while a private capital investment company in the United States plans to implement its own basic income project.

The first basic income experiment in Finland was launched at the beginning of 2017 and will last two years. Its target group are labour market subsidy or basic unemployment allowance recipients between the ages of 25 and 58. Two thousand people from this group have been selected at random for the trial. The tax authority is not involved in the first experiment, so the taxation model for the participants is the same as for other Finns. The tax-exempt basic income in the experiment is EUR 560 per month, and it will replace basic daily allowance of the same amount. Any other social security benefits will remain unchanged. If an unemployed person participating in the experiment finds employment, he or she will not lose the basic income and the sum will not be reduced. In practice, this is the feature that is most beneficial to participants and will potentially improve the incentive to work. The primary aim of the experiment is to determine whether participants are more likely to find employment than other unemployed people. It is part of the government programme of Finland’s current government and separate legislation has been passed for the experiment.

The Finnish Basic Income Discussion: Support Across Party Lines, Disagreement on the Goals

The terms ‘negative income tax’ and ‘citizen’s wage’ were first postulated in the 1970s, but the discussion became more regular during the 1980s. Political discussion also addressed the idea of a basic income system, which would harmonise income transfers and guarantee a statutory minimum income regardless of a person’s life situation. Starting in the mid-1990s, the term ‘basic income’ gradually established itself. Although interest has varied, the idea has never completely disappeared from public discussion. The discussion usually peaked prior to parliamentary elections in years when basic income was part of party platforms (1987, 1994, 1996-1998, 2006-2007). The latest and highest peak in discussion occurred prior to the 2015 elections, a result of the planned implementation of a basic income experiment by the government now in power.

Although this interest has crossed party lines, there are many differences concerning the objective of basic income and the best model for it.

The political parties in Finland have shown varying levels of interest in a citizen’s wage and basic income. Although this interest has crossed party lines, there are many differences concerning the objective of basic income and the best model for it. Along with political parties, many interest groups, experts and opinion formers have taken part in the discussion.

The understanding of the nature of the citizen’s wage and basic income has varied over the years. In the 1980s, a citizen’s wage was seen as a potential solution to the decrease in industrial work caused by technological development. Automation was expected to radically reduce the need for human work. A citizen’s wage was primarily considered as a way to reduce the supply of work to meet the reduced demand and provide a decent income for people without employment. A citizen’s wage was seen as a means of sharing work more equally and shifting some people to various non-profit work in the ‘softer’ sector of society (households, associations or local communities). People often called for a complete redefinition of the concept of work.

Discussion of the citizen’s wage decreased during the recession in the early 1990s and revived again after the worst years of recession had passed. At the same time, the term ‘basic income’ gradually became more common and replaced the citizen’s wage term. Record unemployment levels throughout the latter half of the 1990s ensured that interest in basic income remained high. However, understanding of basic income changed after the recession. This was associated with a more general change in social policy discussion that provided more space for policy actions related to labour supply factors and activation of the unemployed. In contrast to the discussion of the citizen’s wage in the 1980s, basic income was considered a way to encourage people to also accept casual and low-wage work rather than only full employment. People believed that expanding the service sector could compensate for the loss of industrial jobs if employment costs were reduced, collective agreements became more flexible and social security changed and moved in a more encouraging direction. Basic income was seen as a way of dismantling social security disincentives so that working would always increase net income. Basic income would be a fairly low base wage serving as a foundation for building income from several sources.

As employment rates improved in the early 2000s, discussion of basic income decreased. The discussion revived in response to a motion to improve the rights of temporary workers made by the precariat movement in 2006. Activists demanded a basic income that would safeguard a decent income and improve the bargaining position of low-income earners on the labour market. Basic income was widely debated in newspaper columns in 2006-2007, with the Green Party highlighting the basic income theme prior to the parliamentary elections. Attention now focused mainly on changes in work and uncertainty of income. The traditional social security system, with its disincentives and complicated rules, was seen as a poor match for post-industrial labour market needs. Basic income was presented as an investment focusing on work and entrepreneurship, which would make it possible to pursue a new kind of full employment (made up of temporary jobs). The latest debate has revolved around digitalisation and the basic income experiment planned by Juha Sipilä’s government.

Other factors behind the new international basic income discussion include the view that the current phase of robotisation and digitalisation threatens to destroy more jobs than technology development can produce in other areas. The new working life that is now evolving will also require a new kind of social security. Basic income is considered an important part or at least a significant option for this new system.

The Arguments Related to Basic Income in a Nutshell

The arguments for and against basic income are rarely based on scientific evidence. No results have been measured because basic income has never been properly tested in practice. Various operators also have a different focus regarding what they see as the most important benefits or threats of basic income. A list of the arguments presented by key defenders and opponents of basic income is presented below.

For:

Basic income would

  • eliminate social security disincentives
  • simplify and clarify the system
  • make casual work more profitable
  • eliminate the problem of falling through the cracks of social security
  • reduce poverty
  • support people’s own life choices
  • enable flexible transition between different life situations
  • improve the opportunities for low-income earners to negotiate their terms of work
  • eliminate the humiliating and controlling features of social security
  • make it possible to adjust working time and work methods according to personal life situation and interests
  • make it possible to turn down unsatisfactory work
  • support opportunities for small entrepreneurship and self-employment and for the kind of creative work and activity that does not provide a high level of monetary compensation but which it rewarding as such
  • reduce exclusion by providing opportunities for meaningful activity also outside the scope of paid employment
  • free up time that social work professionals and labour authorities spend on paper work for helping customers

Against:

Basic income would

  • be either too expensive to implement (high basic income) or insufficient to replace means-tested social security (low basic income)
  • weaken work incentives and provide the opportunity to live off others
  • also distribute money to those who do not need it
  • reinforce part-time jobs and weaken collective agreements
  • require excessively high marginal taxes and thus weaken work incentives
  • polarise society into those who can live off work and those who are not able to do so
  • leave people who need help to manage on their own and promote the exclusion of young people
  • not take individual needs into account if a flat sum was paid to everyone
  • weaken the position of women on the labour market, because women would be more likely than men to stay home and care for children when on basic income

A flat general income has also been considered a more equal way of providing social security to people in different life situations.

The aim of basic income is to influence labour market activities and social policy principles and practices. Although different operators want to achieve different things with basic income, common targets include clarifying support system bureaucracy, eliminating the “disincentives” associated with combining social security and work, preventing people from falling through the cracks of social security, reducing poverty, and enabling flexible transition between different life situations. Automatically granting the same minimum income security to everyone has been considered a way to reduce the red tape associated with granting benefits and facilitate the employment of benefit recipients because all income would no longer have to be reported to the authorities. In addition, basic income has been seen as a way to provide income security for those who, despite a low income, are not entitled to benefits for one reason or another, or who have been unable or unwilling to apply for benefits to which they are entitled. A flat general income has also been considered a more equal way of providing social security to people in different life situations and enabling flexible transition between different forms of work, studies and family life.

Opponents of basic income have generally focused on the presumed high cost of the system and its negative effects on work morale. Opponents argue that basic social security paid unconditionally would provide the right to a free ride and weaken the position of work as the foundation of our society. Opponents and defenders can be found in political circles on both the right and the left. The right has primarily been concerned about the costs of the system and its incentive effects. The left (especially in the union movement) has been worried that basic income would cause an increase in low-income work and polarise the labour market.

Different Basic Income Models

The idea of basic income is to deliver a periodic cash payment to everyone in the system on an individual basis. According to the definition, there are no conditions or work requirement involved with receiving basic income. The purpose is not to increase the net income of middle- or high-income earners, so basic income models nearly always involve a tax system reform in which the added income provided by basic income is recovered from high-income earners via taxation.

The purpose of basic income is generally considered to be the replacement of different forms of means-tested minimum social security. The starting point for Finnish discussion has usually involved separating the housing allowance from basic income, but in theory it could also be covered by basic income if the basic income was high enough. However, this would present a challenge in terms of financing. Another challenge would be how to take regional differences into account. For example, if the basic income paid in a small community was based on housing costs in Helsinki, this could mean an unreasonably high income without a work requirement. On the other hand, basic income based on housing costs in small communities would be inadequate in the Helsinki capital region. Housing costs also differ depending on whether a person owns or rents their home. Regional differences in housing costs could be taken into account by, for example, making basic income proportional to the average rent per square meter in the community. Differences in the type of housing could be balanced by taxation.

One possible method of implementing basic income is a negative income tax model. This model involves only paying basic income to those who fall below a certain income level so that the amount of the payment gradually decreases as the person’s income rises.

Basic income models are very different.

Basic income models are very different. For example, they can be classified according to the model’s:

  • relationship to other social security (target group, level, supplementary benefits).
  • financing method (income tax reform or other sources of financing)
  • targets (related to labour markets, social policy and society in general)
  • effects (to the extent that they can be assessed).

Basic Income and Other Social Security

Depending on the model, basic income is a rather extensive reform of the tax and social security system that has to be combined with existing institutions in one way or another. Basic income is generally seen as a system that would replace means-tested minimum social security benefits and put them on the same level. The higher the basic income, the greater the number of subsidy forms it could replace. However, proposals generally suggest that some means-tested benefits could be retained alongside basic income, at least for such special groups who, for one reason or another, cannot be expected to participate in the labour market.

Basic income models vary according to which groups would be included in the scope of the system. In some models, basic income would only be paid to people of working age. Other models would also include minors and/or pensioners, and in this case basic income could have different levels for different age groups. Some models propose that basic income only be paid to citizens while others would grant it to non-citizens with permanent resident status, for example, after they had lived in the country for a certain period of time. There are also models where a benefit called basic income would only target a certain population group, such as those entitled to social security, people who receive unemployment benefits or have irregular income, or where the right to basic income would have a time limit. Other proposals include models that resemble basic income but are based on a work requirement and/or means testing.

The level of the benefit also varies considerably between different models. Full basic income means that the level of the benefit is sufficient to cover the essential costs of housing and living. Partial basic income means that other social security is needed to supplement basic income if a person’s earnings are not sufficient. Other differences between models include whether basic income would be subject to taxation or whether it would be a tax-exempt benefit. The idea of basic income as a more limited system functioning as part of existing social security has also been proposed.

How Would Basic Income Be Financed?

In theory, there are many different alternatives for financing basic income. Many of the models would reform income taxation so that the added income provided by basic income would gradually be collected back as a person’s earnings increased. The idea is that basic income would not significantly change the net income of an average wage-earner. Adjustment of tax rates and the amount of basic income can affect income distribution: the basic income model can be implemented in a way that maintains the current income distribution or in a way that changes it in one direction or another. Money will circulate in the economy in a different way when everyone receives basic income and also pays a higher income tax. Income taxation can be supplemented with other direct or indirect taxes as needed.

A switch to a flat tax rate for income taxation is often proposed in conjunction with basic income. However, this is by no means essential, because progressive taxation can also be used with basic income.

The basic income models proposed in Finland have generally been criticised for the high marginal tax rates they require, which are seen as disincentives. Financing based on income taxation can be supplemented by other taxes in order to reduce the marginal tax rate in basic income models. The basic income models presented in Finland have, for example, proposed environmental taxes, inheritance and wealth taxes, the elimination of tax deductions, and an increase in property and capital income taxation as ways to supplement financing by means of income taxes. Use of consumption taxes to finance basic income has also been suggested in some connections.

One possibility for implementing basic income is the so-called negative income tax model. Negative income tax is a combination of taxation and automatic income support in which an income transfer is paid when a person’s earnings remain below a certain level. This is gradually reduced as earnings increase. Although basic income and negative income tax have a somewhat different history and support base, they can technically produce nearly the same result. The advantage of negative income tax is that it could help achieve the presumed impacts of basic income at a lower marginal tax rate. However, implementation of this model would require real-time monitoring of earnings. The national income register that is planned to be launched in early 2019 would make this possible in Finland.

How Would Basic Income Affect Us?

Micro-simulation analyses can be used to assess the impacts of basic income models on households and the entire population. These analyses generally indicate that basic income would increase net earnings for low-income earners who have some earnings in addition to social security. However, the effects would vary in different cases due to the joint impact of benefits.

Basic income would most clearly increase net income for social security recipients whose current benefit level is lower than the basic income and for those with no income or a low income who don’t receive any social security benefits. Basic income, for example, would substantially improve the income of entrepreneurs with the lowest earnings, because currently, they are not eligible for an adjusted unemployment allowance. Efforts are often being made to build basic income models so that the net earnings of middle-income earners would not change at all.

The relationship between basic income and the EUR 300 of exempt earnings currently used in Finland should also be examined. If the exempt earnings component is not included in the basic income model, people doing casual work may actually end up with less net earnings. Child and activation increases for labour market subsidy and basic unemployment allowance may also be a disincentive if they remain in force.

The most interesting effects of basic income would, naturally, be so-called dynamic effects, in other words, those affecting human and company behaviour.

The most interesting effects of basic income would, naturally, be so-called dynamic effects, in other words, those affecting human and company behaviour. An experiment is the only way to bring about these effects to some extent. For example, there have been fears that a higher marginal tax rate would weaken work incentives for middle- and high-income earners.

Conversely, it has been suggested that basic income would encourage people to try entrepreneurship because it would guarantee a minimum income even when the company is struggling. Economists have shown that the proposed basic income models would still contain some disincentives unless other social security elements were reformed at the same time. However, the mere knowledge of a steady income could psychologically increase the willingness to accept casual work. One of the problems in terms of today’s social security is the so-called bureaucratic disincentive. This refers to the extra paperwork that casual workers must complete in order to report working hours, work locations and the pay received for that work to the authorities and the delays in payment caused by the need to check that information. The complicated system also makes it difficult for recipients of overlapping subsidies to understand how work affects different benefits. Uncertainty about the effect that work income has on benefits may already be enough to create a disincentive.

In order to achieve the desired positive effects, more attention must be focused on the joint impacts of basic income, other social security components, and taxation. The current basic income model still has many shortcomings, particularly in relation to work incentives. One solution is to lower taxation on low incomes or implement a tax deduction for work income that only applies to low-income earners. The fact that the low level of primary benefits forces many low-income earners to regularly seek basic social assistance represents another disincentive. If we want to restore basic social assistance to its original role as temporary emergency assistance and simultaneously prevent it from causing disincentives, basic income must be higher than the existing minimum unemployment allowance.

A reform of the housing allowance would also be needed in conjunction with the basic income model, by allowing, for example, a certain amount of exempt earnings for low income earners. The possible benefits of the basic income model would probably be most effectively achieved if basic income could be set high enough to also replace the housing allowance and in some way take regional and other differences into account in the costs. However, in this case, the high cost of financing basic income would be a challenge.

This article is based on Johanna Perkiö’s report Suomalainen perustulokeskustelu ja mallit (Public debate and proposed models for a universal basic income system in Finland)[ii].

This article is part of The Next Era, a global initiative to track, connect, and amplify emerging ideas for an open and forward-looking society. The Next Era is a collaboration between the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and the Nordic think tank Demos Helsinki.

[i] Kiiski Kataja, Elina (2016): Megatrends 2016: The future happens now. Sitra. https://www.sitra.fi/julkaisut/Muut/Megatrendit_2016.pdf

[ii] Perkiö, Johanna (2016): Suomalainen perustulokeskustelu ja mallitTyöpapereita 85/2016. Kela. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/159369

The post Does Basic Income Solve Anything? Grasp the Arguments for and Against appeared first on Futurism.

Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines

Advances in AI

On December 2nd, 1942, a team of scientists led by Enrico Fermi came back from lunch and watched as humanity created the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction inside a pile of bricks and wood underneath a football field at the University of Chicago. Known to history as Chicago Pile-1, it was celebrated in silence with a single bottle of Chianti, for those who were there understood exactly what it meant for humankind, without any need for words.

Now, something new has occurred that, again, quietly changed the world forever. Like a whispered word in a foreign language, it was quiet in that you may have heard it, but its full meaning may not have been comprehended. However, it’s vital we understand this new language, and what it’s increasingly telling us, for the ramifications are set to alter everything we take for granted about the way our globalized economy functions, and the ways in which we as humans exist within it.

The language is a new class of machine learning known as deep learning, and the “whispered word” was a computer’s use of it to seemingly out of nowhere defeat three-time European Go champion Fan Hui, not once but five times in a row without defeat. Many who read this news, considered that as impressive, but in no way comparable to a match against Lee Se-dol instead, who many consider to be one of the world’s best living Go players, if not the best. Imagining such a grand duel of man versus machine, China’s top Go player predicted that Lee would not lose a single game, and Lee himself confidently expected to possibly lose one at the most.

What actually ended up happening when they faced off? Lee went on to lose all but oneof their match’s five games. An AI named AlphaGo is now a better Go player than any human and has been granted the “divine” rank of 9 dan. In other words, its level of play borders on godlike. Go has officially fallen to machine, just as Jeopardy did before it to Watson, and chess before that to Deep Blue.

“AlphaGo’s historic victory is a clear signal that we’ve gone from linear to parabolic.”

So, what is Go? Very simply, think of Go as Super Ultra Mega Chess. This may still sound like a small accomplishment, another feather in the cap of machines as they continue to prove themselves superior in the fun games we play, but it is no small accomplishment, and what’s happening is no game.

AlphaGo’s historic victory is a clear signal that we’ve gone from linear to parabolic. Advances in technology are now so visibly exponential in nature that we can expect to see a lot more milestones being crossed long before we would otherwise expect. These exponential advances, most notably in forms of artificial intelligence limited to specific tasks, we are entirely unprepared for as long as we continue to insist upon employment as our primary source of income.

This may all sound like exaggeration, so let’s take a few decade steps back, and look at what computer technology has been actively doing to human employment so far:

Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines
Image Source: St. Louis Fed

Let the above chart sink in. Do not be fooled into thinking this conversation about the automation of labor is set in the future. It’s already here. Computer technology is already eating jobs and has been since 1990.

Routine Work

All work can be divided into four types: routine and nonroutine, cognitive and manual. Routine work is the same stuff day in and day out, while nonroutine work varies. Within these two varieties, is the work that requires mostly our brains (cognitive) and the work that requires mostly our bodies (manual). Where once all four types saw growth, the stuff that is routine stagnated back in 1990. This happened because routine labor is easiest for technology to shoulder. Rules can be written for work that doesn’t change, and that work can be better handled by machines.

Distressingly, it’s exactly routine work that once formed the basis of the American middle class. It’s routine manual work that Henry Ford transformed by paying people middle class wages to perform, and it’s routine cognitive work that once filled US office spaces. Such jobs are now increasingly unavailable, leaving only two kinds of jobs with rosy outlooks: jobs that require so little thought, we pay people little to do them, and jobs that require so much thought, we pay people well to do them.

If we can now imagine our economy as a plane with four engines, where it can still fly on only two of them as long as they both keep roaring, we can avoid concerning ourselves with crashing. But what happens when our two remaining engines also fail? That’s what the advancing fields of robotics and AI represent to those final two engines, because for the first time, we are successfully teaching machines to learn.

Neural Networks

I’m a writer at heart, but my educational background happens to be in psychology and physics. I’m fascinated by both of them so my undergraduate focus ended up being in the physics of the human brain, otherwise known as cognitive neuroscience. I think once you start to look into how the human brain works, how our mass of interconnected neurons somehow results in what we describe as the mind, everything changes. At least it did for me.

As a quick primer in the way our brains function, they’re a giant network of interconnected cells. Some of these connections are short, and some are long. Some cells are only connected to one other, and some are connected to many. Electrical signals then pass through these connections, at various rates, and subsequent neural firings happen in turn. It’s all kind of like falling dominoes, but far faster, larger, and more complex. The result amazingly is us, and what we’ve been learning about how we work, we’ve now begun applying to the way machines work.

One of these applications is the creation of deep neural networks – kind of like pared-down virtual brains. They provide an avenue to machine learning that’s made incredible leaps that were previously thought to be much further down the road, if even possible at all. How? It’s not just the obvious growing capability of our computers and our expanding knowledge in the neurosciences, but the vastly growing expanse of our collective data, aka big data.

Big Data

Big data isn’t just some buzzword. It’s information, and when it comes to information, we’re creating more and more of it every day. In fact we’re creating so much that a 2013 report by SINTEF estimated that 90% of all information in the world had been created in the prior two years. This incredible rate of data creation is even doubling every 1.5 yearsthanks to the Internet, where in 2015 every minute we were liking 4.2 million things on Facebook, uploading 300 hours of video to YouTube, and sending 350,000 tweets. Everything we do is generating data like never before, and lots of data is exactly what machines need in order to learn to learn. Why?

Imagine programming a computer to recognize a chair. You’d need to enter a ton of instructions, and the result would still be a program detecting chairs that aren’t, and notdetecting chairs that are. So how did we learn to detect chairs? Our parents pointed at a chair and said, “chair.” Then we thought we had that whole chair thing all figured out, so we pointed at a table and said “chair”, which is when our parents told us that was “table.” This is called reinforcement learning. The label “chair” gets connected to every chair we see, such that certain neural pathways are weighted and others aren’t. For “chair” to fire in our brains, what we perceive has to be close enough to our previous chair encounters. Essentially, our lives are big data filtered through our brains.

Deep Learning

The power of deep learning is that it’s a way of using massive amounts of data to get machines to operate more like we do without giving them explicit instructions. Instead of describing “chairness” to a computer, we instead just plug it into the Internet and feed it millions of pictures of chairs. It can then have a general idea of “chairness.” Next we test it with even more images. Where it’s wrong, we correct it, which further improves its “chairness” detection. Repetition of this process results in a computer that knows what a chair is when it sees it, for the most part as well as we can. The important difference though is that unlike us, it can then sort through millions of images within a matter of seconds.

This combination of deep learning and big data has resulted in astounding accomplishments just in the past year. Aside from the incredible accomplishment of AlphaGo, Google’s DeepMind AI learned how to read and comprehend what it readthrough hundreds of thousands of annotated news articles. DeepMind also taught itself to play dozens of Atari 2600 video games better than humans, just by looking at the screen and its score, and playing games repeatedly. An AI named Giraffe taught itself how to play chess in a similar manner using a dataset of 175 million chess positions, attaining International Master level status in just 72 hours by repeatedly playing itself. In 2015, an AI even passed a visual Turing test by learning to learn in a way that enabled it to be shown an unknown character in a fictional alphabet, then instantly reproduce that letter in a way that was entirely indistinguishable from a human given the same task. These are all major milestones in AI.

However, despite all these milestones, when asked to estimate when a computer would defeat a prominent Go player, the answer even just months prior to the announcement by Google of AlphaGo’s victory, was by experts essentially, “Maybe in another ten years.” A decade was considered a fair guess because Go is a game so complex I’ll just let Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame, another former champion human defeated by AI, describe it:

Go is famously a more complex game than chess, with its larger board, longer games, and many more pieces. Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence team likes to say that there are more possible Go boards than atoms in the known universe, but that vastly understates the computational problem. There are about 10¹⁷⁰ board positions in Go, and only 10⁸⁰ atoms in the universe. That means that if there were as many parallel universes as there are atoms in our universe (!), then the total number of atoms in all those universes combined would be close to the possibilities on a single Go board.

Such confounding complexity makes impossible any brute-force approach to scan every possible move to determine the next best move. But deep neural networks get around that barrier in the same way our own minds do, by learning to estimate what feels like the best move. We do this through observation and practice, and so did AlphaGo, by analyzing millions of professional games and playing itself millions of times. So the answer to when the game of Go would fall to machines wasn’t even close to ten years. The correct answer ended up being, “Any time now.

Nonroutine Automation

Any time now. That’s the new go-to response in the 21st century for any question involving something new machines can do better than humans, and we need to try to wrap our heads around it.

Deep Learning Is Going to Teach Us All the Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs Are for Machines

We need to recognize what it means for exponential technological change to be entering the labor market space for nonroutine jobs for the first time ever. Machines that can learn mean nothing humans do as a job is uniquely safe anymore. From hamburgers to healthcare, machines can be created to successfully perform such tasks with no need or less need for humans, and at lower costs than humans.

Amelia is just one AI out there currently being beta-tested in companies right now. Created by IPsoft over the past 16 years, she’s learned how to perform the work of call center employees. She can learn in seconds what takes us months, and she can do it in 20 languages. Because she’s able to learn, she’s able to do more over time. In one company putting her through the paces, she successfully handled one of every ten calls in the first week, and by the end of the second month, she could resolve six of ten calls. Because of this, it’s been estimated that she can put 250 million people out of a job, worldwide.

Viv is an AI coming soon from the creators of Siri who’ll be our own personal assistant. She’ll perform tasks online for us, and even function as a Facebook News Feed on steroids by suggesting we consume the media she’ll know we’ll like best. In doing all of this for us, we’ll see far fewer ads, and that means the entire advertising industry — that industry the entire Internet is built upon — stands to be hugely disrupted.

A world with Amelia and Viv — and the countless other AI counterparts coming online soon — in combination with robots like Boston Dynamics’ next generation Atlas portends, is a world where machines can do all four types of jobs and that means serious societal reconsiderations. If a machine can do a job instead of a human, should any human be forced at the threat of destitution to perform that job? Should income itself remain coupled to employment, such that having a job is the only way to obtain income, when jobs for many are entirely unobtainable? If machines are performing an increasing percentage of our jobs for us, and not getting paid to do them, where does that money go instead? And what does it no longer buyIs it even possible that many of the jobs we’re creating don’t need to exist at all, and only do because of the incomes they provide? These are questions we need to start asking, and fast.

Decoupling Income From Work

Fortunately, people are beginning to ask these questions, and there’s an answer that’s building up momentum. The idea is to put machines to work for us, but empower ourselves to seek out the forms of remaining work we as humans find most valuable, by simply providing everyone a monthly paycheck independent of work. This paycheck would be granted to all citizens unconditionally, and its name is universal basic income. By adopting UBI, aside from immunizing against the negative effects of automation, we’d also be decreasing the risks inherent in entrepreneurship, and the sizes of bureaucraciesnecessary to boost incomes. It’s for these reasons, it has cross-partisan support, and is even now in the beginning stages of possible implementation in countries like SwitzerlandFinland, the Netherlands, and Canada.

The future is a place of accelerating changes. It seems unwise to continue looking at the future as if it were the past, where just because new jobs have historically appeared, they always will. The WEF started 2016 off by estimating the creation by 2020 of 2 million new jobs alongside the elimination of 7 million. That’s a net loss, not a net gain of 5 million jobs. In a frequently cited paper, an Oxford study estimated the automation of about half of all existing jobs by 2033. Meanwhile self-driving vehicles, again thanks to machine learning, have the capability of drastically impacting all economies — especially the US economy as I wrote last year about automating truck driving — by eliminating millions of jobs within a short span of time.

And now even the White House, in a stunning report to Congress, has put the probability at 83 percent that a worker making less than $20 an hour in 2010 will eventually lose their job to a machine. Even workers making as much as $40 an hour face odds of 31 percent. To ignore odds like these is tantamount to our now laughable “duck and cover” strategies for avoiding nuclear blasts during the Cold War.

All of this is why it’s those most knowledgeable in the AI field who are now actively sounding the alarm for basic income. During a panel discussion at the end of 2015 at Singularity University, prominent data scientist Jeremy Howard asked “Do you want half of people to starve because they literally can’t add economic value, or not?” before going on to suggest, ”If the answer is not, then the smartest way to distribute the wealth is by implementing a universal basic income.”

AI pioneer Chris Eliasmith, director of the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, warned about the immediate impacts of AI on society in an interview with Futurism, “AI is already having a big impact on our economies… My suspicion is that more countries will have to follow Finland’s lead in exploring basic income guarantees for people.”

Moshe Vardi expressed the same sentiment after speaking at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science about the emergence of intelligent machines, “we need to rethink the very basic structure of our economic system… we may have to consider instituting a basic income guarantee.”

Even Baidu’s chief scientist and founder of Google’s “Google Brain” deep learning project, Andrew Ng, during an onstage interview at this year’s Deep Learning Summit, expressed the shared notion that basic income must be “seriously considered” by governments, citing “a high chance that AI will create massive labor displacement.”

When those building the tools begin warning about the implications of their use, shouldn’t those wishing to use those tools listen with the utmost attention, especially when it’s the very livelihoods of millions of people at stake? If not then, what about when Nobel prize winning economists begin agreeing with them in increasing numbers?

No nation is yet ready for the changes ahead. High labor force non-participation leads to social instability, and a lack of consumers within consumer economies leads to economic instability. So let’s ask ourselves, what’s the purpose of the technologies we’re creating? What’s the purpose of a car that can drive for us, or artificial intelligence that can shoulder 60% of our workload? Is it to allow us to work more hours for even less pay? Or is it to enable us to choose how we work, and to decline any pay/hours we deem insufficient because we’re already earning the incomes that machines aren’t?

What’s the big lesson to learn, in a century when machines can learn?

I offer it’s that jobs are for machines, and life is for people.

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The First Fully Automated Toothbrush is Here. And it Cleans Your Teeth in 10 Seconds.

Say hello to Amabrush, the world’s first automatic toothbrush, and goodbye to brushing your teeth for minutes at a time twice a day. Amabrush resembles a mouthguard with soft silicone bristles in it, and it is magnetically attached to a round handle. Put the mouthpiece in, and don’t worry about the toothpaste, it’ll do that for you. It will then go to work, brushing your teeth in the way that your dentist tells you to, in every location in your mouth, all at the same time.

Using this device, brushing all of your teeth to perfection only takes about 10 seconds from start to finish, so it’s no surprise that the Amabrush is doing really well on Kickstarter. As this article is being written, they have 25 days to go and have already raised $935,891, surpassing their $56,972 goal.

The Amabrush is just one more example of automation doing what it does best: taking over mind-numbingly dull daily tasks, freeing up humans to think about and do more compelling things. Whether it’s a significant step in automation, like self-driving cars, or just a piece of the puzzle, it’s all progress in the same direction. By extension, automation can free us from repetitive, dull jobs and free us up for more challenging careers, hobbies, passions, etc. All we have to do is be willing and ready for this change to happen.

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Universal Basic Income

Basic Income and the New Universalism

Universal basic income is firstly universal, secondly about income and only thirdly basic. In short, the most radical thing about basic income is that it touches everyone. This marks a significant change in how we view society at large.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Universal Basic Income
Image Source: MiSs LolliPop/ Flickr

The universal basic income has become a subject of increasing fascination across the entire ideological spectrum in recent years. Capable of much more than just a simple “employment fix”, basic income could help to create no less than a shared political vision for a future society.

There are a number of experiments in basic income about to be implemented this year around the world. The experiments offer basic income as a solution to automation, lack of disposable income, benefit traps or a bloated bureaucracy. In other words, the goal is to “fix” various parts of the existing relationships between the state, the individual and capital. Currently, the technology-driven vision for our society can be summarised thus: let robots do the dirty work, let a small group of creative entrepreneurs come up with new solutions to emerging problems and the rest of us can live on a universal basic income and the odd jobs the platforms provide.

In the present political climate, however, such visions could amount to suicide for any policy or movement. What people want are jobs for everyone, not basic income. In many countries, such as the UK and US, the public that cast its vote in recent elections expects this to happen though a return to a resurgent manufacturing industry: a modern-day version of the great industrial society of the past and a result of the fact that, for decades, politics has been about special groups and policies directed not at society as a whole but at those parts of it considered in need of fixing.

Amid all the talk about the new age of work and increasing automation, we have perhaps not seen the obvious. It is not just work that is changing, but entire societies. Somehow, we need to be able to convene both the automation of demeaning tasks (demand full automation[1]) and take into consideration the desire to work that right now energises politics like no other idea. In order to bridge this gap, we need to look at the big picture. We need to understand what work means to people and what its precise role is in society.

Basic income has been compared to “the moonshot” (by us and others), where the process is much more important than the immediate goal. The process of basic income is in opening a new chapter in the discussion of automation and work. These work and automation phenomena do not occur in isolation from the rest of society. The current technological progress is once again evoking the question related to universals: what are the new infrastructures, new rights and new responsibilities that can weather the change?

In what follows, we suggest viewing basic income not as income, but as the capacity to produce and thus to participate actively in society. This perspective shifts our attention from automation and the increasingly rapid disappearance of (white-collar) jobs to the wider implications of what work has meant to us as a society. Viewed this way, the basic income combats the universally shared experience of the “spectre of uselessness” that haunts all parts of society, independent of social status or background. In doing this, it pushes us towards the “politics of what is shared”: the very process of getting basic income implemented is able to galvanise politics on a new level.

Framed in the right way, basic income can become much more than a quick fix for automation, or the societal flavour of the month of techno-fantasists. It can ignite a new social movement and help to create a unifying vision for a post-industrial society.

Framed in the right way, basic income can become much more than a quick fix for automation, or the societal flavour of the month of techno-fantasists. As a universal policy, it can ignite a new social movement and help to create a unifying vision for a post-industrial society.

Basic Income and Four Reasons to Fear the Future

Recent popular discourse on the subject of basic income has coalesced around four lines of argument. First, a wave of statesmen and business leaders from President Obamato billionaire business magnate Elon Musk have voiced their concerns over a future society where robots have replaced over half the workforce. As automation eliminates low-end jobs, an increasing number of people will be unable to make ends meet with earnings from low-paid, episodic or zero-contract-style employment.

That said, a couple of decades from now, advances in artificial intelligence, for example, might lead to us creating more wealth than we could ever have imagined before. This wealth would accumulate in the hands of the entrepreneurs and investors, however, and as incomes drop the economy as a whole collapses. There would be nobody able to buy the products and services that are automatically produced. These fears have contributed to the technologists’ enthusiasm for basic income. As such, it comes as no surprise that Y Combinator, the world’s leading start-up accelerator, is running its own basic income pilot with one hundred families in Oakland, California.

A third concern, a fixation on employment and incentives, currently dominates the thinking of the Finnish basic income experiment.[2] There, the central argument is that basic income will break with the incentive structure of the current social benefits system: a system, it is argued, that discourages people from working. In Finland – as in many modern welfare societies – an individual has to navigate a web of income-tested “basic” benefits that are paid on top of one another. The joint effect of the layered benefits is that if a person who is receiving these benefits finds a job, work does not necessarily pay. Moreover, becoming an entrepreneur (or even “working” actively in the voluntary sector) can lead to losing one’s benefits entirely.

A fourth concern relates to the reduction of bureaucracy and administration. The transaction costs of means-testing the receivers of benefits are significant. The idea of an unconditional payment can therefore be seen as one way of providing a more efficient welfare system. This is the reason why basic income is of interest to the “liberal” end of the political spectrum, where streamlining the state is a major concern. The state can be reduced to these kind of “algorithms” that are simple and transparent.

Outdated Concepts of State v. Individual v. Capital

These four arguments for basic income are all relevant. That said, they are, however, all based on a somewhat outdated concept of the relationship between the state, the individual and capital. In the post-war societal consensus, work united employers, workers and the state in a shared mission (something that in the Nordic countries was dubbed the welfare state). The different formulations provided the basis for all the industrial societies of the West. In this vision, economic growth bound together the interests of the state, the people and private capital.

The state ensured a steady supply of labour for the employment markets by educating, re-educating and creating mechanisms for those that had fallen ill and could not return to the job market. Employers, for their part, supplied the state with taxable income, but also people with a sense of worth and income. Central to this vision was the idea that work is something permanent and not working permanently is a temporary situation that requires interventions: benefit systems, insurances, healthcare, re-education and more.

So now, the changes in work are not just changing work itself, but breaking this “machine”. If you take work out of an industrial society, the interests of capital, the people and the state are no longer aligned. And that is a major problem.

Indeed, work is not just simply about income to individual citizens. It is more, from both a societal point of view and an individual point of view. Work relates to our sense of worth, identity and social cohesion, and it plays a part in the contract that has bound together employers, the workforce and the state. Steady jobs and professions have been so central to our societies that currently our main way of contributing to society happens via work: that is how we identify ourselves, that is where we spend most of our waking time.

Currently, we are in a situation where technological progress and globalisation seem to break the connection between growth, productivity and human well-being.

The current lines of argumentation see basic income as something that “fixes” what is happening to work. We propose looking at the big picture: work had a very special function in the industrial society. While work remains important to individuals, work (and therefore the social order) is changing. Currently, we are in a situation where technological progress and globalisation seem to break the connection between growth, productivity and human well-being.

Metaphorically speaking, basic income is not an app to save the industrial society, but it could be the start of a new operating system for the post-industrial society.

Viewed from the perspective of the four arguments postulated above, basic income merely functions as artificial respiration extending the lifespan of industrial society. Instead, now that work is changing, we have to form a new type of “contract” between the state, capital and the people. Metaphorically speaking, basic income is not an app to save the industrial society, but it could be the start of a new operating system for the post-industrial society. Its creation is by no means an easy task.

To get the job done, we propose two things in particular: one, to rethink what basic income is and two, to rethink what politics is. Basic income needs to be about more than income for the precarious job markets. Politics needs be about “the people”. In order to speak to everyone, we need to rethink the foundations of basic income as something that relates to not just work but participates actively in the community we are part of.

In the next two sections, we aim to do just that. To discuss the return of politics based on shared experiences and unifying challenges, as well as basic income having the capacity to produce.

Basic Income to Generate Social Renewal

With the focus on fixing the industrial mode of production, we fail to see the scale and scope of basic income in terms of generating social renewal. For it is unique in its scale: typically, the biggest single share of most countries’ budgets goes towards the funding of social and welfare costs. By way of an example, it represents approximately a quarter of the entire budgets of many advanced economies, such as the Finland and US. However, the scope of basic income is even more dramatic. The most important characteristic of basic income is the fact that it is universal, that it is for everyone.

Currently, basic income is regarded mainly as a redistributive social policy instrument. As such, its foundation is often traced back to social rights, such as the right to social security and adequate social and medical services. As a flat-rate transfer given to everyone, the universal basic income has been hailed by many welfare state scholars as the ideal typical universal benefit, reviving the concept of social rights-based social security.[3]

The idea of a universal basic income, however, can be traced back further in history to the establishment of civil rights, a far older embodiment of universalism and a more foundational set of rights. The basic income discussion commenced probably for the first time in its current form around the time of the American and French Revolutions in the late 18th century. It was a practical application of the establishment of the concept of universal human rights. The problem that philosophers puzzled over was how to reconcile the right to private property with the right to life and thus to a minimum standard of living.

As a solution, “founding father” and political theorist Thomas Paine proposed an early version of the basic income as a solution in Agrarian Justice.[4] Paine’s argument centred on access to land. He departed from the premise that since land existed before man and was not created by man, it should belong to everyone equally. Therefore, every individual has an equal right to land by virtue of being human.

However, the development of agriculture, while contributing to civilisation, had dispossessed the majority of the population of their natural inheritance, but without compensation. For Paine, anyone born now should not be worse off than someone born before the onset of “civilisation”, when people, supposedly, had equal access to natural resources. Since the natural resources that had already been appropriated by individuals could not be separated from their cultivation (i.e. the labour of the proprietor), each individual should receive his or her entitlement in monetary form. In short, each man and woman should receive a lump sum of £15 when he or she turns 21. The amount was roughly two thirds of an agricultural labourer’s yearly income in Britain at the time.

To Understand the Present, We Must Understand the Past

Paine’s line of reasoning was echoed by the Nobel laureate Herbert Simon at the turn of the 21st century. While Paine focused on land, Simon justified redistribution through the claim that a producer’s output depends largely on human and social capital, such as shared values, scientific knowledge, trust and other social institutions. Following Paine, he argued that social capital belongs jointly to all members of society rather than specific individuals. Therefore, the producer should only be entitled to a relatively small share of the profit. The rest should be taxed and redistributed as a kind of basic income to all members of society. Simon even went as far as claiming that at least 90% of all wealth derives from social capital.[5]

Indeed, much of the value in today’s society is created, renewed and sustained by us as a collective: the shared culture with its practices and manners, the trust in others, the shared language, the meetings in public spaces, the ideas we overhear, the conversations we enter into, the ideas that are in the public domain and not protected by licences or patents; the list goes on. All of these factors are in addition to – as Paine observed – the limited natural resources that lie in the hands of the few. There is no way an economic system of any kind could identify and capture all the value (through, for instance, taxes or markets) generated by these common elements, and allocate it fairly in the complex system of value creation that the modern economy is. In this way, the fact that we collectively produce things that enable market production but lie outside the monetary system is another reason to treat basic income as a universal civil right, rather than as a quick fix for an ailing industrial society.

But a right to what? What does basic income in fact represent in these arguments? We argue that both land and social capital should be seen as representing a capacity to produce. In the rural society of Paine’s era, land represented access to a means of production, or the ability to independently produce a harvest. People were fleeing the feudal Europe, where ownership rights had not been established and the land belonged to the king. Coming to the US meant that one could claim ownership of land. Paine’s discussion was initiated by the understanding that, at some point, the land would run out. This rudimentary basic income could therefore be seen as guaranteeing natural ownership rights, where ownership can be interpreted as the capacity to produce, in an age when most production was farming. Similarly, we can see that the social capital created in the 20th century through welfare and education, for example, improved the capacity to produce; this time, of course, in the context of industrial society.

Capacity to Produce in the 21st Century

What is equal to land in the 21st century? What does the capacity to produce entail in a post-industrial society? To answer that question, we should look at basic income as capital, and not just money. Capital can be seen as all the physical and intangible assets that combine with labour to produce the goods and services in an economy (data, machines, offices, intellectual property rights, brands, energy and software). In other words, money becomes capital when we have enough of it to invest in what Karl Marx called “means of production”.

Post-industrial means of production are very different to those in Marx’s time of industrial revolution. In their article “New World Order – Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy”, the technology, economics and business scholars Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee and Michael Spence point out that software-based products and services are changing the nature and the role of capital in relationship to labour.[6] As today’s machines are more and more software-based, this new capital can be replicated with zero marginal cost. They point out, however, that even if this “digital capital” is in theory abundant and free, it accumulates in the hands of a few.

Furthermore, they argue that technological progress speeds up the accumulation of wealth (citing the work of Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century[7]). Brynjolfsson et al. write:

Machines are substituting for more types of human labour than ever before. As they replicate themselves, they are also creating more capital. This means that the real winners of the future will not be the providers of cheap labour or the owners of ordinary capital, both of whom will be increasingly squeezed by automation.

The real winners, the writers argue, are entrepreneurs who can create new solutions to new problems, while the rest will remain outside the new economy regardless of how much labour or traditional capital they can supply.

Here we have a great paradox on our hands: as a new kind of (digital) capital is becoming abundant and is replacing human labour in the production of goods and services, it is also slipping out of reach of most people. We are facing an era of abundance, in which the means of production are available to fewer people than before.

Therefore, in the era of capital accumulation, digital capital and renewable energy, we should see basic income not just as income for paying rent and buying food, but increasingly as access to capital in the productive sense of the word: in the same way as the right to own and claim land existed when moving from a feudal society to the era of nation states; and just as there was the right to healthcare and education after the move from an agrarian to an industrial society.

Now that we are moving from an industrial society to the next phase of socio-technological development, we have to ask what are the new rights people should have to remain active participants of society, to be able to produce, contribute and create value – not just to survive and have enough money for basic necessities, or, worse, to have state-sponsored jobs that could and should be automated.

In creating a new universal benefit system, we are creating a new relationship between everyone. Therefore, the real question about basic income is a big one: why? What is the purpose of this relationship? Why should anyone get this money? This question of framing should not to be confused with introducing conditionality to basic income (thus destroying its core idea). It is merely a question of how to communicate the purpose of basic income.

In this, we should look to the founding fathers and their idea of basic income as an extension of ownership rights. And ownership not just to have, but ownership as a freedom to produce. Picture this: this time we are not fleeing the feudal society, but an industrial one. Our industries can no longer provide us with the means of production. Work and politics no longer supply us with adequate means of participation. We need to figure out nothing more or less than a new way of collaborating to create value.

From Basic Income to Basic AI – Renewable Energy and Abundance

Current technological progress has the effect of driving down prices and wages. As this progress accelerates (a phenomenon we believe is clearly under way), the deflationary pressure it brings could increase and spread. In other words, the nature of money (and capital) is changing because of technological progress, such as the cheap and new forms of automation and global price transparency in consumer goods. In brief, it means that extreme advances in technological productivity are pushing down the prices of consumer goods, to the point where it is possible that the role of money is reduced. This is often referred to as technological deflation. The output per working hour keeps rising, even if salaries remain steady.

Some writers, technologists and economists have proposed that the information economy, coupled with the automation of cognitive tasks through AI and the eventual zero spot price of energy that renewables will bring, will force a drop in marginal prices to zero, or at least almost zero. In conditions of competition, this would also mean that prices drop, also to close to zero. Some thinkers have even claimed that we would then move into a new era, named provocatively and variously as the “age of abundance”,[8] “post-capitalism”,[9] “the world after capital”,[10] “the post-scarcity society”[11] or “the zero marginal cost society”.[12]

Common to all these visions is an understanding that with the degradation of the price mechanism, markets will lose importance as the general-purpose resource allocation system. Markets may not disappear, but they will no longer be needed to allocate resources efficiently. In fact, efficiency becomes less important in resource allocation, as other values emerge. The focus shifts from efficiency to how to guarantee access to abundant resources, when capital is accumulating in the hands of a few.

If money loses its central role alongside work, we will have to rethink the idea of wealth and its distribution as well. “A post-capital society” would also mean that taxes will have to be collected in another form than money (an idea explored in this paper). Similarly, benefits such as basic income should be paid in something more directly useful than money, in basic productive capacity that is becoming abundant, such as free and equal access to new and emerging general-purpose technologies: capacity in computing, AI, 3D printing, DNA analysis, robots, (renewable) energy and so forth. These general-purpose technologies, as a result of a radical drop in their price and the difficulty of protecting the intellectual property related to them, become easily concentrated (in ownership) in the hands of a few and the services through which they are dispersed.

This type of post-scarcity and capital world is, of course, still some decades away, but requires that serious thought must be given to it. Therefore, we must already propose framing basic income as a basic tool for production, a seed money for the people, as an embodiment of the right to produce and participate in the common good – as opposed to an unemployment benefit that helps individuals to cling onto the search for work. For the difference between the two is stark: either basic income is a quick fix for a society where work in an industrial setting is the norm, and it provides a cushion for those times you are not employed by the “factory”; or, conversely, basic income is a universal right to produce and contribute to society as an autonomous actor.

The Return of Universalism

The last wave of universalism in politics ended in the 1970s and 80s, when the emphasis on universally shared characteristics gave way to the discourse on individualism and the needs of special groups. One manifestation of the end of universalism is identity politics: political activity that finds its justification in the experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups, to the extent that we have grown accustomed to nodding in agreement with the political truism that “we should become aware of and celebrate our differences”.

While identity politics has achieved a lot of good in highlighting the increasing diversity of our societies, some scholars have attributed to it the emergence of a moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity, populist politics, and even see it as the root cause of so-called post-truth era politics, where individual experience trumps common facts.

For almost a generation, people of a specific religions, races or social backgrounds have formed exclusive political alliances by way of emphasising diversity. However, playing up to certain groups, politics and politicians have excluded others. The increasingly specific and differential relationships with the state have eroded the sense of trust and equity in society. The problem with identity politics is not that individual experience is not important; but quite the contrary.

New populist movements have indeed successfully exploited identity politics by emphasising how the displaced (largely white male) workers feel. Populists across the globe have broken down alliances between people, countries and religions, culminating in the outcomes of two key elections of 2016 – the US presidential election to Brexit. Populist movements are the pinnacle of identity politics. They reveal a fatal mistake in identity-based political thinking: by taking individual experience as a starting point, the winners in the end are the most powerful groups, not society as a whole. Identity politics hurts the people it was supposed to protect.

The Time is Now for a New Societal Vision

We desperately need a forward-looking and unifying vision to save us from the tyranny of what “majority politics” has suddenly turned into.

It is precisely in this situation that the idea of universalism can come to the rescue. For basic income to become reality, we must be able to start a new kind of politics. Political scientist Mark Lilla has argued that national politics in healthy periods is not about “difference”, but about “commonality”. Our generation is indeed in need of a broader societal vision. We desperately need a forward-looking and unifying vision to save us from the tyranny of what “majority politics” has suddenly turned into. Furthermore, at the moment, we do not lack common challenges; in fact most of the biggest challenges of our time are global and universal.

Automation, for example, will eventually affect people across every tier of work, from factory workers to lawyers and bookkeepers. In this sense, automation drives the middle classes into areas inhabited by the working classes for decades (if not always): a fight against a machine that does not sleep, get sick or demand a pay rise. The sociologist Richard Sennett already noted this 10 years ago. “The spectre of uselessness” haunts professionals as well as manual workers and an ageing population that is in good shape but driven outside the boundaries of working life.[13] The spectre of uselessness is a common experience in which we can build a new kind of societal vision, one where (through the capacity to produce) we can be active, productive, creative, useful to others and thus participate in society, even if steady jobs and professions become the privilege of a few.

So the wider promise (the process of getting to the moon) that basic income has to offer is the politics of what is shared. The very process of getting basic income implemented can and must galvanise politics on a new level. Universal policies require universal visions. As history has shown us, universalism has the potential to bring together people from different backgrounds and ideological stances. The welfare state was a vision shared by most mainstream parties in the Western world and the founding fathers of the United States came to agree on civic – constitutional – rights from very different political backgrounds.

In fact, universal basic income already does this, as demonstrated by the variety of arguments by which it is backed. For instance, over half of the Finnish population supports a basic income reality, and most political parties have put together their own basic income blueprint.

Almost all the colours of the political spectrum seem to have their reasons for supporting universal basic income. Libertarians support it for the slim government it promises. The Left sees it as dignity for the poor and impoverished, since they would receive it with no humiliating strings attached. Other parts of the Left see it as a way towards income equality. Greens see it as a way of providing for the urban poor and agricultural parties view it as a way of supporting life outside the urban centres. Economists and technologists see it mostly as an opportunity to sustain the middle classes in the wake of automation. Social innovators see it as a platform for 21st-century governmental and civic innovations. Entrepreneurs and capitalists see it as a way of getting labour in less risky chunks. Finally, realpolitik politicians see it as a way to boost public finances by increasing the supply of labour, by collecting more tax and by decreasing the transaction costs of providing welfare (all in one go!).

Universal basic income, as something that touches everyone, is notably the first universal initiative of our generation. This, precisely, is the moonshot quality of the basic income proposition. Moonshot was never about getting to the moon. There was nothing on the moon. President Kennedy and his administration knew that. The point is that each generation must have their mission, something that encapsulates their vision.

Footnotes and references

[1] Srnicek N. and Williams A. (2015), Inventing the future: Postcapitalism and a world without work, Verso Books, London/New York.

[2] Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (2016), “Ministry of Social Affairs and Health requests opinions on a basic income experiment”, press release, 25 August 2016.

[3] Kildal N. and Kuhnle S. (2005), Normative Foundations of the Universal Welfare State, Routledge, London.

[4] Paine T. (1797). Agrarian Justice, Alex Catalogue, Raleigh, NC.

[5] Simon H. (2000), A Basic Income for All, A Forum Response, Boston Review. Available at: http://bostonreview.net/forum/basic-income-all/herbert-simon-ubi-and-flat-tax.

[6] Brynjolffson E., McAfee A. and Spence M. (2014), “New World Order. Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy”, in Foreign Affairs, (online) July/August 2014 Issue. Available at: www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2014-06-04/new-world-order.

[7] Piketty T. (2014), Capital in the Twenty-First Century, The Belknap Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

[8] Diamandis P. H., and Kotler S. (2012), Abundance: The future is better than you think, Free Press, New York.

[9] Mason P. (2016), Postcapitalism: A guide to our future, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

[10] Wenger A. (2016), World After Capital, Gitbook, accessed at: https://worldaftercapital.gitbooks.io/worldaftercapital/content/.

[11] Keynes J. M. (1937), “The general theory of employment”, The quarterly journal of economics, pp. 209-223.

[12] Rifkin J. (2014), The zero marginal cost society: The internet of things, the collaborative commons, and the eclipse of capitalism, St Martin’s Press (Macmillan), New York.

[13] Sennett R. (2007), The culture of the new capitalism, Yale University Press, New Haven.

Liiten M. (2016), ”Kysely: Perustulolla enemmän kannattajia kuin vastustajia”, in Helsingin Sanomat(online), 10 January 2016. Available at: www.hs.fi/kotimaa/art-2000002879059.html.

Lilla M. (2016), “The End of Identity Liberalism”, in The New York Times, (online), 18 November 2016. Available at: www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html.

Sadowski J. (2016), “Why Silicon Valley is embracing universal basic income”, The Guardian (online), 22 June 2016. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/22/silicon-valley-universal-basic-income-y-combinator.

Unkuri M. (2017), “Will Finland’s basic income trial help the jobless?”, BBC (online) 16 January 2017. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38593513.

Weller C. (2016), “Elon Musk says there’s a ‘pretty good chance’ universal basic income will become reality”, Business Insider Nordic (online), 7 November 2016. Available at: http://nordic.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-universal-basic-income-2016-11?r=US&IR=T.

Weller C. (2016), “Obama just warned Congress about robots taking over jobs that pay less than $20 an hour”, in Tech News (online), 10 March 2016. Available at: www.businessinsider.com/obama-warns-congress-about-robot-job-takeover-2016-3?r=US&IR=T&IR=T.

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Google Exec: Better Computers Will Make “The Number of Jobs Go Up, Not Down.”

Technology Moves Fast

Speaking at the recent Viva Technology conference in Paris, Google parent company Alphabet’s chief executive Eric Schmidt said he’s optimistic for the future. “We’re entering what I call the age of abundance,” he said, as quoted by The Guardian. “And during the age of abundance, we’re going to see a new age […] the age of intelligence.”

Countries with the fastest internet connection
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Schmidt was the headline speaker at the conference where French president Emmanuel Macron also spoke. The Alphabet boss talked about how the information revolution drives drive human progress. “By 2020, most human beings will have access to the internet. When you have everyone harnessed with this information, the world gets more interconnected. It gets stronger. There’s more knowledge sharing. There’s more freedom and there’s more openness.”

As result, Schmidt considers one thing to be crucial. “I’ve come to believe that science and critical thinking really do matter. Even more so now in the political world that we have in the United States and in other areas of the world,” he said, referencing his meeting with U.S. president Donald Trump and other technology CEOs a few days before the conference.

Pushed Forward by AI

Perhaps the most obvious factor that drives this technological change is artificial intelligence (AI). Schmidt noted that, as with anything new, people tend to be wary of change — especially with something most don’t understand like AI. He pointed out, however, that AI and machine learning actually present a world of opportunities for a host of industries.

“The largest taxi company has no taxis, that’s Uber. The largest accommodation company has no real estate, that’s Airbnb. The largest phone company has no infrastructure, that’s Skype. The most valuable retailer has no inventory, that’s Alibaba. The largest movie theater, has no movie theaters, that’s Netflix.”

There’s going to be resistance to these changes, which will be huge disruptions, especially from industry giants that are likely to hold the status quo. However, Schmidt also pointed out that these businesses will change, largely driven by AI and increased connectivity. “This age of intelligence will allow you to build a company that’s far more efficient,” Schmidt said at the conference. “Computers, instead of just doing analysis will really be able to help you.”

In this case, instead of fearing what will come from intelligent automation — especially that it will lead to unemployment — we can look forward to it, Schmidt said.

You’ll take people plus computers and the computers will make the people smarter. If you make people smarter, their wages go up, not down. And the number of jobs will go up, not down. What will happen to human interaction? I think there’ll be more. It used to take months for discovery and new developments to be understood. Now they can occur simultaneously all around the world.

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Robots Are Preparing to Fill 200,000 Vacant Construction Jobs

Ready for Disruption

Automation has long been considered the harbinger of future unemployment, and experts have predicted that the widespread adoption of artificially intelligent (AI) software and smart machines could lead to thousands or even millions of people losing their jobs.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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However, that may not be the case in the construction industry. In fact, with a growing shortage in labor, it’s one sector that’s particularly well-suited for an automation takeover.

According to a report released by McKinsey & Company earlier this year, the world of construction suffers from productivity levels that haven’t really gone up much since 1945. The report also showed that 98 percent of huge construction projects end up going over budget and that the industry has proven resistant to technological upgrades. Furthermore, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that almost 200,000 construction jobs were unfilled in the United States alone as of February 2017.

To sum, a lingering inefficiency seems to plague the industry, and it could be remedied through the use of automated systems and machines.

New Jobs, Better Lives

A number of AI-powered systems that could help alleviate the construction industry’s woes are currently in development. These include a mobile construction worker, as well as a mobile 3D-printer, both of which are capable of adjusting to their immediate environment. Almost always, these AI construction systems are able to finish their tasks more efficiently and quickly than their human counterparts, so construction seems to be a nice fit for automation.

Some critics are wary of this kind of intelligent automation because they view it as an attempt to replace human workers. While it’s true that automated systems might cause some unemployment, they could also lead to the creation of new jobs that we haven’t really needed before, such as providing maintenance for these automated systems.

Still others argue that automation, coupled with universal basic income (UBI), would free people to pursue other meaningful endeavors, such as content creation. This pairing could also give people time to learn more and to tackle larger issues, so before we dismiss automation as a negative, we must consider all possibilities.

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Finland’s Universal Basic Income Program Is Already Reducing Stress for Recipients

Start With the Finnish

Earlier this year, Finland launched a pilot program to test a universal basic income (UBI) policy by giving 2,000 of its citizens €560 ($624) every month for two years.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
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This program is dramatically different from traditional safety net systems. The payments are completely unconditional, and recipients can spend the money however they want. They are not required to prove they are actively looking for work, and even if they find employment, they will not lose their income from the UBI program.

Five months into the program, organizers are starting to see some promising results. One participant in the program told The Economist that he is now actively seeking work and feels less stressed. Of course, this one anecdotal example cannot speak for the whole of the program, which is still in its infancy, but it is encouraging.

Global Incubators

In anticipation of the rise of automation, other UBI programs are being tested all around the world.

Some programs, such as GiveDirectly’s trial in Kenya, are being spearheaded by nonprofits. Others are being undertaken by corporations, such as Y Combinator’s plan to give a basic income of between $1,000 and $2,000 a month to participants in Oakland, California.

As is the case in Finland, governments are also testing the waters of UBI. At the end of last year, the government of Prince Edward Island unanimously voted to work with the Canadian government to establish a pilot UBI program, and India is currently exploring the possibility of such a system as well.

Not only could UBI replace the income lost as automated systems continue to replace human workers, experts also believe that having such a safety net would spur more innovation as the fear of failure would be reduced. People equipped with the knowledge that they will be able to provide for themselves should they fail will be more willing to take bigger risks, which could result in a spike in innovation that would help us all.

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The Entertainment Industry Could Address One of Our Biggest Concerns About Automation

Automation will force most people out of a job and society will eventually be forced to adopt some form of universal basic income. What then? What are people going to do when they no longer have to work?

Initially it seems like a nice problem to have as it will free people to do what they really want to do with their lives. But we define ourselves by how we contribute to society, for most people their career is the answer to who they are and what they do.

Some will spend all that extra time doing more of the things they already do with their free time: surfing the internet, watching movies and TV shows, and playing video games.

But there is an opportunity this future we are quickly hurtling towards will also create. Rather than just being passive consumers of content, people will all be able to become active participants in content creation.

The Future Of The Entertainment Industry
Image Source: Tomorrow Edition

More User Created Experiences

YouTube is the world’s third most visited site after Google(which also owns YouTube) and Facebook. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 3.25 billion hours of video are watched each month. Gone are the days when we rely solely on giant studios and networks for our entertainment as increasingly people are turning to other people for content.

Online content creation has become an industry unto itself as the number of YouTube channels earning six figures has increased by 50% year on year. Digital marketplaces for a wide variety of content creators are coming online allowing anyone who wants to become a digital entrepreneur.

This will impact how individual value is measured. Your worth will no longer come from the company you work for or the degree you have but by the popularity of your creations. A history of producing things people want will be all that has value.

The On-Demand Model

Passive consumption will also continue to grow and will become even more appealing and addictive than it is today.

98 million people now have Netflix accounts and that number is growing rapidly. The company got here by understanding the importance of creating easy and addictive user experiences. They started in 1997 selling home deliver DVDs and in 2007 switched to become the go-to live streaming on-demand platform that has made them the largest internet television network in America.

However their plan is to become the biggest entertainment network on earth and to get there Netflix is now harnessing artificial intelligence to customize their user interface to fit each person’s unique tastes. Here is CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings in a talk titled “leveraging AI to make user experience & entertainment addictive”.

Augmented Social Media

Facebook just launched what they are calling ‘Act 2’, which is going to take the social media giant away from its core product, social media, and refocus its efforts on augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

In a talk on April 18th Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for the future of Facebook. He simultaneously launched the beta version of Facebook’s new augmented reality tool that will leverage their social media platforms; Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat and Instagram, to create the communities he has been talking about a lot lately.

Underlying all of the augmented reality applications, as well as the new messaging service and the new VR social media platform that they are also rolling out is machine learning algorithms (AI). Zuckerberg stated in his address that the application of AI to all that Facebook is doing will eventually allow the platform to replace all of the hardware in the real world with digital versions of them that look and feel just as real.

Another critical part of this plan is to make these platforms open and allow for anyone who wants to contribute to the creation of all the content that will go into them.

Virtual Video Gaming

Already having surpassed the film and music industries combined, video games are poised to grow even faster in the decade to come with the rise of virtual and augmented reality. The continued rise of E-gaming and live stream gaming platforms like Twitch will further this trend, already last year more people watched the league of legends finals than the NBA finals.

Immersive Artificially Intelligent Entertainment

The biggest game changer will eventually come from immersive artificially intelligent entertainment. Once AI becomes good at writing novel code it will be able to create virtual experiences that can be crafted to each user, writing movies for you as you watch them and writing games for you as you play them, making it possible that no two people will ever play the same game or watch the same movie.

What kind of Future is all of this Creating?

For those that recognize and take advantage of all these changes it means a shift away from passive consumption to active selection of entertainment and the ability to participate in the creation of content. For those that don’t adjust and get stuck in the passive consumption model of the past the future will probably look something like this…

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GE CEO Says Automation Within the Next 5 Years is Not Realistic

Stunted Revolution

Most executives in tech believe that the next five years will bring about a significant number of jobs lost to automation. As advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are being rapidly developed, the capability of machines to do work previously requiring humans is ramping up. However, not all executives subscribe to this idea of the ultra-fast progression of automation.

Outgoing Chief Executive of General Electric, Jeff Immelt did not mince words regarding his feelings about the impending automation take over. Speaking at the Viva Teach conference in Paris, Immelt said, “I think this notion that we are all going to be in a room full of robots in five years … and that everything is going to be automated, it’s just BS. It’s not the way the world is going to work.”

Immelt believes that tech executives who have no experience running or working in a factory have no idea of how they actually operate and therefore cannot realistically gauge how automation will progress.

Jeff Immelt. Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Jeff Immelt. Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Human/Tech Integration

Other experts like tech giant Elon Musk and Greg Creed, the CEO of Yum Brands (the people behind Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell) believe in the near threat of automation to many human jobs. Elon Musk goes even further in saying that humans need to integrate with machines in order to remain relevant in the future.

The problem with looking at automation as something in the far off future is that it limits the necessary conversations of what we can do to prepare workers for job losses. One of the more popular solutions to this automation issue is a Universal Basic Income (UBI) that is supported by the likes of Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and other experts.

Both sides of this issue are interpreting evidence into predictions. These predictions can only be discounted or vindicated by time. Even so, the questions of what we can do to prepare are still vital whether automation is 5 or 50 years away.

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Hawaii Becomes the First State to Pass a Bill in Support of Universal Basic Income

Eyes on the Future

Innovation and forward-thinking may be Hawaii’s two biggest exports in 2017. Earlier this month, the state earned the distinction of being the first in the U.S. to formally accept the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement after President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the nation from it, and now, Hawaii is taking the lead in embracing yet another innovative idea: universal basic income (UBI).

Today, Hawaii state representative Chris Lee wrote a Reddit post about House Concurrent Resolution 89, a bill he says he introduced in order to “start a conversation about our future.” According to Lee, “After much work and with the help of a few key colleagues, it passed both houses of the State Legislature unanimously.”

Lee also mentioned the development via Twitter:

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The bill has two major provisions. First, it declares that all families in Hawaii are entitled to basic financial security. “As far as I’m told, it’s the first time any state has made such a pronouncement,” wrote Lee. The second provision establishes a number of government offices “to analyze our state’s economy and find ways to ensure all families have basic financial security, including an evaluation of different forms of a full or partial universal basic income.”

The congressman thanked “redditors” in his post, as he said the site became his first resource in considering UBI, and added a Reddit-standard TL;DR at the end: “The State of Hawaii is going to begin evaluating universal basic income.”

A Step Forward

Under a UBI program, every citizen is granted a fixed income that’s not dependent on their status in life. Despite the current focus on the concept, it actually isn’t particularly new. In fact, former U.S. President Richard Nixon actually floated the idea back in 1969.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
Click to View Full Infographic

However, the benefits of such a program have become more appealing in light of recent technological advances, specifically, the adoption of automated systems that could result in widespread unemployment.

Proponents of UBI have highlighted how it would be an improvement on existing social welfare programs while mitigating the effects of the joblessness expected to follow automation. Critics think that UBI would encourage a more lax attitude about work and argue that funding such a system would be difficult, if not impossible.

Existing pilot programs, however, seem to indicate otherwise.

Hawaii may be the first U.S. state to pass any sort of UBI-positive legislation, but several countries around the globe are already testing the system. Finland began its two-year UBI pilot in 2016, and Germany has one as well. Canada plans to start trials in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Ontario, while India is currently debating the merits of UBI. Several private UBI endeavors are also in the works, including one that uses blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Of course, the implementation of any major UBI program requires a great deal of political will. As Lee wrote, “Planning for the future isn’t politically sexy and won’t win anyone an election […]. But if we do it properly, we will all be much better off for it in the long run.”

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Life-Saving Drones Can Beat Ambulances to Heart Attack Victims

Life From Above

Drones are becoming a ubiquitous technology with their increasing capabilities. Amazon is using them to deliver packages, Japanese innovators have created pollinator drones, and drones are even being used as backup dancers for pop stars. There are even drones emerging that could help to save lives.

One such drone is being developed by Flypulse, a Swedish startup working on an autonomous drone that can bring life-saving equipment to the scene of a medical emergency. Its has the ability to deliver Automated External Defibrillators (AED) at an incredible speed — four times faster than an ambulance.

Image credit: Flypulse
Image Credit: Flypulse

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), each year more than 350,000 people suffer from cardiac arrest outside of a hospital in the United States. Only 12 percent of victims survive through hospital discharge. To help battle this, the AHA recommends that the public has access to defibrillation. However, the AEDs are not cheap, so there could be a cost barrier to acquiring one.

Savior Bots

Devices like Flypulse’s LifeDrone-AED allow for first responders to get the technology to the victims long before they may be able to arrive themselves. Jacob Hollenberg, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, set up the test for the drone. Hollenberg and his team reported in the journal of the American Medical Association that the drone’s average flight time was 5 minutes, 25 seconds, compared to the 22 minutes it took to dispatch an ambulance to the same locations.

The Top 12 Benefits of Drones: Emergency Response, Animal Protection, and More
Click to View Full Infographic

Hollenberg said in an interview with the New Scientist, “If we can decrease the time in cardiac arrest from collapse to defibrillation by a few minutes, hundreds of lives would be saved each year.”

The LifeDrone-AED is not the only potentially life-saving drone from Flypulse. The company is also developing the LifeDrone-WATER to aid in the location and assistance of drowning victims, as well as the LifeDrone-FIRE that will provide “fire and incident overview.” Such technology could make a significant difference in communities around the world. These drones are just one example of the many ways drone technology is not only enriching our lives, but also preserving them.

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Elon Musk Says Deep AI, Not Automation, Poses the Real Risk for Humanity

Deep AI Vs. Automation

In an apparent attempt at a joke, a Twitter user sent a Business Insider tweet featuring a driverless Tesla car to Elon Musk, asking him to confirm that the development in “humanless automation” would not result in a “robotic apocalypse.” Musk replied via tweet, reaffirming his oft-repeated position that it is not automation per se, but deep AI, that poses more of an “apocalyptic” risk to humanity:

Disruption may cause us discomfort, but it’s not a threat in and of itself. However, Musk and others do see the potential for deep AI to be world-shattering, at least for humans.

Image Credit: OpenClipArtVectors/Pixabay
Image Credit: OpenClipArtVectors/Pixabay

Preparing For Deep Learning

It’s easy to understand why some are worried about this; AIs are learning how to encrypt messages efficiently. Jürgen Schmidhuber, considered to be the father of deep learning, believes that there will be trillions of self-replicating robot factories along our Solar System’s asteroid belt by 2050. He also thinks that robots will eventually explore the galaxy by themselves, motivated by their own curiosity, capable of deciding their own agenda without much human oversight. And, perhaps most disturbing, scientists working with Google’s DeepMind AI tested whether or not AI are more prone to cooperation or competition — and found that it can go either way, and AI are even capable of developing “killer instincts,” or a cooperative mindset, depending on the situation.

Musk’s solution to this potential threat is his famous neural lace concept. In brief, this ambitious project would use easily injectable electrodes to form a neural lace over the brain. The lace could both stimulate and interpret the brain’s electrical activity, and would eventually merge with the brain entirely, making human and AI part of the same organism.

The key isn’t halting progress, or even fearing AI — it’s learning how to merge with it successfully.

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What Will Really Happen in the Age of Automation?

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell on YouTube just released a new video that explores the age of automation and how, while automation has changed society before, things are different this time. Before, as automation modified industries like agriculture, jobs were lost. However, with this job loss came job creation, as machines needed to be repaired. This actually was an overall positive movement, as the new jobs which replaced the old ones were typically “better” in terms of pay and working conditions.

One of the main differences between that shift and the one that we are currently in is the lack of job creation. While the internet led to the creation and development of new industries and jobs, it simply hasn’t been enough to keep up with growing populations and the demand created by automation-driven job loss. Industries and jobs of the information age simply need fewer people to make them work.

But we are beyond that now. While the information age couldn’t support the need for new jobs, the age of automation will pose even more issues and difficulties. As populations continue to grow and job creation continues on a downward trend, what will we do? The video above explores both the grim and positive possibilities that the age of automation could create. This moment in time could forever shape the future in ways that have never been seen before. We as human beings should learn as much as we can about what’s happening in order to adapt to an inevitably automated world.

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Experts Say AI Has a 50% Chance of Beating All Human Intelligence Within 45 Years

Timeline For AI’s Ascendance

Researcher Katja Grace at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and a team surveyed 1,634 of the leading artificial intelligence researchers from all over the world about when they believe intelligent machines and the AI that powers them will surpass human intelligence in a variety of contexts. 352 of the experts responded, and the team then calculated median responses. The results of the probe were presented this month.

The experts predicted that within the next decade, AI will outperform humans in tasks like driving trucks (by 2027), translating languages (by 2024), and writing high school essays (by 2026). The consensus was that other tasks such as writing a bestseller (2049) or carrying out surgeries (2053) wouldn’t be quite so imminent. Interestingly, the experts (who answered in 2015) predicted that AI would not surpass humans at Go until 2027 — yet that’s already happened. This suggests the sobering thought that in general their predictions may have been far too conservative against AI.

Still, even if we go with the estimates the experts provided — and these were attendees of two of the most significant AI events in 2015 — there is a 50% chance that AI will surpass human intelligence in all areas within about 45 years. AI researchers from Asia think it will happen in 30 years, while AI researchers in North America think it won’t happen for 74 years.

Image Credit: Katja Grace/University of Oxford
Image Credit: Katja Grace/University of Oxford

Getting Ready For AI

Regardless of which estimate is accurate, there isn’t much time left before AI will be capable of taking over any — if not every — job that exists right now. This means that the time to address the potential fallout from this change to our economy and culture is right now. Canada, as well as many other countries, is preparing for the automation age by investing in training and education. Many here in the U.S. have called for more investment into affordable education for the same reason.

Various nations and private companies are also planning or trialling universal basic income (UBI) programs, including Canada and a German startup in Berlin. Various tech leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk support UBI in the U.S., and see it is as the only possible future in light of automation. While there is no consensus around the world about how to prepare for the rise of AI, there can be no reasonable doubt that now is the time to begin planning and taking action.

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AI and Robots Will Change the Way We Create and Consume Content

Opportunity in Automation

Automation will force most people out of a job and society will eventually be forced to adopt some form of universal basic income. What then? What are people going to do when they no longer have to work?

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
Click to View Full Infographic

Initially, it seems like a nice problem to have as it will free people to do what they really want to do with their lives. But we define ourselves by how we contribute to society, for most people their career is the answer to who they are and what they do.

Some will spend all that extra time doing more of the things they already do with their free time: surfing the internet, watching movies and TV shows, and playing video games.

But there is an opportunity this future we are quickly hurtling towards will also create. Rather than just being passive consumers of content, people will all be able to become active participants in content creation.

More User Created Experiences

YouTube is the world’s third most visited site after Google(which also owns YouTube) and Facebook. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 3.25 billion hours of video are watched each month. Gone are the days when we rely solely on giant studios and networks for our entertainment as increasingly people are turning to other people for content.

Online content creation has become an industry unto itself as the number of YouTube channels earning six figures has increased by 50% year on year. Digital marketplaces for a wide variety of content creators are coming online allowing anyone who wants to become a digital entrepreneur.

This will impact how individual value is measured. Your worth will no longer come from the company you work for or the degree you have but by the popularity of your creations. A history of producing things people want will be all that has value.

The On-Demand Model

Passive consumption will also continue to grow and will become even more appealing and addictive than it is today.

98 million people now have Netflix accounts and that number is growing rapidly. The company got here by understanding the importance of creating easy and addictive user experiences. They started in 1997 selling home deliver DVDs and in 2007 switched to become the go-to live streaming on-demand platform that has made them the largest internet television network in America.

However their plan is to become the biggest entertainment network on earth and to get there Netflix is now harnessing artificial intelligence to customize their user interface to fit each person’s unique tastes. Here is CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings in a talk titled “leveraging AI to make user experience & entertainment addictive”.

Augmented Social Media

Facebook just launched what they are calling ‘Act 2’, which is going to take the social media giant away from its core product, social media, and refocus its efforts on augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

In a talk on April 18th Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for the future of Facebook. He simultaneously launched the beta version of Facebook’s new augmented reality tool that will leverage their social media platforms; Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat and Instagram, to create the communities he has been talking about a lot lately.

Underlying all of the augmented reality applications, as well as the new messaging service and the new VR social media platform that they are also rolling out is machine learning algorithms (AI). Zuckerberg stated in his address that the application of AI to all that Facebook is doing will eventually allow the platform to replace all of the hardware in the real world with digital versions of them that look and feel just as real.

Another critical part of this plan is to make these platforms open and allow for anyone who wants to contribute to the creation of all the content that will go into them.

 Virtual Video Gaming

Already having surpassed the film and music industries combined, video games are poised to grow even faster in the decade to come with the rise of virtual and augmented reality. The continued rise of E-gaming and live stream gaming platforms like Twitch will further this trend, already last year more people watched the league of legends finals than the NBA finals.

Immersive Artificially Intelligent Entertainment

The biggest game changer will eventually come from immersive artificially intelligent entertainment. Once AI becomes good at writing novel code it will be able to create virtual experiences that can be crafted to each user, writing movies for you as you watch them and writing games for you as you play them, making it possible that no two people will ever play the same game or watch the same movie.

 What Kind of Future is All of This Creating?

For those that recognize and take advantage of all these changes it means a shift away from passive consumption to active selection of entertainment and the ability to participate in the creation of content.

For those that don’t adjust and get stuck in the passive consumption model of the past the future will probably look something like this.

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Could an AI Ever Be Elected President?

Robot President

The president. A highly coveted and highly controversial role, one traditionally held by humans. The use of “traditionally” is a recently added modifier, one necessary when discussing a Wired article suggesting that the role of president might one day be filled by an artificial intelligence (AI).

Could an AI Ever Be Elected President?
Image credit: The Watson 2016 Foundation

Others have pushed the idea of an AI president before, with one group even fighting for Watson, IBM’s AI, to run for the position in 2016. This massive, strange,   sci-fi political makeover would completely upend the idea of traditional political discourse, so why are so many considering it?

One major reason is level-headedness. Humans are vulnerable to emotion, obviously, but an AI can make decisions without prejudice, without anger, without resentment, without impulse, and without ego (a major concern with powerful positions). AI is, by nature, capable of fully considering all aspects of an issue before making up its “mind.” AI will not make quick decisions based off of a single fact, so in that respect, the machine has humanity beat.

Also, an AI president could not be influenced financially. An AI wouldn’t have a financial stake in any businesses, so it wouldn’t prioritize any over others. It would only calculate what would be best based on the most up-to-date existing facts. For example, an AI would not have any investment in any energy source, so that would free it to consider only the facts of the situation when determining action on climate change.

What’s Really Possible?

As with any radical idea, the election of an AI president seems impossible on the surface. Could we really ever advance to the point where it would be technologically feasible to entrust the presidency to an AI? Theoretically, yes. AI is advancing rapidly, so if a serious project to build the first presidential AI came to fruition, such a system could probably be built in the not-so-distant future.

White House AI Report: Everything You Need to Know [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

The largest issue standing in the way of this becoming a future reality is whether or not we, as a people, will allow it. Would the idea ever be supported by a majority of people? Hard to imagine when you consider that the current political landscape appears more polarized than ever.

As automation creeps into more and more aspects of our lives, it is not too out-there to think that we might be willing to one day elect a president unswayed by human shortcomings and programmed to act according to a set of ideals. The president could be programmed to follow conservative or liberal agendas, or instead of electing an AI designed to reflect one political party or another, we could just vote on various issues that would then be considered by our unbiased AI leader.

As AI systems take on tasks traditionally held by human doctors, lawyers, and even songwriters, considering an AI president isn’t so far-fetched. AI can now even be used to create better AI, so it might be time for us to consider a future in which our political leaders are smarter, fairer, and, well, less human.

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Automation Could Lead to the World’s Smartest Society

The Opportunity of Automation

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.” – Dori Lessing in The Golden Notebook

Automation will make most jobs obsolete. Rather than mourn the loss of the 9 to 5, we should see this as an opportunity to liberate humanity from the need to work for somebody else to survive. Coupled with universal basic income, it should be seen as a chance for every individual in society to more fully realize their potential.

To do so we will also need to redefine and reform education. Today it is a means to an end, a way of getting a job; but education should be seen as a lifelong quest and automation enables us to take this view. No longer will we need to confine ourselves to learning one tiny branch of knowledge or developing one particular skill, instead we will each be able to examine what really matters to us and explore all the variety that life has to offer.

Fixing Politics

Education reform could also enable us to improve our democracies. Democracy relies on the wisdom of crowds, but our crowds are no longer wise because most people don’t have time to learn about all of the issues at stake in each election so they vote based on a handful of issues that they think are most important to them. Rather than producing leaders who inspire, this has led to populist strong men who appeal to our fears.

We do not have to be stuck in this paradigm forever; automation and universal basic income along with education reform have the potential to give us the time and the tools we need to be able to make more informed decisions.

The biggest leap could come from incorporating the blockchain to enable a return to direct democracy where everyone has a say in every issue they deem relevant to them instead of the present system where we exercise what little political rights we have by casting a vote every few years to pick someone to make decisions for us.

Reform Has Begun

All of this relies on having an education system that gives everyone, children and adults alike, the tools, knowledge and skills needed to contribute and engage in society.

Each of us can now leverage emerging technologies to learn anything from anywhere, and which gives anyone access to some of the best teachers on the planet. Virtual and augmented reality could also soon be used to create enriched learning environments that are more captivating than any classroom ever could be.

Some schools are already catching on and have begun implementing sorely needed change in the classroom. One such school is High Park Day School in Toronto where they have gotten rid of traditional classrooms, rote based learning, and curriculum geared around testing and grades. Instead they have small integrated classrooms with students of varying age ranges that are built on project based learning assignments where students learn and apply skills like 3d printing and software design starting from as young as grade 1.

As Amanda Dervaitis, the Principal and founder of High Park Day School states…

“At a systemic level, I believe we are focusing on the wrong markers of “success” which end up driving curriculum development and policy. The focus is on the fundamentals – reading, writing and math, and improvement plans work towards strengthening these areas to increase “success”. However, we should be focusing on the skills identified that are needed for success in today’s global and technological world; critical thinking, collaboration, communication, computational thinking, global digital citizenship, etc.

The lack of tech curriculum integration should be particularly concerning. Right now, you can graduate from high school in Ontario without having taken a single tech or computers course! Schools are increasing access to use of computers, tablets, etc. in the classroom, but it’s not enough to interact with computers at a consumer level in school. We need to implement technology curriculum (computational thinking, coding, systems, etc.) so that students have a deep understanding of computer technology and are more prepared for a technological future.

The size of our schools and school systems is impeding the development of skills (on a personal level) and progressive programs (on a board/systems level). The factory model no longer serves our students’ needs and the changes in our world have out-paced the potential of our school to support them. Every industry is in an “adapt or die” situation with the advances of technology. The ministry itself will not “fail” as a system (as there is no competition to contend with), however, our education system will fail our students, and society in the end.”

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(Un)Becoming Human: Tech-Augmented Human Workers Have Arrived

Industrial Revolution 4.0

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived. The first was the steam engine-driven Industrial Revolution; the second involved the innovations from Henry Ford’s assembly line. Third, microelectronics and computer power appeared on factory floors. Now, manufacturing businesses are beginning to integrate robotics, automation and other data-driven technologies into their workflows. The Conversation

Robots have taken over difficult, dangerous and repetitive physical tasks, improving factory safety, worker comfort and product quality. The next phase of labor innovation will do the same thing for cognitive work, removing mentally stressful and repetitive tasks from people’s daily routines.

Human work will become more versatile and creative. Robots and people will work more closely together than ever before. People will use their unique abilities to innovate, collaborate and adapt to new situations. They will handle challenging tasks with knowledge-based reasoning. Machines enabled by the technologies that are now becoming commonplace – virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, wearable sensors like FitBits and smart-watches – will take care of tedious work details.

People will still be essential on the factory floors, even as robots become more common. Future operators will have technical support and be super-strong, super-informed, super-safe and constantly connected.

We call this new generation of tech-augmented human workers, both on factory floors and in offices, “Operator 4.0.” There are several types of enhancements available, which can be used individually or in combination to put humans at the heart of this technological revolution.

Introducing ‘Operator 4.0,’ a tech-augmented human worker
This Hyundai wearable robot can help a human worker lift very heavy items. Image credit: Hyundai

Super Strong

One straightforward enhancement would let workers wear robotic exoskeletons to enhance their strength. A “super-strength operator” could let a human truly control the physical power of a large robot. In today’s warehouses and construction sites, workers risk injury and exhaustion by handling heavy objects themselves. Or they are forced to compromise, using a more powerful tool with less adaptability, like a forklift.

The benefits go well beyond the workplace. Of course, a worker in a powered robotic suit could easily handle extremely heavy objects without losing the flexibility of natural human movements. The worker would also be far less likely to suffer severe injuries from accidents or overwork. And at the end of a day, a super-strength worker could take off the exoskeleton and still have energy to play with the kids or spend time with friends.

Super Informed

Fighter pilots use heads-up displays, which provide them with crucial information right on the cockpit windshield and directly in their line of sight. This is “augmented reality,” because it displays information within a live view of the world. It used to be very specialized and expensive technology. Now, Microsoft’s HoloLens makes it available for consumers.

An “augmented operator” can get directions or assistance without interrupting the task he or she is working on. Often, when new equipment or processes are developed, trainers need to travel long distances to factories, staying for weeks to teach workers what to do. Designers do the same, getting feedback for refinements and improvements. All that travel takes up a huge amount of time and is extremely expensive. With augmented reality available, it is often unnecessary.

Augmented reality on the job.

A worker wearing a set of smart glasses can receive individualized, step-by-step instructions displayed right in front of his or her eyes, no matter where he or she is looking. With earbuds and a microphone, she or he could talk directly to trainers in real time.

Super Safe

Many manufacturing environments are hazardous, involving heavy equipment, caustic chemicals and other dangers that can maim and kill human workers. A “healthy operator” may be equipped with wearable sensors tracking pulse rate, body temperature, chemical exposure or other factors that indicate risks of injury.

This type of system is already available: Truck drivers can wear the Maven Co-Pilot, a hands-free headset that detects fatigue symptoms, like head-bobbing movements. It can also ensure drivers check their rear-view mirrors regularly to stay aware of nearby traffic. It can even provide reminders to take scheduled breaks. This helps keep the truck’s driver safe and improves everyone else’s road safety.

And Beyond…

Possibilities are limitless. An “analytical operator” would wear a monitor showing real-time data and analytics, such as information on chemicals in a sewage treatment plant or pollutants at an incinerator. A “collaborative operator” may be linked to collaborative robots, or co-bots, like the assembly assistant YuMi. A “smarter operator” could be equipped with an intelligent virtual personal assistant, like an advanced Siri or Alexa.

There does not have to be conflict between robots and humans, with machines taking people’s jobs and leaving them unemployed. Technology should be designed with collaboration in mind. That way, companies and workers alike will be able to capitalize on the respective strengths of both human and machine. What’s more, the inherent flexibility of “Operator 4.0” workers will also help to ensure workplaces of the future that can change and adapt. That means getting ever more efficient and safer, as new technologies emerge.


Thorsten Wuest, Assistant Professor & J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow in Engineering, West Virginia University; David Romero, Professor of Advanced Manufacturing, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, and Johan Stahre, Professor of Production Systems, Chalmers University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Superconductors Used in Factory Automation

Festo is a German company that specializes in developing tech for factory automation. Recently, they’ve been exploring superconductors, which are objects that are able to retain magnetic fields as they drop electrical resistance when cooled below a critical temperature. The resulting hovering effect could have hundreds of uses in industrial applications, as it allows contactless handling. Are superconductors the future of automation?

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The Next Step in Automation? A Robot That Picks Apples

A New Wave of Robots

We are living in the age of automation. Robots are capable of handling tasks previously reserved for lawyersdoctors, shoe manufacturers, and just about every profession in between. And now, Abundant Robotics, a startup “developing leading edge robots for agriculture,” has created a robot that picks apples.

The inspiration for the invention came as a result of the current political landscape. The focus on immigration policy has left many worried that there simply won’t be enough immigrant workers to meet the demand. The growing trend of fewer people working on farms has led to quite an issue with production, and apples obviously can’t be sold if they’re never picked.

This led Abundant Robotics to develop a robot that can, according to CEO and co-founder Dan Steere, identify, pluck, and place apples into a crate with roughly the same accuracy and care as a human. However, unlike a human, a robot doesn’t need to eat or sleep, and it can work at, well, inhuman speeds. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Steere has even said, “Our commercial system will pick at rates that match crews of tens of people.”

Progress for Production

Some may see this development as cause for concern, another example of automation leading to job loss. And yes, as more and more robots capable of human action are developed, we might be replaced, in a way. However, while increased automation could lead to problems that we are looking for solutions to, a lot of good will come with it as well.

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
Click to View Full Infographic

Robots often make life safer. From the operating table to the harsh conditions of working on a farm, robotic replacements could increase productivity while reducing risk. If we promote research, new jobs will follow, and if we emphasize education funding, current citizens and those immigrating to the U.S. will be able to take advantage of those alternative work opportunities.

So long as we keep promoting progress in a way that helps humanity as a whole, positive change will follow. Steere puts it into historical perspective: “Look at the history of agriculture going back to the 1800s. Machinery has changed how harvesting’s done, and huge benefits to society have come from that.”

The post The Next Step in Automation? A Robot That Picks Apples appeared first on Futurism.

This Robot Completes a 2-Hour Brain Surgery Procedure in Just 2.5 Minutes

Doc Bot

Brain surgery is precision business, and one slip can spell doom for affected patients. Even in one of the most skilled jobs in the world, human error can still be a factor. Researchers from the University of Utah are looking to provide less opportunity for those errors to occur. A robot that the team is developing is able to reduce the time it takes to complete a complicated procedure by 50 times. According to CNN, the robot can reduce the time it takes to drill into the skull from two hours to two-and-a-half minutes.

Pill Robots: The Future of Non-Invasive Surgery [INFOGRAPHIC]
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The research was published in the journal Neurosurgical Focus and the team says it is a “proof of principle” that the robot is capable of performing complex surgeries. The robot is guided around vulnerable areas of the skull by data gleaned from CT scans and entered into the robot’s programming. The CT scans show the programmer the location of nerves or veins that the bot will have to avoid.

The team’s lead neurosurgeon William Couldwell told CNN, “We can program [it] to drill the bone out safely just by using the patient’s CT criteria,” he said. “It basically machines out the bone.”

A Savings Machine

Aside from the obvious life-saving capabilities that such a machine would have, it also could potentially save money in the long run. Shorter surgery times will allow for lower costs per surgery as well. There’s also the added benefit of lowering the time a patient is under anesthesia, which can cause its own complications.

Robotics and automation are slowly transforming the way doctors are performing surgery. Some patients may initially balk at the thought of some machine cutting into them and messing with their insides, but these robots can perform with a precision that may be impossible for humans to achieve.

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Here’s How We Could Fund a UBI Program in the United States

Raising the Floor

You may not recognize his name, but Andy Stern clearly knows a thing or two about working with people. He’s President Emeritus of the fastest-growing union in North America, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a Senior Fellow at the Richmond Center, Columbia University One. Stern’s educational background is in education and urban planning, and he regularly speaks to audiences about entitlements, fiscal policy, healthcare, immigration, and the future of the labor movement. Under Stern’s leadership, the SEIU grew by more than 1.2 million workers and generated numerous national and global organizing campaigns, such as Justice for Janitors, Kids First, Sodexo, and There Is No Place Like Home.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
Click to View Full Infographic

Like many other people right now, this supporter of the working stiff has quite a bit to say about universal basic income (UBI), but his new book, “Raising the Floor,” is one of just a few sources of detailed information about how UBI could practically be implemented in the U.S.

Since the idea behind UBI is to meet every citizen’s basic needs, like housing and food, without discouraging work and industry, Stern’s plan would pay all 234 million American adults $1,000 a month, placing them at about the federal poverty line ($24,000 a year for a family of four). In the future, the amount would increase automatically based on the GDP’s growth. This will prevent those in power from trying to stagnate the dollar amount, a problem that has surfaced with regards to the minimum wage.

“…the best way to end poverty and prepare for the future is some kind of guaranteed income.” – Andy Stern

Paying everyone and not just a select few is likely to make the system more popular and longer-lasting. Society as a whole should benefit as workers will be more readily able to change jobs or take on new pursuits. But how would we pay for this? $1,000 a month for everyone would cost approximately $2.7 trillion annually, which represents around four to five times the size of the defense budget and 15 percent of the GDP. In his book, Stern proposed paying for the $2.7 trillion as follows:

  • Cancel most existing antipoverty programs, which cost about $1 trillion a year, including food stamps ($76 billion a year), housing assistance ($49 billion), and the Earned Income Tax Credit ($82 billion)
  • Cut military spending
  • Phase out most tax expenditures (tax breaks), which currently cost $1.2 trillion a year
  • Implement a federal sales tax and a financial transaction tax
  • Establish a collective wealth fee and “Sky Trust” modeled after the highly successful Alaska Permanent Fund, which could pay a dividend of $5,000 per person annually

Same Principle, Different Executions

Entitlements are often derided for their complexity, which is why the simplicity of UBI is so appealing to so many. One flat benefit for everyone, no questions asked, means very little bureaucracy or red tape. As more and more countries trial UBI programs, some of the concerns about the strategy may finally be put to bed.

Canada will be trialling UBI for all 150,000 citizens of Prince Edward Island (PEI), and a German startup is already testing UBI with a pilot program called Mein Grundeinkommen (My Basic Income). Recipients in Berlin argue that the program is allowing them to be more innovative rather than demotivating them.

This year, Finland’s two-year UBI trial launched. Now, 2,000 randomly selected citizens each receive about $587 a month. After the two-year trial, the government will compare the data from the 2,000 participants to data from 173,000 non-participants from similar backgrounds to decide whether a UBI system would be beneficial.

GiveDirectly will be providing a UBI to more than 26,000 Kenyans across 200 villages this year, some for 12 years, some for two years month by month, and some for two years as a lump sum. In this way, GiveDirectly will be studying the feasibility of various UBI models.

UBI has its share of critics and skeptics, including billionaires Bill Gates, who thinks we just aren’t ready for such a system yet, and Mark Cuban, who thinks UBI is among the worst possible responses to automation. Erik Brynjolfsson, a researcher at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, says while automation is replacing many jobs, there are also new jobs we need to prepare for and do. Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, thinks expanding our existing safety net is a better idea than creating an entirely new UBI program, as it would ensure people would still have an incentive to work.

However, seemingly just as many experts believe UBI will work. Frank Stilwell, a professor emeritus in political economy at the University of Sydney, argues that UBI is necessary due to society’s technological changes and feasible so long as wealth is more equitably distributed. Scott Santens sees UBI as a social vaccine against poverty — if we invest an ounce of prevention in UBI, we can avoid poverty in our society and the pound of cure it necessitates.

Brad Voracek, who holds a degree in applied mathematics in economics and computer science from Berkeley and a master’s in economic theory and policy from Bard College, thinks proponents of basic income and job guarantee programs should be supporting either option or even pushing for a combination of both, because UBI does not discourage working. Finally, Elon Musk says that AI will force governments to implement UBI.

Of course, plenty of people don’t want to give benefits to anyone at all, let alone everyone, and many of those people are politically powerful. Still, this challenge isn’t something that scares Stern. He believes we could see UBI become a rallying point for governmental reform in the age of automation.

“Any time you try to write specific laws, all of the weeds tend to grow larger and people don’t necessarily see the grass,” Stern told Fast Company. “But I think there will be a huge conceptual agreement at some point that the best way to end poverty and prepare for the future is some kind of guaranteed income. In 10 or 15 years, there’ll be a stronger sense, particularly for people born in the 21st century, to just let people make their own choices, which is what the Internet has allowed us to do already.”

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Robots Are Not Only Replacing Workers, They’re Also Lowering the Wages of Those With Jobs

Robots’ Real Impact

“It’s frustrating sometimes to hear this rhetoric about bringing jobs back to the United States that left. Those jobs are actually still here in the United States, but they’re being done by robots, not humans,” Maurice Conti, Director of Applied Research and Innovation at Autodesk, told Bloomberg in an interview that might leave many worried about their future financial stability.

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
Click to View Full Infographic

Autodesk is a manufacturing software company that is on the forefront of automating the workforce, so Conti is truly in the know when it comes to this subject, but new data analysis reveals that job loss may not be the only negative aspect of increasing automation.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo looked at data from a period spanning 17 years (1990–2007) for their analysis and concluded that wage decreases are coupling with job loss to further widen the wage gap between the rich and the poor. They estimate that automation has potentially increased the gap between the top 90 percent and the bottom 10 percent by up to an entire percentage point. According to their numbers, wages for impacted workers have been slashed by between 0.25 percent and 0.5 percent.

What to Do?

This problem is only going to get worse.  People need money to support themselves and their families, but with the number of jobs dwindling, we are rapidly approaching a point when the number of jobs available is simply incompatible with the number of workers.

Many experts in various fields have spoken out to offer potential solutions for this issue. Bill Gates suggests that we tax the robots taking those jobs, or, more accurately, the company owners using them. In that scenario, the money from the taxes could be used to fund social programs. It could also go toward supporting another leading contender of what to do in the face of automation, universal basic income (UBI).

Super-CEO Elon Musk is a strong proponent of UBI. In a UBI system, the populace is given funds unconditionally to subsidize their wages or lack thereof. Multiple UBI experiments are currently being conducted all around the world, so we will soon have more concrete data on the effectiveness of the project and whether it could be the answer we’re looking for as we face a future of widespread unemployment.

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Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money”

Basic Economics

Let’s say the cost to produce a widget is $1. What’s the cost to produce 1 million widgets?

This may sound like an extremely simple word problem that even some preschoolers could solve. However, if you think the answer is $1 million, you would be entirely wrong.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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The cost to produce 1 million widgets is far below $1 million thanks to the savings inherent in mass production. It’s a lot cheaper per something to make a lot of something, than it is to create one of it, or even a few. A couple secondary understandings extend themselves as a result of this primary understanding.

First, it’s wrong to assume that providing people with more money will necessitate rising prices. Increased demand can lead to greatly increased production, which then leads to lower prices. Just how much production can be ramped up in response to increased demand is a key factor in price determination. Where supply cannot be increased, and therefore more money is chasing the same amount of goods, price increases can be expected. Where supply can be greatly or even infinitely increased, lower prices can be expected, especially where true competition exists.

Second, and I find this point extremely compelling and the real point of this post, is a recognition of our interdependence, and the collective debt we owe each other. Take whatever device you’re reading these words on as a prime example. Whatever its cost to you, it only cost that because millions of others like you expressed their demand for the same device. Without everyone else, that device would have cost you ten times, a hundred times, or even a thousand times more than it would have to create just one, just for you.

In other words, we all subsidize each other. It’s kind of like every time we buy something for ourselves, everyone else is chipping in too, to make that possible. It can be compared to buying something in a store somewhere with a price tag of $1,000 that only ends up costing us $100 because 900 other people each provided us a $1 gift card to help us buy it. What we’re doing right now is spending $100 on a $1,000 item, and ignoring the $900 in help we got, pretending instead that we afforded it all on our own. We didn’t. We couldn’t. Much of what we buy only costs what it does because of so many other people buying the same thing.

Aside from this truth, when it comes to technological purchases, our tax dollars paid for their research and development. Our tax dollars also often pay to directly subsidize the very corporations that then turn said research funding into commercial products. Additionally, said commercial products are increasingly reliant on big data, and where does big data come from? It comes from all of us, through the actions of our daily existence.

Meanwhile, what is all of this stuff that we’re making made out of? It’s made of minerals, metals, pieces of the Earth, which in turn were forged in the explosions of stars, just like you were. Who owns that star stuff? On the one hand, no one does, and on the other hand, everyone does.

Societal Stakeholders

In Alaska, Alaskans are paid on average about $1000 per year for being an Alaskan. Why? Because the oil companies didn’t make the oil in Alaska. They’re merely bringing it up out of the ground and processing it. The oil is considered owned by all Alaskans, and so they should as owners see some of the revenue generated by its sale.

Now apply this logic to the rest of what was not created by humankind. Apply it to what is not created by any one human individually, but everyone together, like for example land value. Take a million dollar mansion and swap it with an empty lot in the middle of the desert. The mansion becomes worth only the sum total of what its parts can sell for. The empty lot shoots up in value. Why? Because the unimproved value of land is socially created. That value exists because YOU exist.

Do you see now that basic income is not “free money” or “money for nothing?” You are owed it. It is your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it. We are all owed a dividend as investors.

No investor in Apple would ever be okay with being told that in return for their investment in Apple, they merely get the privilege of purchasing Apple products. Their reward is a return on their investment in the form of cash dividends. That’s fair and just. What is true for corporate stockholders should also be true for you.

Don’t accept anything less than a cash dividend for your investments in this grand organization called human civilization. Claim what you are owed and demand unconditional basic income. Furthermore, demand that it be indexed to rise with national wealth so as to reflect your share of rising productivity due to automation. The more labor that technology is doing for us, the higher your technological dividend should be. Nothing less is sufficient ROI.

We must recognize our profound interdependence and begin to treat each other accordingly.

Basic income is just compensation.

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Experts Assert That AI Will Soon Be Replacing CEOs

Who’s The Ma

Automation is changing society as we know it. The precipitating effects of artificial intelligence (AI) seem like a double-edged blade. While it’s certainly exciting to see robots manipulate their environment with a hive mind, it’s equally as terrifying to think about what these advancements mean for society over time.

It’s an even stronger cause for concern when billionaire innovators like Alibaba’s founder and chairman, Jack Ma, tell us to prepare for more “pain than happiness” in the coming decades due to the impact of AI and the internet. Ma has spoken at several entrepreneurship conferences on the topic, he believes that “social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life.”

These “social conflicts” may potentially arise from the job disruptions caused by evolving automation. The Chinese businessman, who has a net worth of around $30 billion, explained his previous forecast of e-commerce taking traditional businesses by storm when he was lesser known — and it looks like he was right.

Now Ma is saying that in 30 years, “the Time Magazine cover for the best CEO of the year very likely will be a robot. It remembers better than you, it counts faster than you, and it won’t be angry with competitors.”

Solutions For Society

So, what do we do about it? Well, lucky for us, when a group of concerned billionaires put their minds and cash together to find solutions, things eventually fall into place. Enter everyone’s favorite Elon Musk, the visionary behind Tesla Motors, SolarCity, SpaceX, and many other technologically pioneering companies, who has come forward with his own plan.

Musk intends to launch a brain-computer interface through his company, Neuralink, so that humans can process information just as quickly as computers, making us competitive with AIs. Other innovators like Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, address similar concern, beseeching the world to pay attention.

But whatever countermeasure we may take, AI will inevitably take a greater share of our workload. In next 30 years we might just find a point in our society when humans may not have much work to do — not even our CEOs, like Ma pointed out.

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Leaked Photos From Tesla Show the “Alien Robots” That Will Build Model 3s

Alien Robots

Tesla “hired” its first robots back in 2014 to be used as part of a dedicated production center for the Model S. These robots, developed by German industrial manufacturer Kuka Robotics, are also responsible for the Model X and Tesla’s energy product line. Now, photos leaked by someone who claims they work as a Field Service Engineer at Kuka Robotics posted by a user in SoutheastTraders forum show an army of Kuka robots ready to be shipped out.

These new Kuka robots —quirkily named after X-Men superheroes — will be responsible for several Model 3 production line duties, including: spot welding, laser welding, handling, and loading materials, and various other tasks. The Kuka robots are part of what CEO Elon Musk previously called an “alien dreadnought” that will be tasked with building the Model 3. According to the person who posted the photos, the robots will be at the Tesla factory for the next 7 weeks to “help set up and commission 467 robots and 21 KL slides.”

Tesla users who toured the factory confirmed sightings of these “alien” robots. “[T]here is an enormous area of the factory where the Model 3 assembly line is being built,” said an owner from the Tesla Motors Club (Engle). “There are Kuka robots all over the place waiting to be installed.”

All images courtesy of Mac11FA/Southeast Traders

Bringing EVs To More People

Tesla and Musk have long seen the value of automation in its factory production lines. As Tesla’s highly-anticipated Model 3 electric vehicle is slated to begin low volume production by July, these robots — which cost between $50,000 to $500,000 — will be essential. Supposedly, Tesla spent more than $50 million on them — and the additional $1.4B capital raised in March certainly helped cover the cost.

tesla kuka robotics model 3 automation
The Model 3
will be Tesla’s cheapest EV yet, priced at $35,000. It’s expected to have the latest Autopilot software, an entirely unique display system, Tesla’s solar roof technology, as well as a number of features found in preexisting Tesla models.

tesla kuka robotics model 3 automation

As a less costly EV, the Model 3 is Tesla’s attempt to bring autonomous and green vehicles within the reach of more people. Research has indicated that autonomous vehicles are already saving lives, and helping the environment. Now it’s just a matter of getting them on the road.

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Robo Revolution: A Factory Cut Labor Costs in Half, Thanks to Tiny Robots

Rising Automation

For any manufacturer, one of the biggest overhead costs to consider is labor. But in China, which has been particularly aggressive in their attempts to shift towards automation for better efficiency, a company has found a way to tap into the inherent advantages of robots to address this concern.

Shipping company Shentong Express has managed to slash labor costs in half by using sorting robots developed by Hikvision. In the video below, you can see these robots shuttling around an eastern China warehouse, each one taking a parcel from a human working before it goes into a scanner and takes the package to a chute ready for shipping.

The tiny robots are capable of sorting up to 200,000 packages a day; and because they are equipped to self-charge, they can operate 24/7. To that end, a Shentong Express spokesperson notes to the South China Morning Post that this has not only helped the company cut labor costs by half, but also managed to improve efficiency by 30 percent and maximize sorting accuracy.

Right now, the robots are being used in two Hangzhou centers, but the company is looking to deploy the robots in their largest locations.

The Threat of Automation

Perhaps no other country is more focused on shifting to automation and replacing human workers with machines than China, especially given that the output of industrial robots in the country rose by 30.4 percent in 2016. Earlier this year, a Chinese factory replaced 90 percent of its human workforce with automated machines, resulting in a 250 percent increase in productivity and 80 percent drop in defects. Foxconn, an Apple supplier, also cut 60,000 jobs and replaced them with robots.

To that end, China’s five-year plan is targeting production of these robots to reach 100,000 by 2020. This means that as the world continues to achieve unprecedented levels of advancement in AI and robotics, it will likely cause the displacement of thousands of human workers in favor of automated efficiency. Already, 137 million workers across five Southeast Asian countries are in danger of being displaced by automated systems in the next 20 years.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
Click to View Full Infographic

“Countries that compete on low-wage labour need to reposition themselves — price advantage is no longer enough,” said Deborah France-Massin, director for the ILO’s bureau for employers’ activities. “Robots are becoming better at assembly, cheaper, and increasingly able to collaborate with people,” the ILO said.

Experts are urging everyone to start talking about the implications of automation now — and the conversation doesn’t have to center on how the world can resist automation, but more on how we can embrace robotics and ensure that the human population is not left unemployed. Universal basic income may be the solution here.

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Even Children Receive Money in This Startup’s UBI Program

Worth Considering

The concept of universal basic income (UBI) has been thrown around a lot lately. The idea itself isn’t new, but recent developments — particularly the advancement of automation that threatens jobs in a number of industries — have made UBI a worthwhile consideration.

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
Click to View Full Infographic

UBI is a fairly simple concept. It entails giving a fixed amount of money to people without any stringent conditions or qualifications. Essentially, every person in such a program would receive basic income regardless of their social situation or employment status. As such, experts believe that UBI could level the economic playing field while simultaneously improving social welfare programs.

Implementing such a program, however, isn’t that simple, and just like any novel idea, UBI has its own set of critics and skeptics, including billionaires Bill Gates and Mark Cuban. Concerns include the source of the funding, how the money should be allocated, and the question of taxation. Some critics warn that UBI would make people lazy and less productive.

This sense that UBI would change people’s attitude toward work was the primary reason why the German government rejected a petition from some 50,000 Germans for a basic income back in 2009. However, a Berlin-based startup is determined to put the system to the test.

Mo’ Money, Fewer Problems

Mein Grundeinkommen (My Basic Income) covered the problem of funding through donations received by 55,000 supporters via a crowdfunding model, and now, 85 people, including 10 or so children, are each receiving one year’s worth of monthly payments of 1,000 euros ($1,063) through the program.

The company’s founder, Michael Bohmeyer, asserts that no one involved in the program has become lazy or less productive because of it. “Everyone sleeps more soundly and no one become[s] a layabout,” he said, speaking of his startup’s beneficiaries.

This does seem to be the case, according to Valerie Rupp, one of Mein Grundeinkommen’s recipients. “Without day-to-day pressures, you can be more creative and try things out,” she told public broadcaster ARD. She explained how she was able to start working as an interior decorator while still taking care of her baby.

Another recipient, Astrid Lobeyer, found UBI to be “at once a gift and a prompt” to make a change. Lobeyer’s experience seems to echo Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s beliefs, as he has claimed that UBI could give people more time to pursue other activities.

For University of Freiburg economist Alexander Spermann, Bohmeyer’s UBI startup is a “poorly thought out” solution for a number of social questions. He told AFP that Men Grundienkommen has only succeeded in answering the question, “What would I do with a blank cheque if I got one for Christmas?”

However, in order to really find out just how effective or ineffective UBI could be, more programs that test this model need to be implemented. Already, several countries and institutions are involved in UBI trial runs, including Finland and one startup that uses cryptocurrency for basic income payments. Other test programs are also in the works, so we should know very soon if UBI is the answer to our automation woes.

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Sally Can Create and Serve 1,000 Different Meals, but This Chef’s Not Human

Meet Sally

Sally can make 1,000 different types of salads using 21 ingredients that change depending on what’s seasonally available. She can create a salad in just about a minute and doesn’t require a living wage because, well, she’s not living.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
Click to View Full Infographic

Created by robotics startup Chowbotics, Sally the Salad Robot is destined for popularity as it provides hungry patrons with a wealth of healthy options. Chef Charlie Ayers, the first executive chef at Google, created a number of signature salads that customers can choose to order, but if they are not interested in a pre-planned option, they can customize their meal from the different ingredients offered.

CEO Deepak Sekar hopes to provide quick, healthy meals to busy professionals, at least in part replacing greasy fast food options. Sally’s capabilities will soon be put to the test as Sekar hopes to have 125 of the robots in tech offices in the San Francisco area by the end of 2017.

The Age of Automation

Sally is a testament to the age of automation. It’s sign that, in the very near future, we might be interacting with far more robots and far fewer people. Sally confirms that even the preparation of a chef-curated signature meal can be completed by a machine.

Meet Sally. Image Credit: Chowbotics
Image Credit: Chowbotics

Now, Sally does still need humans to help it operate. The robot gets its ingredients from canisters that need to be loaded and reloaded by hand. But, even though humans are needed to keep the machine up and running, the difference between two humans interacting about a lunch order and the interaction between a human and Sally is monumentally different.

How automation will lead to job loss is a frequently discussed topic, and it is a major issue that we will have to find creative solutions to manage. But less talked about is how we, as humans, will change. If your daily interactions started to feature progressively fewer and fewer people, how might it affect you?

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Artificial Intelligence Is Only Dangerous If Humans Use It Foolishly

It is the nature of technology to improve over time. As it progresses, technology brings humanity forward with it. Yet, there is a certain fear that surrounds technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, in part due to how these have been portrayed in science fiction. This fear, however, is mostly a fear of the unknown. For the most part, humankind doesn’t know what will come of the continued improvement of AI systems.

The Top Artificial Intelligence Movies of All Time
Click to View Full Infographic

The coming of the technological singularity is one such outcome that’s greatly influenced by science fiction. Supposedly, AI and intelligent machines will become so smart that they will overtake their human overlords, ending the world as we know it. We don’t know if that would indeed happen, of course — although there are some institutions that are actively working towards making the singularity happen.

But perhaps the most immediate concern people have with AI and automated systems is the expected job displacement that goes along with these. A number of studies seem to agree that increased automation will cause an employment disruption in the next 10 to 20 years.

One study predicts machines will replace 47 percent of jobs in the United States. Another study expects 40 percent of jobs will be displaced in Canada, while British agencies predict some 850,000 jobs in the UK will be replaced by automated systems. Meanwhile, 137 million workers in Southeast Asia are in danger of losing their jobs to machines in the next 20 years. The trend is expected to cover a whole range of industries, not just blue collar jobs.

What to Fear, Really

Given all of these, are we correct to fear AI?

Without the risk of being an alarmist, yes there are things to be worried about. But a great deal of this has to do with how we use AI, according to a piece written by ZD Net and TechRepublic UK editor-in-chief Steve Ranger. “AI is a fast-growing and intriguing niche,” Ranger wrote, “but it’s not the answer to every problem.”

Ranger warns of the inability of industries to cope up with AI, which could potentially cause another “AI winter.” He writes: “[A] lack of skilled staff to make the most of the technologies, along with massively inflated expectations, could create a loss of confidence.” Moreover, there’s the danger of looking at AI as the magical solution to everything, neglecting the fact that AI and machine learning algorithms are only as good as the data put into them. Ranger says, “ways must be found to make sure that AI-led decision making becomes as easy to understand — and to challenge — as any other type.” He sees this as the ultimate threat related to AI. He points out that research is being done when it comes to being able to understanding how AI reaches its conclusions. The five basic principals laid out are responsibility (a person must be available to deal with the effects of the AI), explainability (ability to simply explain the decisions made by the AI to the people affected by it), accuracy (sources of error must be kept track of), auditability (third parties should be able to easily review the behavior of the AI), and fairness (AI should not be affected by human bias or discrimination).

Ultimately, the greatest threat to humanity isn’t AI. It’s how we handle AI. “Artificial intelligence and machine learning are not what we need to worry about: rather, it’s failings in human intelligence, and our own ability to learn,” Ranger concludes.

Measured and Monitored

Thankfully, there are institutions that have already come up with guidelines in pursuing AI research and development. There’s the Partnership on AI, which includes tech heavyweights like Amazon, Google, IBM, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. Another one is the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund (AI Fund) that’s led by the Knight Foundation. There’s also the IEEE’s framework document on designing ethically aligned AI.

The benefits of AI are undeniable, and we don’t need to wait for 2047 and the singularity to figure out just how much it affects people’s lives. Today’s AI systems shouldn’t be confused with sci-fi’s Skynet and HAL-9000. Much of what we call AI right now are neural networks and machine learning algorithms that work in the background of our most common devices. AI is also found in systems that facilitate trends-based decision making processes in companies and improve customer services.

If used properly, AI can help humanity by keeping people away from hazardous jobs, reducing the number of car accidents, and improving medical treatments. Our fears cannot outweigh these perks.

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With Automation Looming, the US Needs To Make Education Affordable Or Fail

Crafting Well Rounded Minds

Education is the cornerstone of society. This is because knowledge is the only thing that lets one be an informed and productive member of society. Of course, education is not limited to just traditional schooling (i.e. a classroom), but includes knowledge gleaned from friends, family, mentors, personal experiences, and on and on.

That said, in our society, traditional schooling is a major part of how we educate the coming generations.

Today, we spend our most formative years in school, learning about the world and how to function in it. In the modern world, which is continually becoming more globalized, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and analytically about all aspects of our world—from politics, to economics, to the arts, to (of course) science and technology.

[Save For Jolene] *3* Higher Education Needs to Evolve to Meet the Needs of the Future
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A well-rounded liberal arts education can provide this to its students. According to Willard Dix, a college admissions expert and contributor to Forbes, “a liberal arts education provides a multi-faceted view of the world. It enables students to see beyond one perspective, encouraging them to understand others’ even if they don’t agree. It instructs us to base our opinions on reason, not emotion.”

And at a time of increasing polarization, dialogue and understanding are invaluable qualities.

Even disciplines that are thought to be exclusively “fact-based,” such as the STEM fields, can greatly benefit from a liberal arts focus, as critical thinking skills are what allow individuals to analyze and make meaning from new information and move fluidly through society and careers. Case in point, the current president of Miami University, Gregory Crawford, went to school to study physics and now, as an education administrator, he advocates for an educational system that is multifaceted:

There are extraordinary skill sets to learn from the liberal arts, like communication, analytical skills, writing, global awareness. Can you tell a story in a world of data and analytics? When students are exposed to the liberal arts they become more self-aware, more self-disciplined and develop other virtues like empathy and courage.

A liberal arts focus not only can prepare students for the job market, but also life after college in general.

Dwindling Market

Speaking of the job market, education, in general, is about to become even more of a requirement, thanks to the steady rise of automation. Experts predict that developed countries may lose a staggering 30 percent of jobs in the next 15 years. Much of this job loss, if not all of it, will impact blue collar workers—a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that each robot that makes its way into the workforce replaces six humans.

Thus, as the years progress, industries that used to be home to extremely well paying blue collar positions will increasingly become a thing of the past.

However, individuals that have an understanding of a broad spectrum of fields will largely be able to protect themselves from the impact of automation, as they will be able to seamlessly (or more seamlessly) move between industries. This adaptability is precisely what a liberal arts education, at its best, provides. But there is a problem for those pursuing such an education in the United States: Money.

Tackling Affordability

One of the most significant obstacles to an education for young adults today is debt, and a significant portion of that comes from education. Student debt in the United States has hit an unbelievable $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A trillion of those dollars belong to federal student loans. While other nations face affordability issues of their own, the situation in the United States is extreme.

The United States is the fourth most expensive country in which to get a college education, with the average cost being greater than $29,300 each year, according to a list compiled by FairFX. Increases in cost are not showing any signs of slowing, and with figures like that, higher education is no longer just out of reach to the poorest Americans. Now, many mid-level American families also can’t make the cut.

What can be done to ensure everyone will be equipped to thrive in the workforce of the very near future?

In Germany, they answered that question by eliminating tuition costs altogether. The country abolished tuition all the way back in 1971. They were briefly brought back from 2006 – 2014, but they were removed again due to widespread problems, even though the costs only averaged €500 ($630 USD).

In fact, more than 40 countries around the world offer free higher education. Obviously, when people use the word “free” what they really mean is that nations use tax dollars to pay for education in the same way that they use tax dollars to pay for subsidies for corn and fossil fuels and to pay for war efforts (do keep in mind, the United States has a defense budget larger than many developed nations combined).

But now, thanks to a recent development, it looks like the United States is going to start reallocating funds to test the free tuition waters.

Empire State of Mind

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state in the country to offer a tuition-free four-year education for residents. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship program, it will provide four years of college tuition for families who make less than $100,000 per year. The program will begin this fall, with the income cap raising by $10,000 in 2018 and an additional $15,000 the following year.

The governor said, “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.”

NBC News tells us that this plan will benefit a remarkable 80 percent of the state’s families with college-age kids. The plan also requires that students complete at least 30 credits per year and stay within their program’s minimum GPA requirements. There are also requirements regarding living and working in the state for a certain period after graduation, which will ensure that students give back to the state that is paying for their education. Governor Cuomo explained the importance of this move in his statement:

The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it.’ With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.

While many families may be overjoyed with the opportunities this will provide their children, other entities were not so keen when the idea was proposed. Some private colleges, including the Governor’s own alma-mater, even went so far as to ask their students to oppose this historic move.

For example, the president of Keuka College, a small liberal arts school in central New York, Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, sent an email to his students urging them to oppose the program.

While it is understandable that private colleges may fear the future, efforts such as the ones outlined here come off as tone-deaf, at best, or selfish, at worst. Keuka is a school that is well out of the price range of most individuals, costing a staggering 40K a year. And while there are some programs that assist low-income students, the cost is beyond the affordability of most.

Ultimately, such call to action does not seem to fully weigh the (very justifiable) panic of students, which has become endemic in today’s higher education climate. And of course, the letter makes no mention of the “940,000 middle-class families” who will be able to send their children to school as a result of this legislation, many of which may not have had the luxury before its passing.

Since the passing earlier this month, Keuka has released another statement.

It’s too early for any of us in New York’s private colleges and universities to know what this will mean for recruitment and retention at our institutions. But what we do know is that competition is the bedrock of our economic system. To stay competitive, Keuka College must continue to adapt and change.

They may not be celebrating the news, but they have gotten to the heart of the matter: Just as the workforce is going to have to adapt and change with the proliferation of automation, our educational institutions are going to have to change to accommodate that workforce and lead them to be fully capable of thriving in the economy and society of tomorrow.

To remain a global leader, we will need to rethink how we educate and seriously consider the barriers that exist that limit who can benefit. Those conversations need to start now.

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Rise of the Machines: We Can Stop Automation From Destroying Society

A Growing Gap

Widespread automation has the potential to amplify existing income disparities and produce an unparalleled level of economic inequality. As artificial intelligence (AI) improves and algorithms get more advanced, automated systems can replace more of the workforce, meaning fewer people are needed to generate the same (or greater) amounts of wealth for those at the top. If technology advances far enough, traditional labor may be rendered obsolete.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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The advancement of technology has never posed quite such a threat in the past as automation has traditionally created new jobs as it replaced old ones. The Guardian cites the example of bank tellers. ATMs appeared in the 1970s, but there are more human tellers now than back then. Today’s tellers do more than dispense cash, though; they sell financial services and provide advice.

However, the ATM example may not apply as AI improves. If ATMs can dispense cash and advise customers about their mortgage options, too, banks may not need human tellers.

This situation only matters if the ownership of wealth is limited, and at this point in the U.S., it is. Right now, unless you own capital, what you have is your wage. Unfortunately, although productivity has improved since the 1970s, wealth has moved toward ownership and more capital, not wages. Wages and labor are the only source of wealth for most people, and they are also one of the only ways workers can assert themselves in the workplace and advocate for change. If automation renders labor redundant, labor as a source of wealth and power in the workplace will evaporate.

Equity and Automation

The very wealthy are not likely to be affected by any of these changes. It’s the people working in industries like transportation, insurance, medicine, and customer service that will be hit the hardest.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that more people worked as retail salespeople (4.5 million) and cashiers (3.5 million) in May 2016 than any other occupation. Another 4.6 million people were working in transportation and warehousing as of 2014. Clearly, huge portions of the workforce will be affected by the presence of AI, but this disruption will not have a negative effect on the wealthiest people in the world.

The real issue here isn’t the tech itself — it’s the widening gap between economic classes and the incredible poverty it will cause, not to mention the erasure of the working class. Thankfully, there are several proposed solutions to this potential crisis of equity that don’t require slowing down technological advancement. They include universal basic income (UBI), a tax on robots that replace workers, and job guarantee programs.

UBI has been subjected to heated debate, but many, including Bill Gates and Elon Musk, believe it will be feasible in the near future. Former President Obama has also acknowledged that UBI will need to be seriously discussed within the next 10 to 20 years.

Bill Gates and others have argued that robots that replace human workers should pay taxes — or, more accurately, that their owners should. This would place the existing wage burden back on the wealthy and provide money into the “pool,” which could then be used for UBI or education for workers to take on the new jobs that automation creates. These taxes could also fund job guarantee programs.

Job guarantee programs through the government would guarantee a living wage for anyone doing public sector or non-profit work (depending on the program). This is similar in theory to 1933’s Works Progress Administration program. It also shifts the power away from private owners of wealth, who can demand that workers do whatever menial tasks they want at wages they set, and allows people to do anything from teaching to environmental cleanup for a decent wage.

With the National Bureau of Economic Research reporting that the wealthiest 1 percent of U.S. households held roughly 42 percent of the country’s wealth in 2014, we can’t afford to let automation further widen the gap between the haves and the have nots.

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Three Major Reasons Automation Won’t Leave You Unemployed

Losing Jobs

Right now in the United States there is a duel raging on between who or what to scapegoat for the disappearance of certain jobs. One side blames Mexico and China, international trade, and outsiders generally. The other blames artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, the specter of robots stealing jobs. There is evidence that automation is making some jobs obsolete (almost none that points to trade or immigration). However, both positions are overlooking the real issue: the economy is changing in fundamental ways, and there is no way to stop that change.

By 2020, AIs could be powering 85 percent of customer service transactions, rendering them human-free. That could wipe out a career that, in 2015, employed about six percent of the total American workforce (8 million people) with retail sales and cashier jobs. There are 8.7 million people working in trucking in the U.S., and they are staring down the barrel of self-driving vehicles right now. Automation is also likely to replace humans in the food industry by the mid-2020s. Even back in 2013 it was estimated that about 47 percent of the American workforce were at high risk of losing their jobs to automation.

Via Flickr
Credit: Spencer Cooper/ Flickr

Either we are living in a time which is historically unique for job loss and change, or this is just the next stage in an economic cycle. If the later is the case, then, just as workers moved from agricultural jobs into factories, we are shifting once more. This may sound ominous, but actually, it is good news. It means that there are at least three reasons that automation won’t leave you unemployed.

Trading In D-List Jobs

First, new technologies always usher in new jobs as they eliminate existing positions. Colin Parris, VP of Software Research at GE, explained in an interview with TechCrunch that fighting job losses doesn’t mean resisting automation:

The only way…is to train the talent that we have. Because in the future, we have to embrace robotics. It allows us to reduce cost. If I reduce cost, I have more money that I can use for innovation. The more money I have, the more new products I can create. The more products I create, the more workforce I can hire.

Second, when automation results in job loss, the lost jobs are typically positions that are tough to keep staffed.

“It might take employees out of what we call the ‘three Ds,’ a dull, dirty, or dangerous job,” says Bob Doyle, of the Association for Advancing Automation, to TechCrunch. But “[it] puts them hopefully in a different position that creates more value to the company,” he added. Parris agreed with the “three Ds” position.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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There is no question that automation will eliminate some jobs — “D-list” jobs. Automation frees humans from the jobs no one wants do, jobs that are costing us our health and our lives. And while we’re not always adept with cooperation, we’ll need to do better to thrive in our new economy. Instead of petty squabbling over how much unpleasant work we should each have to do, we might instead just agree to pay ourselves for entrepreneurship and volunteer work — fostering more innovation and more new jobs — through universal basic income schemes as necessary.

Third, our economy will almost certainly shift in ways no one can foresee. Economists today warn of the dangers of “job polarization,” the division of human workers into either highly skilled and unskilled classes, with middle-of-the-road jobs lost. However, part of the reason we may not be able to envision a new middle class yet is that we are not yet reeducating ourselves well enough to perceive what the new jobs of the automation era look like.

“We can’t predict what jobs will be created in the future, but it’s always been like that,” says Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University, said in an interview with the Economist. “[The video-game designers and cybersecurity specialists] are jobs that nobody in the past would have predicted.”

The important question isn’t who is “stealing” jobs, because they are gone — or soon will be — never to return. Why should we want dangerous, dirty, and dull jobs back; we can innovate and create new jobs as we have in the past. Now, we must either retrain our workforce to master these economic changes or face the growing gap between educated and non-educated workers. Let’s hope we choose the former.

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Canada: Here’s How We’re Preparing for the Automation of Human Jobs

Candid Canada

As automation continually becomes a larger threat to human jobs, Canada is taking action. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, recently made public statements about the country’s plans for dealing with these rising trends. Instead of ignoring the issue, or pretending like it’s something we won’t have to deal with for a long time, Canada has formed a comprehensive strategy.

According to Trudeau,

We know that the job market is changing, and instead of resisting in vain, we’re focused on funding research and innovation, like in AI and quantum computing, that’ll help lead the change here in Canada. And while we do that, we’re preparing Canadians to find good jobs through investments in education and training.

This plan is important to take note of, because job loss due to automation has already begun to take effect. And, while the White House has released similar intentions to focus on research and education, programs will need to be incorporated and explored much sooner than most people assume.

In fact, just within the next 15 years, we are expected to lose up to 30% of jobs to automation in the U.S. alone. And, while many may scoff with ambivalence in assuming that the jobs lost will be only low-paying jobs in customer service, IT, or in factories, they are absolutely wrong. Just this past year, artificially intelligent (AI) lawyers became less of a novelty and more of a reality. There are virtually (pun intended) no jobs that exist that would not be threatened by growing automation.

The Future of The Middle Class

What many fear is that, as automation replaces more and more jobs, the middle class will disappear. Even Stephen Hawking thinks that this is a real and dangerous possibility. This future is possible if we do not plan effectively for the progression of automation. Without a quality strategy in place, jobs will only exist for the ultra-privileged. Manufacturing jobs are already feeling the burn of automation-caused job loss, and this trend will continue through many other job fields.

And so, as Trudeau has asserted about Canada, investing in education and research will “create jobs and grow the middle class.” This plan will support additional job training, education, and even post-secondary education for all citizens. In fact, to support unemployed citizens, Trudeau writes that Canada’s 2017 budget aims “to provide $132.4 million over four years, beginning next year, and $37.9 million per year thereafter, to allow unemployed Canadians to pursue self-funded training while receiving Employment Insurance benefits.”

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
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The Canadian government additionally plans “to invest in 13,000 work-integrated learning placements for students to help young Canadians transition from school to work.” It seems as though Canada has every intention to fully support its citizens from the beginning of their careers up through all levels of employment. And, while there will still be difficulties as automation makes more and more jobs obsolete, supporting education will undoubtedly improve the situation. Education leads to innovation, which leads to job creation. It’s simple, but undeniably effective.

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This Robot Manipulates Objects and Shares What It Learns With the Hive Mind

A Helping Robotic Hand

Predictions on automation are quietly being proven true in our day-to-day lives. While we’re certainly not feeling the full brunt of the automation revolution, advances in modern technology are drawing the seemingly inevitable closer to reality.

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
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At the moment, RightHand Robotics, a startup building helpful robotic arms, is doing its part to shake up the manufacturing industry. The company’s founders, Yaro Tenzer and Leif Jentoft, have developed several prototypes that can differentiate between different items and categorize them into individual bins.

Using a set of fingers with a suction cup at their center, the RightHand system can grab objects detected by the camera embedded in its hand. It can then place the objects where it believes they should go.

Notably, these machines can learn on their own over time through practice. While this ability seems like second nature to us, it is a particularly challenging feat for a machine, but RightHand Robotics has accomplished it with its flagship product. What’s even more fascinating is that each bot can share what it learns with the others.

A Million Workers, One Mind

These pseudo-sentient arms connect to a hive mind. Each robot can communicate with the others through a cloud server, sharing what it has learned with its robot brethren. This multifaceted system has earned the company praise from the likes of Ken Goldberg, a professor at UC Berkeley and an expert on robot development. “This is a clever mechanism,” he told MIT Technology Review. “These guys are smart.” Clearly, investors agree as RightHand has received $8 million in funding.

The hive mind isn’t only helping robots learn how to sort objects. It’s also helping mobile 3D printers collaborate with one another and swarms of drones operate as a collective. The power of the hive mind isn’t limited to machines, either. Human hive minds are already being used to predict the future and could one day help us solve many of the world’s problems.

While RightHand Robotics’ technology isn’t at the level needed to replace human workers just yet, the company’s prototype showcases its potential to eventually handle fulfillment for pharmaceuticals, electronics, groceries, and apparel. Their hive mind connection will only serve to increase the rate at which these robots get up to speed with their human counterparts. The automated future is just around the corner.

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This Robot Works 500% Faster Than Humans, and It Puts Thousands of Jobs at Risk

Brick by Brick

Meet SAM — short for Semi-Automated Mason — created by the New York based Construction Robotics. SAM is capable of laying 3,000 bricks per day, and he is coming to the U.K. in a few months.

This Robot Works 500% Faster Than Humans, And it Puts Thousands of Jobs At Risk
Credit: Construction Robotics

SAM can work about 500 percent faster than humans, and discrepancy in labor cost that causes is significant. According to a report by Zero Hedge, 3,000 bricks boils down to a cost of 4.5 cents per brick. Based on a $15 per hour minimum wage rate and benefits, a human bricklayer with an average efficiency of about 500 bricks will cost construction firms about 32 cents per brick — that’s more than 7x the cost of an automated bricklayer.

SAM isn’t able to work independently, however. A builder still has to feed the bricks onto its conveyor belt, which will then be picked up by SAM’s robotic arm, slathered with mortar, and placed on the wall. From there, another bricklayer has to follow up SAM’s work by cleaning up excess mortar.

Construction Robotics

This kind of efficiency is emerging amid rising demand for construction services, which means it’s likely only a matter of time before the of technology will undergo mass adoption among construction companies.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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Across the U.S., SAM has already been deployed in several construction sites. Now, Construction Robotics has announced its entry into the U.K. market later this year as it finalizes negotiations with various construction companies.

Not surprisingly, Since automation would likely lead to the displacement of numerous employees in the construction workforce, movement in that direction has been been met with a lot of resistance. Many in the field point out the complexity of other aspects of the construction process, which robots are currently not capable of handling. While this could limit the impact of automation on construction workers, it would not eliminate it. SAM is one example of why some experts are calling for nations to begin developing systems that will ensure our society can still function in a world where jobs will become less available to humans.

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Here’s Why Experts Think Universal Basic Income Will Never Work

UBI, A Controversial Concept

Basic Income (or Universal Basic Income [UBI] when applied to an entire population), is, according to Basic Income Earth Network, “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”

So, in short, it’s a baseline income that is given to all. It is given outside of work, assistance programs, certain qualifying factors, etc. There is the possibility of implementing both full and partial UBIs, and it is a solution that has been posed to issues of unemployment, especially in the age of automation. Some think that, as more and more jobs are made obsolete by technology, UBI could be what saves a large percentage of the population from desperate circumstances.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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Many argue that UBI could alleviate poverty as automation-caused unemployment becomes a very real threat. One potential benefit of a UBI is that, unlike bureaucratic and often flawed assistance programs, it could, theoretically, legitimately level the playing field. Opportunities like education, career advancement, and self-betterment that are often only afforded to the wealthy could become accessible to much larger populations.

Other experts see implementation of a UBI as a necessity. In fact, according to Elon Musk, in the age of automation, “I am not sure what else one would do.”

A Colossal Cost

But, there are many who are not on board with this potential plan. According to some experts, a $10,000/year UBI could add approximately $2 trillion to federal spending annually. Others are more focused on the possible effects that could arise from people who might no longer benefit mentally and emotionally from working for their salary.

There are also those who do not think that job displacement due to automation will be an issue for many decades (despite current predictions that say we are closer than that). Erik Brynjolfsson, a researcher at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, pointed out that the U.S. still has a large number of unfilled job openings, and was quoted as saying,

The idea of a basic income is a good one in a world where robots do most of the work, but we probably won’t be there for 30 to 50 years. While automation is replacing many jobs, it’s also creating new ones. There’s still plenty of unmet needs and work to do, so the right strategy for the current situation is to prepare people for those new tasks…we’re not rich enough to afford a basic income that will provide everyone with a decent standard of living without having to work.

Even if there is a large drop in earned income in the near future, there are alternatives to a UBI that several experts support. For example, Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, suggests that, rather than create a entirely new benefits system, the best option for the U.S. is to expand and improve existing safety-net programs, especially by increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. This would present people with a continued incentive to work, even if it was for few hours or lower rates.

“I’d make benefits more generous to reach a reasonable minimum, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and greatly expand preschool care for children who grow up in poverty,” Gordon said to the MIT Technology Review.

Experts will likely continue to debate whether a UBI will alleviate poverty and solve inequality issues in the ways that we need and hope for, but perhaps not for too much longer. We may soon have more concrete evidence on the costs and effectiveness of UBIs as  several countries begin implementing them. In fact, Finland has already started testing the waters.

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New Study Finds That Six Jobs Are Lost for Every Robot Added to the Workforce

The Real Impact of Automation

Few subjects are quite as divisive right now as the potential impact of automation on employment. Some, like U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, believe we needn’t be concerned, while others assert that we are already at the start of the biggest workforce upheaval since the Industrial Revolution.

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
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Now, a new paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) puts an actual number to the threat of automation: each industrial robot introduced in the workforce between 1990 and 2007 coincided with the elimination of 6.2 jobs within the commute area. Wages also saw a slight drop of between .25 and .50 percent per 1,000 employees when one or more robots was added to their workforce.

The report’s authors, economists Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University, predict that we could see as much as a .94 to 1.76 percent decline in the employment-to-population ratio by 2025. By 2025, the Census Bureau estimates the United States’ population will reach 347.3 million. That means between 3.3 to 6.1 million jobs could be lost to automation.

Looking Ahead

In total, roughly 670,000 manufacturing jobs were lost to robots during the period of the study, a number that is expected to only go up given how more and more companies are looking toward automation as a way to improve operations in the coming years.

Consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCooper is already predicting the loss of 30 percent of jobs in the United Kingdom to automation. A separate study conducted by the International Labour Organization noted that 137 million workers across several Southeast Asian countries are in danger of being replaced by automated systems in the next 20 years.

The disruption isn’t confined to blue-collar jobs, either. Experts also believe that it will ultimately disrupt white-collar professions as well, a belief supported by the recent news that the biggest money-management firm is laying off 13% of its portfolio managers due to automation.

Add the Census Bureau’s predictions to the ever-growing list of studies that see robots disrupting the workforce, and the threat of automation becomes all-too-real. Even more modest scenarios see the number of industrial robots increasing by about threefold in the next 10 or so years.

That said, researchers and policy makers are already looking for ways to address the seemingly inevitable mass displacement that will be brought about by automation. Several are considering and testing universal basic income (UBI) programs, which would allow the government of a country to ensure that dramatic employee displacement wouldn’t lead to economic instability. Another suggested system involves taxing industrial robots, as suggested by Bill Gates.

The fact is, automation will have an impact on the current employment status quo. The gravity of its effects and what we can do to address them is an important conversation that we most definitely need to be having right now.

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Major Firm Announces It’s Replacing Its Employees with A.I.

Automated Money Managers

It was only a matter of time before the impact of robots and automation would start having an effect on the white-collar workforce. Case in point: BlackRock, Inc, the world’s largest money manager, just announced that it plans to transition toward automated solutions.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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The decision to transition comes after news of a massive overhaul that involved a reorganization within BlackRock. The purpose of the reorganization was to place a greater emphasis on computer algorithms that can inform investments. Quite simply, investors are now questioning whether having a human manage their money is worth the fees they require, especially since successful money management is essentially anchored on recognizing and following certain market indicators — the sort of things artificial intelligences (AI) can be programmed to do.

In light of that, BlackRock plans to merge traditional investing methods with technology and data science. This strategy marks the biggest shift in traditional stock picking by a major asset manager to date. It will impact $30 billion worth of assets, and roughly 13 percent of BlackRock’s portfolio managers will be laid off as part of the transition.

White-Collar Concerns

Talk of how much automation will disrupt the traditional workforce has mostly centered on blue-collar industries, but this move from BlackRock demonstrates that the very real implications of technology on the job market aren’t limited to professions defined by easily replicated manual labor.

Jobs in stock picking and money management are some of the most lucrative, and yet, given BlackRock’s decision to turn to machines and algorithms to refine their services, even those knowledge-based professions are vulnerable to automation.

“We are starting to see in fields like medicine, law, investment banking, dramatic increases in the ability of computers to think as well or better than humans. And that’s really the game-changer here. Because that’s something that we have never seen before,” public policy expert Sunil Johal told CBC News in reference to robots taking over white-collar professions. Millions of workers worldwide are expected to be displaced by automation, and even the best algorithm can’t predict right now what the impact of that will be.

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CEO Disagrees With Trump Official’s Automation Prediction: “It’s Gonna Happen”

Fast Food Automation

How will technological innovation shape the future of the workforce? According to Greg Creed, the CEO of Yum Brands, the parent company of popular fast food chains like Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell, automation could replace humans in the food industry by the mid-2020s.

Creed shared this prediction in an interview with CNBC:

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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I believe, having listened to people in the artificial intelligence area — and we’re starting to work with them in that area — I think [50 to 100 years]  is way too long. I think it’s going to happen — I don’t think it is going to happen next year or the year after, but I do believe that probably by the mid ’20s to the late ’20s, you’ll start to see a dramatic change in sort of how machines sort of run the world.

But that’s not to say that humans will be completely obsolete. “We don’t make a lot of things until customers order,” explained Creed. “I’m not sure we’re going to have robots replace people.” That said, he notes that the rise in automation today marks “the beginning of robotics […] but I don’t see it wholesaling — the wholesale sense changing people’s jobs in the short-term.”

In contrast, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that automation isn’t an imminent threat to American jobs. He notes that he’s “not worried at all” about machines displacing human workers and that artificial intelligence (AI) taking over jobs won’t happen for another 50 to 100 years.

Widespread Impact

Right now, several blue-collar industries are already feeling the effects of automation. For instance, the Rio Tinto mining company has already deployed a fleet of 73 self-driving trucks that haul payloads at a cost 15 percent less than those operated by human drivers. In developing nations in Southeast Asia, where 137 million people depend on manufacturing jobs as their main source of income, a study notes that many workers are in danger of being replaced by automated systems in the next 20 years.

While its impact on white-collar jobs isn’t currently quite as pronounced, experts believe that automation will have significant implications within several of those industries as well. A report from Deloitte Insight states that an estimated 114,000 jobs in the legal sector have a high chance of being replaced with automated machines and algorithms within the next two decades.

These predictions are premised on the fact that machines are now more than capable of completing the repetitive jobs that many human workers are handling today. Given the advancements in the field and the focus people are putting on further developing the technology, it’s only a matter of time before we truly begin to feel the real effects of automation across multiple industries.

“I think it’s gonna happen,” Creed said. “We’ll see a dramatic change in how machines run things.”

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Nation Expected to Lose 30% of Jobs to Automation in 15 Years

The Robot Revolution

Whether we like it or not, robots are making an impact in the job market. Experts predict that almost a million jobs will be replaced by robots in 2030, while companies like apple are justifying such predictions. This may also be a boon to governments that wish to cut costs, and almost 80 percent of administrative work will likely be automated in the course of the next 15 years.

We’re expected to see changes in sales, customer service, transportation, shipping and logistics, healthcare, and legal paraprofessionals. The consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCooper (PWC) took a look at the future of one of the world’s super-powers — the U.K.

In a few years even a developed country like Britain might lose a significant portion of its work force — about 30 percent — to automation, leaving 10 million workers without a job. Breaking the numbers down in terms of the sexes, this means that 35 percent of jobs currently held by men are at risk. Women are expected to fare slightly better, with only 26 percent of jobs currently held by women expected to be replaced by robots.  While sectors such as wholesale and administrative work are most likely to get the replacement, the health care and social work industries might keep the automation at bay for now.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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PWC’s chief economist, John Hawksworth, asserted in a PWC press release that this is because “manual and routine tasks are more susceptible to automation, while social skills are relatively less automatable.” In light of this prediction, the PWC’s team does offer several solutions, including increasing education, spreading potential gains from automation, and considering a form of Universal Basic Income (UBI).

How a Society Without Jobs Could Work

A UBI is gaining traction around the world as potential solution to global automation. While certain entrepreneurs dislike the notion or feel that we aren’t ready for it yet, countries like Finland, Canada, and even cities in the U.S. are experimenting with the system.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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A UBI guarantees every citizen a monthly income regardless of any additional salaries they may accrue. While some urge for a complete replacement of all social programs with UBI, others suggest just a partial consolidation. In order to pay for the program as a whole in the U.S., experts suggest possibly eliminating tax cuts that represent upwards of $540 billion for the wealthy or reducing the $853 billion budget on defense.

Will UBI provide as sustainable solution to living in an automated world? We might just have to wait 15 years to find out.

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Trump’s Treasury Secretary Says Increased Automation Is “Not Even on Our Radar”

During his campaign, now-President Donald Trump promised voters he would bring American jobs back from overseas. Now that he is in office, his administration has made job creation a central focus of its efforts.

But what if those jobs overseas can’t come back to the United States because companies no longer need to hire humans to complete the tasks? How is the Trump administration gearing up to tackle the rise of automation?

Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Based on recent statements by Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, they aren’t planning to address it all. In a conversation with Axios co-founder Mike Allen, Mnuchin said that increased automation is “not even on our radar screen” as the problem is “50 to 100 more years away.” He continued, saying, “I’m not worried at all. In fact, I’m optimistic.”

They’re Not Coming Back

The administration’s claims run counter to the mounting evidence that artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are a much more imminent threat to American workers.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
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Some reports predict that today’s technology could automate 51 percent of economic activity. Such a shift has the potential to cause unprecedented levels of unemployment, putting millions of people out of work. It’s not just blue-collar jobs that are at risk, either. Another report expects that 850,000 public sector jobs could be taken over by automation in the United Kingdom by 2030, a trend likely to carry over into the U.S.

According to Mark Muro of the MIT Technology Review, jobs that went overseas aren’t going to be coming back to the U.S. Trump can propose policies to make it more beneficial for companies to bring their operations back to the country, but there’s nothing to stop them from replacing American workers with machines should the financial implications of doing so continue to become more attractive.

As Muro said, “No one should be under the illusion that millions of manufacturing jobs are coming back to America.”

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Universal Basic Income Will Help Us Level the Economic Playing Field

The Olympics provides a great opportunity to take a closer look at the popular myth of meritocracy, where winners come out on top thanks to hard work and losers simply just weren’t good enough. That the discussion during this most recent Olympics has been centered so much around performance-enhancing drugs really drives this point home in a way I have not seen discussed, but I think should be, because we should really stop and question our seemingly unquestioned beliefs of a world that rewards the deserving and punishes the undeserving.

Universal Basic Income: UBI Pilot Programs Around the World
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The truth behind contests of physical prowess like the Olympics is that they are largely a celebration of genetics. Of course hard work and access to resources are involved too, because genes can rarely be entirely independent of environment, but given two Olympians who worked exactly as hard as each other and with access to identical training and resources, then all else being equal, the gold medal will essentially be rewarding the winner’s parents. It’s one thing if our stated goal is to celebrate DNA instead of hard work, but it isn’t. We celebrate the hard work and skill that goes into winning. Or at least we say we do, but performance enhancing drugs lays bare that lie to ourselves.

Performance enhancing drugs are commonly discussed as providing an unfair advantage, and that we need to level the playing field by doing everything we can to prevent their use. However, the unpopular truth is there are cases where drugs can actually be responsible for a more level playing field, if we care more about hard work that is, instead of how genes work.

Let’s take an imaginary case of two Olympians and let’s call them Bill and Ted. Bill was born with a body whose muscle cells function at a slightly higher level than Ted’s. Bill and Ted both train incredibly hard for years, but Ted puts in just a bit more effort than Bill. In the end, Bill wins the gold medal though, not because he worked harder, but because his parents’ gametocytes together provided an advantage that Ted’s effort couldn’t overcome. No one really considers sperm or eggs as unfair advantages though, and so in this case, Bill is celebrated as a true champion.

Now let’s imagine an alternate timeline where Ted used performance enhancing drugs, but in a way that essentially granted his muscle cells the exact same abilities as Bill’s. In such a circumstance, Ted has not given himself an advantage at all. He has simply leveled the playing field. Again, both Bill and Ted train for years, but with Ted putting in just a bit more work. This time, because their genetics are effectively identical but Ted put in more effort, Ted wins the gold. This should be considered a meritocratic outcome, but it’s not. Ted is later tested positive for drugs and his medal is stripped away. He’s not seen as a champion, but a cheater.

How odd is it that we can celebrate uneven starting points as equal, and denigrate equalized starting points as cheating? But that’s what we do, day in and day out, not only in the Olympics, but in our everyday lives. There is no level playing field. There is no meritocracy. Every day “winners” are born thanks to sperm, eggs, money, and pure randomness. Every day “losers” start races way behind the starting line, on empty stomachs, without any shoes, with weights shackled around their ankles and their bodies covered in life’s daily bruises, and when they don’t win, we look down on them for not trying hard enough.

To be clear, I’m not making an argument here for the unbanning of all performance-enhancing drugs, because it is indeed possible to go beyond leveling the genetic playing field and into the realm of uncrossable physical performance gaps regardless of any amount of skill and effort. I’m simply pointing out that this argument is more complex than “drugs are bad.” The complexity arises in acknowledging that some bodies effectively manufacture their own drugs, and without acknowledging that, we perpetuate unequal starting points and the great myth of meritocracy.

As a further example, imagine for a moment that it was considered unfairly “performance-enhancing” for an Olympic swimmer to shave their body or a wear a cap. Those swimmers who were naturally hairless, would of course have a genetic advantage, but it wouldn’t be seen that way because it was a product of genes that prevented hair, and not technology like a razor or wax. In this case, would you argue that technology could level an unlevel field, or that technology would provide an unfair advantage? What if someone had so much money they could afford the technology to alter their genes to remove their hair? Would that be cheating, or would it be playing by the rules?

We say we want a world where everyone starts on the same starting line, where no one races toward the finish line without shoes or shackles or empty stomachs, but we celebrate the crowning of those with unfair advantages as matter of course. We put our billionaires on pedestals, even when their parents were billionaires, and lie the great lie that they earned it just as if they had started with nothing.

In what world can someone like Donald Trump claim to be a self-made man who started from nothing despite starting with far more than most of us can even dream of ever attaining in an entire lifetime of the hardest work imaginable? This world is the unfortunate answer.

However, perhaps the greatest lie of all, is how we even confuse complete randomness with what is earned and deserved. Pure dumb luck can be the difference between a gold medal and never even crossing the finish line because a bee just happened to sting you and you just happened to be allergic to bees. Random variation can be such a powerful and yet largely unacknowledged predictor of outcomes. I think one of the strongest examples of the power of randomness is revealed in a study of judges and their stomachs.

Most of us tend to believe in a justice system where justice is served blindly. The law is the law, right? Well, it turns out that judges vary their sentences according to how hungry they are.

Randomly appear before a judge right before their lunch, and you will end up worse off than had you randomly appeared before that same judge right after their lunch break, on a full and happy stomach. Recognize that and consider just how many lives have been altered based on that pure randomness. How many people got a second chance because their last name put them first? How many people were given harsh sentences because they drew the short straw?

Considering our Olympic analogy again, how many people have won medals and how many never even placed, based not on genetics, hard work, or performance enhancing drugs, but ultimately the luck of the draw?

If we truly do want a meritocracy, we need to stop lying to ourselves and recognize uneven starting lines whenever we see them. If we want the winners of races to be the ones who most “deserved it” based on effort and skill, then we should want to make sure the winners are winning because they should have won fair and square, and not because their competition had no shoes. So how can we do this?

One of the greatest steps we can take toward a more real meritocracy is to provide everyone an unconditional basic income. The only way we can make sure winners aren’t just winning because their competition had insufficient access to resources is to make sure everyone has the same minimal access. It’s starting line logic. Just provide everyone an amount of money sufficient to eliminate poverty as a new starting line to race from. All income earned above that amount is kept so there are still winners and losers, but the winners won’t win simply because those who could have beaten them were weighed down, and the losers won’t lose simply because the race had beaten them before it even began.

There are other steps we can take to level our playing fields by increasing opportunity, and how to best go about doing so is a great discussion to have, especially during the Olympics. What kind of world do we want? Do we want a world where people can be born with nothing and achieve everything? Or do we want a world where the circumstances of our births increasingly determine the courses of our lives more than any other factor?

Do we want our champions to win on level playing fields? Or do we want our champions to be the sons and daughters of those who own our playing fields?

I offer that the answer to these questions could very likely determine the very fate of our species, for the owners can only own so much before the Olympic Games become the Hunger Games.

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This is Why Experts Think All People Should Have a Universal Basic Income

Consider for a moment that from this day forward, on the first day of every month, around $1,000 is deposited into your bank account — because you are a citizen. This income is independent of every other source of income and guarantees you a monthly starting salary above the poverty line for the rest of your life.

What do you do? Possibly of more importance, what don’t you do? How does this firm foundation of economic security and positive freedom affect your present and future decisions, from the work you choose to the relationships you maintain, to the risks you take?

The idea is called unconditional or universal basic income, or UBI. It’s like social security for all, and it’s taking root within minds around the world and across the entire political spectrum, for a multitude of converging reasons. Rising inequality, decades of stagnant wages, the transformation of lifelong careers into sub-hourly tasks, exponentially advancing technology like robots and deep neural networks increasingly capable of replacing potentially half of all human labour, world-changing events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump — all of these and more are pointing to the need to start permanently guaranteeing everyone at least some income.

A Promise of Equal Opportunity

“Basic income” would be an amount sufficient to secure basic needs as a permanent earnings floor no one could fall beneath, and would replace many of today’s temporary benefits, which are given only in case of emergency, and/or only to those who successfully pass the applied qualification tests. UBI would be a promise of equal opportunity, not equal outcome, a new starting line set above the poverty line.

It may surprise you to learn that a partial UBI has already existed in Alaska since 1982, and that a version of basic income was experimentally tested in the United States in the 1970s. The same is true in Canada, where the town of Dauphin managed to eliminate poverty for five years. Full UBI experiments have been done more recently in places such as Namibia, Indiaand Brazil. Other countries are following suit: Finland, the Netherlands and Canada are carrying out government-funded experiments to compare against existing programmes. Organizations like Y Combinator and GiveDirectly have launched privately funded experiments in the US and East Africa respectively.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s the same thing most people think when they’re new to the idea. Giving money to everyone for doing nothing? That sounds both incredibly expensive and a great way to encourage people to do nothing. Well, it may sound counter-intuitive, but the exact opposite is true on both accounts. What’s incredibly expensive is not having basic income, and what really motivates people to work is, on one hand, not taking money away from them for working, and on the other hand, not actually about money at all.

Basic Income in Numbers

What tends to go unrealized about the idea of basic income, and this is true even of many economists — but not all — is that it represents a net transfer. In the same way it does not cost $20 to give someone $20 in exchange for $10, it does not cost $3 trillion to give every adult citizen $12,000 and every child $4,000, when every household will be paying varying amounts of taxes in exchange for their UBI. Instead it will cost around 30% of that, or about $900 billion, and that’s before the full or partial consolidation of other programmes and tax credits immediately made redundant by the new transfer. In other words, for someone whose taxes go up $4,000 to pay for $12,000 in UBI, the cost to give that person UBI is $8,000, not $12,000, and it’s coming from someone else whose taxes went up $20,000 to pay for their own $12,000. However, even that’s not entirely accurate, because the consolidation of the safety net and tax code UBI allows could drive the total price even lower.

Now, this idea of replacing existing programmes can scare some just as it appeals to others, but the choice is not all or nothing: partial consolidation is possible. As an example of partial consolidation, because most seniors already effectively have a basic income through social security, they could either choose between the two, or a percentage of their social security could be converted into basic income. Either way, no senior would earn a penny less than now in total, and yet the UBI price tag could be reduced by about $220 billion. Meanwhile, just a few examples of existing revenue that could and arguably should be fully consolidated into UBI would likely be food and nutrition assistance ($108 billion), wage subsidies ($72 billion), child tax credits ($56 billion), temporary assistance for needy families ($17 billion), and the home mortgage interest deduction (which mostly benefits the wealthy anyway, at a cost of at least $70 billion per year). That’s $543 billion spent on UBI instead of all the above, which represents only a fraction of the full list, none of which need be healthcare or education.

So What’s the True Cost?

The true net cost of UBI in the US is therefore closer to an additional tax revenue requirement of a few hundred billion dollars — or less — depending on the many design choices made, and there exists a variety of ideas out there for crossing such a funding gap in a way that many people might prefer, that would also treat citizens like the shareholders they are (virtually all basic research is taxpayer funded), and that could even reduce taxes on labour by focusing more on capital, consumption, and externalities instead of wages and salaries. Additionally, we could eliminate the $540 billion in tax expenditures currently being provided disproportionately to the wealthiest, and also some of the $850 billion spent on defence.

Universal basic income is thus entirely affordable and essentially Milton Friedman’s negative income tax in net outcome (and he himself knew this), where those earning below a certain point are given additional income, and those earning above a certain point are taxed additional income. UBI does not exist outside the tax system unless it’s provided through pure monetary expansion or extra-governmental means. In other words, yes, Bill Gates will get $12,000 too but as one of the world’s wealthiest billionaires he will pay far more than $12,000 in new taxes to pay for it. That however is not similarly true for the bottom 80% of all US households, who will pay the same or less in total taxes.

To some, this may sound wasteful. Why give someone money they don’t need, and then tax their other income? Think of it this way: is it wasteful to put seat belts in every car instead of only in the cars of those who have gotten into accidents thus demonstrating their need for seat belts? Good drivers never get into accidents, right? So it might seem wasteful. But it’s not because we recognize the absurd costs of determining who would and wouldn’t need seat belts, and the immeasurable costs of being wrong. We also recognize that accidents don’t only happen to “bad” drivers. They can happen to anyone, at any time, purely due to random chance. As a result, seat belts for everyone.

The truth is that the costs of people having insufficient incomes are many and collectively massive. It burdens the healthcare system. It burdens the criminal justice system. It burdens the education system. It burdens would-be entrepreneurs, it burdens both productivity and consumer buying power and therefore entire economies. The total cost of all of these burdens well exceeds $1 trillion annually, and so the few hundred billion net additional cost of UBI pays for itself many times over. That’s the big-picture maths.

The Real Effects on Motivation

But what about people then choosing not to work? Isn’t that a huge burden too? Well that’s where things get really interesting. For one, conditional welfare assistance creates a disincentive to work through removal of benefits in response to paid work. If accepting any amount of paid work will leave someone on welfare barely better off, or even worse off, what’s the point? With basic income, all income from paid work (after taxes) is earned as additional income so that everyone is always better off in terms of total income through any amount of employment — whether full time, part time or gig. Thus basic income does not introduce a disincentive to work. It removes the existing disincentive to work that conditional welfare creates.

Fascinatingly, improved incentives are where basic income really shines. Studies of motivation reveal that rewarding activities with money is a good motivator for mechanistic work but a poor motivator for creative work. Combine that with the fact that creative work is to be what’s left after most mechanistic work is handed off to machines, and we’re looking at a future where increasingly the work that’s left for humans is not best motivated extrinsically with money, but intrinsically out of the pursuit of more important goals. It’s the difference between doing meaningless work for money, and using money to do meaningful work.

Basic income thus enables the future of work, and even recognizes all the unpaid intrinsically motivated work currently going on that could be amplified, for example in the form of the $700 billion in unpaid workperformed by informal caregivers in the US every year, and all the work in the free/open source software movement (FOSSM) that’s absolutely integral to the internet.

There is also another way basic income could affect work incentives that is rarely mentioned and somewhat more theoretical. UBI has the potential to better match workers to jobs, dramatically increase engagement, and even transform jobs themselves through the power UBI provides to refuse them.

A Truly Free Market for Labor

How many people are unhappy with their jobs? According to Gallup, worldwide, only 13% of those with jobs feel engaged with them. In the US, 70% of workers are not engaged or actively disengaged, the cost of which is a productivity loss of around $500 billion per year. Poor engagement is even associated with a disinclination to donate money, volunteer or help others. It measurably erodes social cohesion.

At the same time, there are those among the unemployed who would like to be employed, but the jobs are taken by those who don’t really want to be there. This is an inevitable result of requiring jobs in order to live. With no real choice, people do work they don’t wish to do in exchange for money that may be insufficient — but that’s still better than nothing — and then cling to that paid work despite being the “working poor” and/or disengaged. It’s a mess.

Basic Income — in 100 People

Take an economy without UBI. We’ll call it Nation A. For every 100 working-age adults there are 80 jobs. Half the work force is not engaged by their jobs, and half again as many are unemployed with half of them really wanting to be employed, but, as in a game of musical chairs, they’re left without a chair.

Basic income fundamentally alters this reality. By unconditionally providing income outside of employment, people can refuse to do the jobs that aren’t engaging them. This, in turn opens up those jobs to the unemployed who would be engaged by them. It also creates the bargaining power for everyone to negotiate better terms. How many jobs would become more attractive if they paid more money or required fewer hours? How would this reorganizing of the labor supply affect productivity if the percentage of disengaged workers plummeted? How much more prosperity would that create?

Consider now an economy with basic income. Let’s call it Nation B. For every 100 working age adults there are still 80 jobs, at least to begin with. The disengaged workforce says “no thanks” to the labor market as is, enabling all 50 people who want to work to do the jobs they want. To attract those who demand more compensation or shorter work weeks, some employers raise their wages. Others reduce the required hours. The result is a transformed labor market of more engaged, more employed, better paid, more productive workers. Fewer people are excluded, and there’s perhaps more scope for all workers to become self-employed entrepreneurs.

Simply put, a basic income improves the market for labor by making it optional. The transformation from a coercive market to a free market means that employers must attract employees with better pay and more flexible hours. It also means a more productive work force that potentially obviates the need for market-distorting minimum wage laws. Friction might even be reduced, so that people can move more easily from job to job, or from job to education/retraining to job, or even from job to entrepreneur, all thanks to more individual liquidity and the elimination of counter-productive bureaucracy and conditions.

Perhaps best of all, the automation of low-demand jobs becomes further incentivized through the rising of wages. The work that people refuse to do for less than a machine would cost to do it becomes a job for machines. And thanks to those replaced workers having a basic income, they aren’t just left standing in the cold in the job market’s ongoing game of musical chairs. They are instead better enabled to find new work, paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, that works best for them.

Like a game of musical chairs — with robots

The Tip of a Big Iceberg

The idea of basic income is deceivingly simple sounding, but in reality it’s like an iceberg with far more to be revealed as you dive deeper. Its big picture price tag in the form of investing in human capital for far greater returns, and its effects on what truly motivates us are but glimpses of these depths. There are many more. Some are already known, like the positive effects on social cohesion and physical and mental health as seen in the 42% drop in crime in Namibia and the 8.5% reduction in hospitalizations in Dauphin, Manitoba. Debts tend to fall. Entrepreneurship tends to grow. Other effects have yet to be discovered by further experiments. But the growing body of evidence behind cash transfers in general point to basic income as something far more transformative to the future of work than even its long history of consideration has imagined.

It’s like a game of Monopoly where the winning teams have rewritten the rules so players no longer collect money for passing Go. The rule change functions to exclude people from markets. Basic income corrects this. But it’s more than just a tool for improving markets by making them more inclusive; there’s something more fundamental going on.

Humans need security to thrive, and basic income is a secure economic base — the new foundation on which to transform the precarious present and build a more solid future. That’s not to say it’s a silver bullet. It’s that our problems are not impossible to solve. Poverty is not a supernatural foe, nor is extreme inequality or the threat of mass income loss due to automation. They are all just choices. And at any point, we can choose to make new ones.

Based on the evidence we already have and will likely continue to build, I firmly believe one of those choices should be unconditional basic income as a new equal starting point for all.

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Experts Think UBI Is the Solution to Automation. This Year, We’ll Find Out.

Automation Boom

Dismissing vague warnings that robots are coming for our jobs is pretty easy. Not so easy? Dismissing hard evidence that they’ve already arrived and are doing those jobs better and more cheaply than we ever could.

Those are the facts the workers of the world faced when news broke earlier this year that a Chinese factory increased its production by 250 percent and dropped its defect rate by 80 percent by replacing 90 percent of its human workforce with automated machines. In fact, the transition to machines has been so successful, the plant may soon cut its remaining workforce from 60 to just 20 human workers.

That factory is just one example of how automation is putting the future of human labor in jeopardy.

Experts are predicting that up to 47 percent of jobs in the United States may be replaced by automated systems—and that’s all in the next decade. If that’s not enough, manufacturing jobs aren’t the only ones at risk. Automated systems are proving that they are capable of handling everything from “low-skill” work like

If that’s not enough, manufacturing jobs aren’t the only ones at risk. Automated systems are proving that they are capable of handling everything from “low-skill” work like flipping burgers and driving taxis to white-collar professions like managing hedge funds and preparing tax returns.

Researcher after researcher has concluded the same thing — automation is going to put a lot of people out of work very soon — but what people can’t agree on is what we should do about it.

Some, like President Barack Obama, recommend focusing on education and training to prepare people to take on new types of jobs once their jobs are replaced. Others recommend putting systems in place that would make having a job a guarantee.

Still others think a tax on robots could be the solution. Perhaps the most seriously discussed option, however, is universal basic income (UBI).

So what exactly is it?

The 411 on UBI

The idea behind a UBI system is that every member of a society regularly receives a set amount of unconditional money from the government or a public institution. How much money, how often it is given, who supplies it, and other variables are all open to interpretation.

Proponents of such a system say its benefits would be multifold. With so many people expected to lose their jobs in the coming decades, UBI would be a way for the government of a country to ensure it doesn’t see a drastic increase in poverty due to unemployment. They point to the encouraging results of past studies in their support of UBI, noting how some trials have revealed a link between UBI and better health, while others have noted a drop in the usage of “temptation goods” like alcohol and tobacco in societies with a UBI in place, particularly if those societies are in underdeveloped nations.

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While notable figures such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Y Combinator president Sam Altman, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar have all expressed their support for UBI, just as many people remain on the other side of the debate.

Business mogul Mark Cuban simply called UBI “one of the worst possible responses” to automation, philanthropist Bill Gates said even the richest countries couldn’t afford such a system, and the Obama administration released a report stating that job training and job search assistance are much more likely to mitigate the potential unemployment situation than UBI. Others argue that UBI would discourage people from working, wouldn’t be enough to lift them out of poverty, and would result in immigration problems for countries that enact such systems.

Untested, but Not for Long

Until recently, we’ve had very few examples of UBI systems to look to for definitive proof of their potential benefits or burdens. Those examples we did have involved smaller groups of people for relatively short durations of time. What we need to move forward are more extensive trials involving larger groups, and thankfully, that’s what we’re finally getting.

This year, Finland kicked of a two-year UBI trial in which 2,000 randomly selected citizens each receive the equivalent of $587 a month. Each participant was already receiving unemployment benefits or an income subsidy from the government that they would lose if they started earning outside income. The hope is that the UBI will encourage those people to take chances on potentially risky job offers, like those at tech startups, knowing they’ll still have an income to fall back on.

Once the two-year trial is over, the government plans to compare the data it collects from the 2,000 participants and 173,000 non-participants from a similar background to determine if a larger UBI system would be economically worthwhile.

GiveDirectly is poised to launch the largest UBI program to date this spring. With the support of investors like Omidyar, the nonprofit will provide UBI to more than 26,000 Kenyans, with the total amount dispersed expected to hit around $30 million. The company is spreading the money across 200 villages, with recipients grouped into one of three potential systems. Some will receive 12 years of basic income, some will receive two years of it, and others will receive two years’ worth of income as a single lump sum.

Kenyans in 100 villages will act as the control group against which the results of the trial will be judged. GiveDirectly is hoping to learn a great deal about UBI from the study, including how it affects a person’s economic status, willingness to take risks, and their gender relations, particularly in terms of female empowerment.

Canada has its own UBI project set to launch this year. In December, the state legislature of Prince Edward Island (PEI) approved an initiative to test out a UBI program, with leaders of all four political parties in the province approving the measure. The details still need to be hashed out and the plan implemented, but with 150,000 citizens, the small Canadian province could prove to be the perfect setting for a UBI pilot program — large enough to provide a valid sample size but small enough to be logistically feasible.

With so many projects in place, 2017 is being touted as the year we’ll finally find out if a UBI system could work, and really, we have no time to waste. That Chinese factory may have been one of the first, but it certainly won’t be the last example of automation’s superiority in the workplace.

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Experts Predict the Timeline for Self-Driving Cars

The idea of traveling around town in a self-driving car has captured the world’s imagination. In addition to promising a more relaxed commute, autonomous driving is regarded as a solution to everything from traffic congestion and lack of parking spaces to accident prevention and reduced carbon emissions.

But how realistic is our vision of the car of the future?

Step-By-Step Toward Autonomous Driving

Modern cars already have a lot of assistance systems which anticipate the kinds of features self-driving vehicles will have: dashboard cameras, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, collision prevention, rain sensors, automated parking and real-time routing.

The US Department of Transport has recently announced plans to require cars to stream movement data and monitor other vehicles to avoid crashes. To achieve this, vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems will interact with other driver assistance systems such as automatic braking. They could become mandatory within four years and help reduce the 35,000 deaths a year in road traffic accidents throughout the US.

Google and Uber are among the companies which have sought a high profile for their self-driving vehicles tests, but have hit safety issues in the process. Uber recently found itself at loggerheads with cyclists in California. It emerged that Uber’s autonomous test vehicles could not deal with turning safely across bike lanes, potentially endangering cyclists. Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler told the Guardian in an email that “engineers are continuing to work on the problem”, and said that the company has instructed drivers to take control when approaching right turns on a street with a bike lane.

In spite of the setbacks experienced by these pioneers, most of the world’s biggest car makers – Ford, Nissan, Honda, Daimler, Peugeot, and Hyundai, to name a few – are working on autonomous vehicles that they expect to hit our roads over the next few years. In China, Baidu also has plans for autonomous vehicles.

Tesla is among the most advanced. Tesla cars already in production come with an array of cameras, sensors, and software enabling them to operate in ‘Autopilot’ mode. However, to date, you can only do so in the right conditions – clearly marked lanes, a relatively constant speed and a map of the area you’re traveling through. That said, Tesla has announced plans to have a car self-drive from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.

Supercomputers on Wheels

Business Insider estimates that by 2020, 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road. However, a lot of development still needs to happen.

Maps are key to the success of automated driving. A report in Popular Mechanics recently quoted an expert saying that while you could base self-driving entirely on visual and sensor cues, this approach would become difficult when rain or snow reduced the visibility of curbs and road markings. Therefore, the magazine concluded, there was industry consensus “that maps will make or break the age of self-driving cars.”

Compared to maps for existing satellite navigation systems, autonomous driving requires a much deeper level of information about the road network. Mapping experts at TomTom are working on highly detailed maps to address this. They will reflect a complete, three-dimensional model of the road, including the road profile, curvature, and terrain.

Self-driving cars will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to combine data from different sources – built-in sensors, cameras, road signs, traffic and weather information – to assess their environment, learn and make decisions on what to do next. To achieve this, large amounts of data will need to be processed on board, in real time, so the car can adapt to the driving situation as needed. Chip makers including NVIDIA and Intel are focusing their research and development on providing the required processing ‘horsepower,’ which has been compared to creating a moving supercomputer.

Regulators are Stepping in

Then there is the design of these cars. When Google started its self-driving initiative – one of the first companies to do so – its proposed ‘pod’ vehicles were not going to have a steering wheel or pedals and were going to have space for just two passengers. Having recently entered into partnership with Fiat Chrysler, Google is now putting its faith into a minivan – equipped with both pedals and steering wheels.

This may also have been, at least in part, a response to new laws on the use of driverless cars. The state of California – where Google is based – has stipulated that self-driving cars must have steering wheels and brake pedals. In Michigan, regulators are working on new laws which would legalize the testing of vehicles without steering wheels and pedals – allowing for no human intervention. It is thought that Michigan wants to gain an advantage on California, which has so far been at the forefront of driverless car development.

The driverless future is within our reach. What’s not clear is to what extent autonomous vehicles will replace traditional ones. Will individuals still own cars – and hence need parking spaces in their neighborhoods and near local amenities? Or will you be able to simply hail or get on a driverless vehicle as you would do with a taxi or bus right now. The latter scenario would make a major difference to cities’ traffic management and town planning. Gauging these developments will be important not only for the companies involved in building the vehicles but also for road authorities and city planners.

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AI Can Likely Already Do Your Job Better Than You Can

Automation on the Up

Andrew Ng (founding lead of the Google Brain team, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and now overall lead of Baidu’s AI team) in an article at the Harvard Business Review points out that if executives had a better understanding of what machine learning is already capable of, millions of people would be out of a job today. “Many executives ask me what artificial intelligence can do. They want to know how it will disrupt their industry and how they can use it to reinvent their own companies…the biggest harm that AI is likely to do to individuals in the short term is job displacement, as the amount of work we can automate with AI is vastly bigger than before.”

How much bigger? A report from Mckinsey says that 51% of economic activity could be automated by existing technology.

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This is not a new phenomenon, new technologies have always displaced the need for human labor. In the past the change was gradual and people had time to learn new skills that the economy needed. But the pace at which it is happening this time may be too rapid for people to adapt.

“Better Than You Ever Could”

This is not some issue that you will have to figure out how to deal with in the distant future, it is already happening, relatively quietly, all around us. Somewhere, in a giant tech company or tiny startup, there is someone trying to figure out how to get a computer to do your job better than you ever could.

Below is a handy graph from McKinsey of a variety of skills that can be replaced by AI and the industries that will be most affected. For a more detailed visualization click here and here.

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Its impact is already being felt from manufacturing jobs in China to insurance claim workers in Japan to top hedge fund managers in America. And this is just the beginning, as AI develops and its array of skills grow, more and more people whose jobs revolve around those skills will be replaced.

Of course, just because the technical ability is there doesn’t mean it can be implemented right away. Still, this is an issue that should be getting a lot more attention than it does because it will impact you.

This excellent talk was delivered by Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, delivered at Google back in February. He highlights what will be the pressing need of our times, for people to be able to find fulfillment outside of their job.

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The U.S. Has $732 Billion Invested in Robotics Stock

Investing In Robotics

According to a study by the Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and Redwood Software, when it comes to investing in the research and development necessary to advance robotics automation, the United States is the world leader. The U.S. has an estimated robotics stock of $732 billion — which, by way of comparison, is more than Switzerland’s entire economy for the year 2015.

“The U.S. is the world leader in robotics investment, and spending has recovered quickly since the financial crisis in 2009,” David Whitaker, Managing Economist at CEBR, said in a press release. “The sheer size of the economy and its large base of production in the automotive and electronic sectors make it a natural candidate for increased automation.”

Dennis Walsh, Redwood’s president for Americas and Asia-Pacific explained: “The U.S. industrial sector is leading the world in its use of robotics right across its operations. We increasingly see corporations apply the value of robotics not only in their assembly line, but also in areas such as supply chain and finance departments.”

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Robots, Jobs, and the Economy

Job displacement due to automation is a hot button issue. While some may not fear their jobs could be vulnerable to robot replacements, workers in many blue and white-collar industries worry about what the future holds. A point which Walsh touched upon in Redwood’s press release.

“Robotics and automation in manufacturing has been a contentious topic in the last 12 months.” 

This has, however, lead to discussions about how to best prepare for the seemingly inevitable disruption in employment robots will cause. The CEBR study suggests one solution is for robots to work side-by-side human employees, “There is clear evidence that points towards robotic automation in many cases being a complement for human labor, rather than a direct substitute,” Whitaker said. Furthermore, “Robotic automation is increasing the total number of jobs available – but it is also changing them,” Redwood Software’s Neil Kinson said.

Aside from increasing efficiency and productivity, robotics is also giving the world economy a significant boost. In the last five years, robotics has contributed as much as 10 percent to global GDP growth. “The research shows that the sector is one of the best places to invest today, and the returns are likely to improve as time goes on,” said Walsh.

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An Ad Agency Now Has the World’s First AI Creative Director

The Creative Genome Project

In 2015, creative planner Shun Matsuzaka of McCann Japan decided he wanted to test his personal theory that an artificial intelligence (AI) could serve as the creative director of a television commercial. He now knows whether or not he was right.

To bring his “creative genome project” to fruition, Matsuzaka and his McCann Millennials team broke down the structure of TV commercials into two halves: the creative brief and the ad elements. The creative brief includes the kind of brand, the target audience, the goal of the campaign, and the claim the ad should make. The elements of the ad include such things as celebrity, context, manner, music, tone, and key takeaways.

*3* AI Versus Human In Japanese Ad War
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Next, they created a database based on award-winning ads from the past 10 years. The team broke down each ad into its sections, tagging each piece of the creative brief and every element. These tags would form the knowledge base for their AI, which they named AI-CD β. The team believed that the system could use this data to decide what makes ads successful and, subsequently, give its human team direction on a new ad that would also succeed.

Armed with this database, AI-CD β and a human creative director, Mitsuru Kuramoto, were given the same task: create an ad for Clorets Mint Tab. The client, Mondelez, completed a form that listed elements they wanted included in the ad and told the creative directors that the intended message was “instant-effect fresh breath that lasts for 10 minutes.” The AI outputted an idea that its human team used to produce a final clip, while the all-human team headed up by Kuramoto carried on as usual.

Unlimited Automation Potential

Once completed, the two ads were shown to the public and ranked via a nationwide poll, with consumers voting for their preferred ad. Last week, Matsuzaka shared the videos and the results of the poll with attendees at the annual trade conference for UK advertisers put on by ISBA.

Can you tell which of the videos below was created by a robot or which was clearly better?

The first video was directed by the AI creative director and the second by Kuramoto. If you had trouble deciding, though, you’re in good company. The latter clip won just 54 percent of the popular vote — a relatively small margin all things considered. Interestingly, though, a group of more than 200 ISBA ad executives preferred the first video. In other words, AI-CD β has awesome creative chops.

That’s great news for the AI’s creators, but not so great for those understandably concerned about the potential for automation to disrupt the job market. While blue-collar jobs dominate almost every conversation about AI and job loss, an Oxford University study from 2013 claims that 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. will be automated within the next 20 years. Those losses are not limited to unskilled labor jobs or blue-collar trades, either. Creative, knowledge-based, and service careers are also threatened. For example, 80 percent of IT jobs will likely be automated, along with over 100,000 legal jobs.

For all of these reasons, it shouldn’t surprise us that a robot can create a TV commercial that effectively sells. In fact, someday soon we’ll probably be skipping as many robot-made commercials with our viewing technology as we do human-made ones.

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Mark Cuban: Tech Will Advance More in the Next Decade Than It Did in the Last Three

AI Will Lead to Big Money

Mark Cuban is a self-made billionaire. The world’s first trillionaires, however, will be made by artificial intelligence (AI).

That’s what the Dallas Mavericks owner reportedly said Sunday night at the 2017 SXSW Conference. He believes that, given all the advances in technology today, AI entrepreneurs are bound to be the world’s first trillion-dollar men.

“I am telling you, the world’s first trillionaires are going to come from somebody who masters AI and all its derivatives and applies it in ways we never thought of,” Cuban said. We should expect to “see more technological advances over the next ten years than we have over the last 30. It’s just going to blow everything away.”

*5* Mark Cuban: An AI Entrepreneur Will be the World’s First Trillionaire
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Cuban believes that, if you want a shot at being one of those future trillionaires, you need to prepare for it right now. “Whatever you are studying right now, if you are not getting up to speed on deep learning, neural networks, etc., you lose,” said Cuban.

The star investor of ABC reality show “Shark Tank” expanded in his vision of the future during the talk:

We are going through the process where software will automate software, automation will automate automation. I would not want to be a CPA right now. I would not want to be an accountant right now. I would rather be a philosophy major. Knowing how to critically think and assess them from a global perspective I think is going to be more valuable than what we see as exciting careers today, which might be programming or CPA or those types of things.

A Wave of Change

This change in which skills will be relevant in the coming years is born from the expectation that AI and automated systems will replace human workers in a range of jobs, both blue- and white-collar. Automation, strengthened by better AI, will disrupt the workforce, potentially taking over about 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. and 40 percent in Canada, according to studies. One possible answer to the widespread unemployment this will cause is universal basic income (UBI), but Cuban doesn’t believe that UBI would be a great solution.

What he does believe is that automation is inevitable and that we need to be prepared for it. “‘What kind of opportunity can I create that gives these people hope for jobs and the ability to live a valuable life?’ That’s what people in this room can help think of, because our current administration is not going to solve that problem by thinking they are bringing back factories,” Cuban said, obviously referencing President Trump’s labor plans.

Government’s role remains crucial, however. There’s a need for well-informed and research-based policies to guide the development of AI systems — a task the Obama administration began and that several private institutions are actively pursuing.

There’s more to AI, of course, than just taking over jobs. In fact, the technology is already transforming the way we go about our day-to-day lives, as we become increasingly dependent on devices that rely on machine learning systems and deep learning algorithms. AI is transforming the medical field, bringing better diagnosis and more effective treatments, and soon, our cars will drive themselves. Given the innumerable ways AI tech could disrupt our world, the idea that the first person to cross into trillionaire territory will do so while riding the AI wave isn’t far-fetched at all.

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Your Most-Pressing Universal Basic Income Questions Answered

What Would You Do?

So what exactly would you do, if you were guaranteed $1,000 per month for the rest of your life? And yes, that’s around what the amount would most likely be here in the United States, at least at first. So think about that amount for a moment, and don’t think about what others might do with it, think about what you would do with it. Perhaps you would do more of what you enjoy. So what is that?

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Didn’t They Try This in Russia?

You’ve compared this idea to communism, so let’s focus on that first. In doing so, let’s also talk about what was actually done in the former Soviet Union and not what was intended. What they actually did there, simply put, was transfer the means of production from those who ran the businesses based on market forces, into the hands of a bureaucracy who made decisions based not on market forces but on politics and cronyism. This is a terrible idea. But why is this a terrible idea?

The market works because it is a means of figuring out what people want, the degree to which they want it, and the means of getting it to them. Let’s take bread as an example. In Russia, they thought everyone should have bread. That was a decision made by those in power, and they then tried to make that happen, whether everyone wanted bread or not. This did not work so well, and there were shortages. Plus, those with the connections got more than enough while others got none. Trying to give bread to everyone, although noble in gesture, was a failure.

The Magic of Markets

So how do we do it here in America right now? The makers of bread make bread, and sell it to stores, so that people with the money to buy bread, can buy bread. If bread isn’t getting bought, less bread is made. If all the bread is getting bought, more bread is made. Those who make the bread aren’t making a top-down decision on how much bread to make. They are listening to market forces, and the decision is bottom-up. This is perfect, right? Just the right amount of bread is getting made and at just the right price. No, it’s not. Why? And how can this be improved?

Right now only those with the means to pay for bread have a voice for bread. We love to use the term, “voting with our dollars”. So is the outcome of that daily election accurate? Does everyone have a voice for bread? No, they don’t. There are people with no voice, because they have no dollars. The only way to make sure the market is working as efficiently and effectively as possible to determine what should be getting made, how much to make of it, and where to distribute it, is to make sure everyone has at the very minimum, the means to vote for bread. If they have that money and don’t buy bread, there’s no need to make and distribute that bread. If the bread is bought, that shows people actually want that bread. So how do we accomplish this improvement of capitalistic markets?

With Unconditional Basic Income (UBI).

By guaranteeing everyone has at the very least, the minimum amount of voice with which to speak in the marketplace for basic goods and services, we can make sure that the basics needs of life — those specific and universally important to all goods and services like food and shelter — are being created and distributed more efficiently. It makes no sense to make sure 100% of the population gets exactly the same amount of bread. Some may want more than others, and some may want less. It also doesn’t make sense to only make bread for 70% of the population, thinking that is the true demand for bread, when actually 80% of the population wants it, but 10% have zero means to voice their demand in the market. Bread makers would happily sell more bread and bread eaters would happily buy more bread. It’s a win-win to more accurately determine just the right amount.

And that’s basic income. It’s a win-win for the market and those who comprise the market. It’s a way to improve on capitalism and even democracy, by making sure everyone has the minimum amount of voice.

Can We Really Improve Capitalism or Is This Just Theory?

If you want actual evidence of how much better capitalism would work with basic income, look at the pilot project in Namibia:

“The village school reported higher attendance rates and that the children were better fed and more attentive. Police statistics showed a 36.5% drop in crime since the introduction of the grants. Poverty rates declined from 86% to 68% (97% to 43% when controlled for migration). Unemployment dropped as well, from 60% to 45%, and there was a 29% increase in average earned income, excluding the basic income grant. These results indicate that basic income grants can not only alleviate poverty in purely economic terms, but may also jolt the poor out of the poverty cycle, helping them find work, start their own businesses, and attend school.”

Think about that for a second. Crime plummeted and people given a basic income actually created their own jobs and actually ended up with even greater earnings as a result.

Or how about this psychology experiment as evidence for increased productivity?

“The participants given a choice between either two or three puzzles each spent about 5 minutes working on the puzzle they selected. But those who were also given the option not to participate spent about 7 minutes working on their selected puzzle. Explicitly choosing to do something rather than not to do it greatly increased the amount of time people spent on the task.”

This suggests that if we create the option for people to be able to choose not to work, genuinely choosing to work may result in even greater commitment, because it is suddenly a matter of choice and not force. Choice is a powerful motivator.

Speaking of motivation, what does the science have to say about money as an effective motivator for complex and creative tasks?

Larger Rewards Lead to Poorer Performance.

“This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored. I spent the last couple of years looking at the science of human motivation, particularly the dynamics of extrinsic motivators and intrinsic motivators. And I’m telling you, it’s not even close. If you look at the science, there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does… That’s actually fine for many kinds of 20th century tasks. But for 21st century tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach doesn’t work, often doesn’t work, and often does harm.” —Dan Pink

In the 21st century, as we continue quickly automating away half our jobs in the next 20 years — jobs less cognitively-complex and more physically-laborious — we need to enable ourselves to freely pursue our more creative and complex ventures. Some of the best work happening right now, is the stuff being done in our free time — that is unpaid — like Wikipedia and our many other open-source community creations, not to mention all the care work performed for our young and elderly. Basic income is a means of recognizing this unpaid work as having great societal value, and further enabling it.

Or how about the multiplier effect as evidence of enhanced capitalism?

“All those dollars low-wage workers spend create an economic ripple effect. Every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers, standard economic multiplier models tell us, adds about $1.21 to the national economy. Every extra dollar going into the pockets of a high-income American, by contrast, only adds about 39 cents to the GDP.”

This means that by redirecting that money pooling at the top doing comparatively very little, accumulating in ever increasing amounts through continual redistribution upwards from the bottom and middle of the income spectrum, and recirculating that clotted money back down to the bottom and middle, this would actually expand the entire economy while making it more sustainable and more inclusive. This is how the body works. This is how engines work. This is how systems work.

A system cannot exist in perpetuity that is designed for one-way flow. Thomas Piketty has recently demonstrated in his sweeping Capital in the 21st Century that our current system is exactly that — one way. It is up to us to create a true circulatory system for the engine of capitalism. Without monetary circulation, the system as a whole will come to a grinding halt. If Piketty is right, then holding on to an ideology of income and wealth redistribution as “theft” may just be like a heart refusing to pump blood anywhere but the brain.

Capitalism 2.0 Sounds Great and All but Can We Afford It?

Basic income is entirely affordable given all the current and hugely wastefulmeans-tested programs full of unnecessary bureaucracy that can be consolidated into it. And the cost also depends greatly on the chosen plan. A plan of $12,000 per U.S. citizen over 18, and $4,000 per citizen under 18 amounts to a revenue need of $2.98 trillion, which after all the programs that can be eliminated are rolled into it, requires an additional need of $1.28 trillion or so. So where do we come up with an additional $1.28 trillion?

• A land value tax has been estimated to be a source of revenue of about $1.7 trillion.

A flat tax of around 40% would be sufficient. Due to the way such a tax works in combination with UBI, this would effectively be a reduction in taxes for about 80% of the population.

• A 10% value added tax (VAT) has been estimated to be a source of revenue of about $750 billion. That could be increased to reach $1.3 trillion or added to other sources of additional revenue.

• These other sources of revenue could be a financial transaction tax ($350 billion), a carbon tax ($125 billion), or taxing capital gains like ordinary income and creating new upper tax brackets ($160 billion). Did you know that for fifty years — between 1932 and 1982 — the top income tax rate averaged 82%? Our current highest rate is 39%.

• There is a place in the world that already pays a regular dividend to everyone living there, universally to child and adult, through a wealth fund it has created through royalty fees paid by companies for the rights to profit from its natural resources. This place is Alaska, and the “Alaska Model”could be applied anywhere as a means of granting a basic income as the social dividend from a sovereign wealth fund of resource-based revenue.

• We could even get more creative by thinking about how we go about giving away other forms of shared resources royalty-free to corporations, like the use of our public airwaves, and patents/copyrights that should have entered the public domain long ago but haven’t thanks to corporate lobbying from those like Disney to protect their profits off of creations like Mickey Mouse. Did you know the Happy Birthday song isn’t even in the public domain? Companies should pay us instead of politicians to keep things out of the public domain, and we could use this revenue as an additional means of growing a resource-based wealth fund.

Suffice to say, there exist plenty of funding options, any one of which are more than sufficient, that if combined could potentially allow for a larger basic income, or a reduction or even elimination of income taxes entirely.

Okay, It’s Affordable… but Wouldn’t People Stop Working?

We studied this question in the 1970s here in the United States, back when Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) was a goal of President Nixon and the House even successfully passed a bill for it. The findings from the accompanying large-scale experiments done in cities like Seattle and Denverfound that surprisingly, hardly anyone actually stopped working, and instead reduced their hours slightly, with men reducing their hours the least — by a maximum of 8%. This slight reduction in hours was then replicated to even less of a degree in Canada’s Minimum Income (Mincome) experiment, with men choosing to work as little as 1% fewer hours.

Meanwhile, we find ourselves today working too much. Having drifted away from the 40-hour work week, we now find 1 out of every 3 of us working more than 50 hours, with many even working more than 60 hours. And what are the effects of this?

“New studies show that working more very seldom produces better results. Employees work many more hours now than they have in the past, but it’s coming at the expense of health, happiness, and even productivity. While it looks good to be the first to arrive and the last to leave work each day, it turns out that putting in 60 hours of work each week may do more harm than good in achieving end results. Through the data, one thing becomes extremely clear: to boost productivity and foster excellent employees, the best thing businesses can do is to bring back the 40-hour work week.”

We want to start working less. It would be good for overall productivity to be working less. In fact, in certain circumstances, we shouldn’t even be working at all. It’s called presenteeism, and happens when people refuse to call in sick.

“According to various studies, the total cost of presenteeism to U.S. employers falls anywhere between $150 billion to $250 billion each year, and those costs are on the rise as presenteeism becomes more frequent in tight economic times.”

Right now people are going to work when they actually should not be going to work, and this is having a negative effect on the entire economy and even our overall health. We need people who are feeling sick to stay home when they should be staying home and not feeling forced to work because they absolutely have to earn that money, or out of fear of losing their jobs if they actually take a sick day.

It’s kind of curious isn’t it? Here we are worrying people will work less if we guarantee a basic income, and the reality of the situation is that people are presently working too much, and it is costing all of us. Combine this with the fact there’s 3 people seeking every 1 available job, and the obvious solution is that we actually want people to be able to choose to work less, to free up more positions for those seeking jobs who are currently being excluded from the labor market.

But Still, What About Those Few Who WOULD Stop Working?

Through the elimination of the welfare trap thanks to basic income, this would mean that anyone choosing not to work — instead opting to just live off their basic incomes — would be earning less than everyone choosing to work for additional income. This could not only decrease unemployment and increase productivity, but simultaneously fix the situation we have right now, where it’s possible for the unemployed to actually earn more in equivalent benefits than the cash incomes of those who are employed.

Plus, the very ability of people to not need a job, makes it that much harder for employers to exploit employees with insufficient wages and poor working conditions. The ability to actually say “No”, means the empowerment of labor on an individual level — no unions required.

Simply put, basic income makes work actually pay.

Why Would (Insert Who You Dislike) Ever Agree to This?

The idea of basic income cuts across all party lines. From the extreme right to the extreme left, we are hearing calls for basic income. Those on the right love its potential to shrink the size of government and do away with minimum wage laws, while those on the left love its potential to reduce inequality and once and for all put an end to poverty. Basic income is not “left” or “right”. It’s forward.

So Why Should You Support Unconditional Basic Income?

Why should you have supported the abolition of slavery back in the late 19th century? Why should you have supported the right for people other than rich white men to vote? Why should you have supported our landing on the Moon? Why should you have supported the ending of the Vietnam war, or the beginning of LBJ’s war on poverty?

Because you want to make our world a better place. That’s why.

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Experts: Because of AI, Millions of People Are at Risk of Unemployment

The Future of Employment

Machines are on the rise. While they aren’t out to get you just yet — and might never be — they are already gunning for one thing: your job. If you work in the transportation industry, manufacturing, some sectors of the information technology industry, and maybe even in insurance, law, or taxation, you may already be obsolete.

The point is, increased automation is expected to dramatically disrupt worldwide employment as early as 2020. Recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are making this change possible. These developments, of course, aren’t inherently bad, but their effect on jobs will certainly present challenges. The question is, how prepared are we to meet those challenges?

*2* Expert: Because of AI, Millions of People Are At Risk of Unemployment
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In a recent post in the Bank of England’s (BOE) staff blog, BOE regional agents Mauricio Armellini and Tim Pike explored the uncertainty surrounding automation, sharing their thoughts on the effects AI and increased automation will have on labor markets:

There is growing debate in the economics community and academia about whether technological progress threatens to displace a large proportion of these jobs in the longer term … Economists looking at previous industrial revolutions observe that none of these risks have transpired. However, this possibly underestimates the very different nature of the technological advances currently in progress, in terms of their much broader industrial and occupational applications and their speed of diffusion.

Technology is moving fast, but society might not be adjusting fast enough, the pair argues:

The potential for simultaneous and rapid disruption, coupled with the breadth of human functions that AI might replicate, may have profound implications for labor markets … [E]conomists should seriously consider the possibility that millions of people may be at risk of unemployment, should these technologies be widely adopted.

Getting Ready for Robots

The BOE’s experts aren’t alone in their assessment of the situation. Several notable personalities from both the financial and tech industries have expressed their concerns regarding job displacement. However, even though they agree it’ll be a major problem, they can’t agree on what should be done about it. Elon Musk has famously endorsed universal basic income (UBI) as a potential solution. Meanwhile, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban thinks that UBI is “one of the worst possible responses” to the unemployment problem. Bill Gates isn’t too keen on UBI now, but he does think it could be a viable solution in the future.

Perhaps the best thing we can do right now is simply prepare. As automation is expected to takeover so-called lesser-skilled jobs first, there’s an opportunity for the development of better jobs. For example, we’ll need people to monitor and maintain automated systems as they are implemented. Those people will need to be trained for these so-called jobs of the future that automation will necessitate.

It’s worth investing in these solutions now. As Armellini and Pike concluded, “It would be a mistake … to dismiss the risks associated with these new technologies too lightly.”

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Universal Basic Income Could Become a Reality, Thanks to This Technology

Revolutionary Concepts

Though not an entirely new idea, universal basic income is becoming an increasingly viable and revolutionary solution to the looming job disruption due to automation. Another revolutionary concept — which is also not that new — is cryptocurrency. Some believe that the union of the two might be the answer to challenges increased automation in the workforce could present.

UBI is all about giving a regular income to people regardless of their socioeconomic status or employment condition. A fixed amount is decided on, which should ideally be enough to cover a person’s basic needs. In the context of automation, however, UBI is being explored as a means to cushion the effects of unemployment. As such, receiving basic income wouldn’t necessarily stop when a person finds a job, like government unemployment programs.

universal-basic-income-digital
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UBI is a simple concept, but as its critics point out, implementation is not so easy. For one is the issue of funding, and whether or not governments could actually approve such a program. That’s where cryptocurrencies come in.

Cryptocurrencies used to have a bad reputation, thanks to Bitcoin and its association to the dark web. However, while it is the most popular, Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency around. Recently, more cryptocurrencies have been popping up — like Ether and Zcash.

Cryptocurrencies are mined from a decentralized system of ledgers and transactions known as blockchain. In a blockchain, transactions from various sources get recorded and are kept by a network of specialized computers. Usually, these blockchain keepers are “compensated” for their efforts in maintaining in a block with cryptocurrency. This process is called mining. For every digital transaction recorded and stored, a miner is paid in Bitcoin, Ether, or Zcash, depending on which blockchain they are using.

Faster Than Government

Several governments — notably Finland’s — are already implementing a UBI trial program. However, experts say “[a] government solution to this issue will not be swiftly implemented,” according to an article in the BTC Manager. Still, several institutions have begun conducting trials of UBI programs that use cryptocurrencies.

One such program, the first of its kind, is run by a U.S.-based nonprofit called the Grantcoin Foundation. It uses a digital currency called Grantcoin (GRT) to distribute basic income to participants from all over the world. Grantcoin’s UBI program began in January 31, 2016, and has since then distributed digital coins to participants on a quarterly basis. Currently, the program is on its third leg of implementation, and has already distributed digital currency to 1,132 applicants since February of this year.

Another known UBI program running on cryptocurrencies is Daniel Jeffries’ open-source distributed application platform known as Cicada. A unique characteristic of Cicada is that it makes everyone on its network into miners, with everyone limited only to one miner. It’s also based on Distributed Proof of Work (DPoW), which is regarded as being more efficient than Bitcoin’s Proof of Work. As such, individuals can mine even on their mobile phones and get paid for it, creating a UBI system from the bottom up.

These cryptocurrencies can be converted to cash, or used directly to buy goods, eliminating the need for government to fund a UBI program.

“Basic income, and especially universal basic income, requires a secure, tamper-proof ledger that can be audited by anyone to ensure the safe delivery of funds.” — Greg Slepak, a developer for the okTurtles Foundation

Additionally, there are other cryptocurrency-based UBI programs like uCoin and Swarm, as well as Circles, which uses Ethereum. There are also UBI-like programs by Kiwicoin in New Zealand, Cubecoin, Strangecoin, the Worldwide Globals Organization, and the Basic Income Project, LLC.

As increased automation is set to disrupt employment in various industries by 2020 to 2045 — with an expected 47 percent of jobs lost in the U.S. alone —, it’s crucial to have working options. UBI is one such option. And UBI via digital currency seems an even better one.

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Your Next Burger Could Be Grilled by This Robot Chef

Robo Chief

A precise flip, timed at the right moment, can be the difference between a burger that is perfectly cooked and one that isn’t. In a burger joint, this responsibility falls to the cook who’s in charge of the grill. While that task is crucial, it isn’t free of risks — burns and cuts, plus the occasional slips and trips. It’s time the human cook gets a helping hand, or in this case, a flipping hand.

Introducing Flippy, the robotic kitchen assistant developed by Pasadena-based startup Miso Robotics. The Flippy robot is the company’s first attempt at reaching their rather unique mission of developing technology “that assists and empowers chefs to make food consistently and perfectly, at prices everyone can afford.”

Flippy is a 6-axis robotic arm mounted on a relatively small, wheeled cart. Equipped with what Miso calls a “sensor bar,” this robotic burger flipper can be installed beside or in front of any standard fryer or grill. It can “see” the burgers, buns, and cheese as they fry, thanks to its array of thermal sensors, 3D sensors, and different cameras. It can even stand aside if it’s obstructing a human cook.

Hello Automation, Good-Bye Jobs?

The kitchen is yet another industry ripe for automation. While Flippy doesn’t replace human chefs, it’s meant to free people who work in the kitchen from their more mundane tasks.

“We focus on using AI and automation to solve the high pain points in restaurants and food prep,” said Miso CEO and co-founder David Zito in an interview with TechCrunch. “The idea is to help restaurants improve food quality and safety without requiring a major kitchen redesign.”

Inventors keep finding ways to automate food preparation. While experts warn that this will inevitably reduce available jobs in this field, they may also make eating out less expensive.

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The Automation Upheaval Won’t Be Limited to Blue-Collar Jobs

The Age of Automation

Much has been said about how automation will affect employment and the economy. In almost every conversation, the looming threat of job displacement is focused on a very specific sector: the blue-collar job market.

One frequently cited study published back in 2013 by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School says that 47 percent of jobs in the US will be automated in the next 20 years. In Canada, a study conducted by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship says that 40 percent of jobs in the country will be taken over by machines in the next decade or two. In the UK, they’re predicting that 850,000 jobs will be automated by 2030. And in Southeast Asia, an estimated 137 million workers are in danger of losing their jobs in the next 20 years.

will-robots-steal-my-job
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These predictions are premised on the fact that machines are now more than capable of completing repetitive jobs that most blue-collar human workers are handling today. But technology isn’t going to stop there. Artificial intelligence (AI) is getting more sophisticated, implying that it’s not only the jobs defined by formulaic processes that are in danger, but also creative, service and knowledge-based professions.

Are Any Jobs Safe?

“We are starting to see in fields like medicine, law, investment banking, dramatic increases in the ability of computers to think as well or better than humans. And that’s really the game-changer here. Because that’s something that we have never seen before,” says Sunil Johal, a public policy expert for CBC News.

Granted, the implications of more intelligent automation on “white collar” jobs are all speculative at this point. There’s little data to support how much automation will affect that job market, mostly because experts believe its impact will be far more subtle than in blue- collar industries. In white-collar industries, there’s more opportunity to shuffle employees around, or slowly phase out jobs, which means the threat of automation won’t be as dramatic. That being said, it will change things.

Johal believes that to keep up, one must actively develop new skills that will adapt to the changing needs of the job market.

“If Canada doesn’t take this seriously, we are going to see many Canadians left on the sidelines of the labour market,” he adds. “They are not going to be able to get back into the job force.”

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Automation is Taking Over One of the Most Popular Professions

Late last year, I took a road trip with my partner from our home in New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida and as we drove by town after town, we got to talking about the potential effects self-driving vehicle technology would have not only on truckers themselves, but on all the local economies dependent on trucker salaries. Once one starts wondering about this kind of one-two punch to America’s gut, one sees the prospects aren’t pretty.

We are facing the decimation of entire small town economies, a disruption the likes of which we haven’t seen since the construction of the interstate highway system itself bypassed entire towns. If you think this may be a bit of hyperbole… let me back up a bit and start with this:

Source: NPR
Source: NPR

This is a map of the most common job in each US state in 2014.

It should be clear at a glance just how dependent the American economy is on truck drivers. According to the American Trucker Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US, and an additional 5.2 million people employed within the truck-driving industry who don’t drive the trucks. That’s 8.7 million trucking-related jobs.

We can’t stop there though, because the incomes received by these 8.2 million people create the jobs of others. Those 3.5 million truck drivers driving all over the country stop regularly to eat, drink, rest, and sleep. Entire businesses have been built around serving their wants and needs. Think restaurants and motels as just two examples. So now we’re talking about millions more whose employment depends on the employment of truck drivers. But we still can’t even stop there.

Those working in these restaurants and motels along truck-driving routes are also consumers within their own local economies. Think about what a server spends her paycheck and tips on in her own community, and what a motel maid spends from her earnings into the same community. That spending creates other paychecks in turn. So now we’re not only talking about millions more who depend on those who depend on truck drivers, but we’re also talking about entire small town communities full of people who depend on all of the above in more rural areas. With any amount of reduced consumer spending, these local economies will shrink.

One further important detail to consider is that truck drivers are well-paid. They provide a middle class income of about $40,000 per year. That’s a higher income than just about half (46%) of all tax filers, including those of married households. They are also greatly comprised by those without college educations. Truck driving is just about the last job in the country to provide a solid middle class salary without requiring a post-secondary degree. Truckers are essentially the last remnant of an increasingly impoverished population once gainfully employed in manufacturing before those middle income jobs were mostly all shipped overseas.

If we now step back and look at the big national picture, we are potentially looking at well over 10 million American workers and their families whose incomes depend entirely or at least partially on the incomes of truck drivers, all of whom markedly comprise what is left of the American middle class.

So as long as the outlook for US trucking is rosy, we’re fine, right?

The Short-Term Job Outlook of the American Trucker

The trucking industry expects to see 21% more truck driving jobs by 2020. They also expect to see an increasing shortfall in drivers, with over 100,000 jobs open and unable to find drivers to fill them. Higher demand than supply of truckers also points to higher pay, so for at least the next five years, the future is looking great for truck drivers. The only thing that could put a damper on this would be if the demand for truck drivers were to say… drive off a sharp cliff.

That cliff is the self-driving truck.

The technology already exists to enable trucks to drive themselves. Google shocked the world when it announced its self-driving car it had already driven over 100,000 miles without accident. These cars have since driven over 1.7 million miles and have only been involved in 11 accidents, all caused by humans and not the computers. And this is mostly within metropolitan areas.

“And as you might expect, we see more accidents per mile driven on city streets than on freeways; we were hit 8 times in many fewer miles of city driving.” — Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program

So according to Google’s experience, the greater danger lies within cities and not freeways, and driving between cities involves even fewer technological barriers than within them. Therefore, it’s probably pretty safe to say driverless freeway travel is even closer to our future horizon of driverless transportation. How much closer? It has already happened.

On May 6, 2015, the first self-driving truck hit the American road in the state of Nevada.

Self-driving trucks are no longer the future. They are the present. They’re here.

“AU 010.” License plates are rarely an object of attention, but this one’s special — the funky number is the giveaway. That’s why Daimler bigwig Wolfgang Bernhard and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval are sharing a stage, mugging for the phalanx of cameras, together holding the metal rectangle that will, in just a minute, be slapped onto the world’s first officially recognized self-driving truck.

According to Daimler, these trucks will be in a decade-long testing phase, racking up over a million miles before being deemed fit for adoption, but the technology isn’t even anything all that new. There’s no laser-radar or LIDAR like in Google’s self-driving car. It’s just ordinary radar and cameras. The hardware itself is already yesterday’s news. They’re just the first ones to throw them into a truck and allow truckers to sit back and enjoy the ride, while the truck itself does all the driving.

If the truck needs help, it’ll alert the driver. If the driver doesn’t respond, it’ll slowly pull over and wait for further instructions. This is nothing fancy. This is not a truck version of KITT from Knight Rider. This is just an example of a company and a state government getting out of the way of technology and letting it do what it was built to do — enable us to do more with less. In the case of self-driving trucks, one big improvement in particular is fewer accidents.

In 2012 in the US, 330,000 large trucks were involved in crashes that killed nearly 4,000 people, most of them in passenger cars. About 90 percent of those were caused by driver error.

That’s like one and a half 9/11s yearly. Human-driven trucks kill people.

Robot trucks will kill far fewer people, if any, because machines don’t get tired. Machines don’t get distracted. Machines don’t look at phones instead of the road. Machines don’t drink alcohol or do any kind of drugs or involve any number of things that somehow contribute to the total number of accidents every year involving trucks. For this same reasoning, pilots too are bound to be removed from airplanes.

Humans are dangerous behind the wheel of anything.

Robot trucks also don’t need salaries — salaries that stand to go up because fewer and fewer people want to be truckers. A company can buy a fleet of self-driving trucks and never pay another human salary for driving. The only costs will be upkeep of the machinery. No more need for health insurance either. Self-driving trucks will also never need to stop to rest, for any reason. Routes will take less time to complete.

All of this means the replacement of truckers is inevitable. It is not a matter of “if”, it’s only a matter of “when.” So the question then becomes, how long until millions of truckers are freshly unemployed and what happens to them and all the rest of us as a result?

The Long-Term Job Outlook of the American Trucker

First, let’s look at the potential time horizons for self-driving cars. Tesla intends to release a software update next month that will turn on “autopilot” mode, immediately allowing all Tesla Model S drivers to be driven between “San Francisco and Seattle without the driver doing anything”, in Elon Musk’s own words. The cars actually already have the technology to even drive from “parking lot to parking lot”, but that ability will remain unactivated by software.

Tesla-driven humans won’t be able to legally let their cars do all the driving, but who are we kidding? There will be Teslas driving themselves, saving lives in the process, and governments will need to catch up to make that driving legal. This process is already here in 2015. So when will the process end? When will self-driving cars conquer our roads?

Source: Morgan Stanley

According to Morgan Stanley, complete autonomous capability will be hereby 2022, followed by massive market penetration by 2026 and the cars we know and love today then entirely extinct in another 20 years thereafter.

Granted, this is only one estimate of many and it’s all educated guesswork. So here are some other estimates:

Take all of these estimates together, and we’re looking at a window of massive disruption starting somewhere between 2020 and 2030.

There is no turning the wheel in prevention of driving off this cliff either. Capitalism itself has the wheel now, and what the market wants, the market gets. Competition will make sure of it. Tesla and Google are not the only companies looking to develop autonomous vehicles. There are others.

A company named Veeo Systems is developing vehicles as small as 2-seaters to as large as 70-seat buses, and will be testing them in 30 US cities by the end of 2016.

At 25 to 40 percent cheaper, the cost to ride the driverless public transit vehicles will be significantly less expensive than traditional buses and trains… The vehicles are electric, rechargeable and could cost as low as $1 to $3 to run per day.

Apple is also developing its own self-driving car.

The project is code-named Titan and the vehicle design resembles a minivan, the Wall Street Journal reported… Apple already has technology that may lend itself to an electric car and expertise managing a vast supply chain. The company has long researched battery technology for use in its iPhones, iPads and Macs. The mapping system it debuted in 2012 can be used for navigation…

And Uber is developing its own self-driving car.

Uber said it will develop “key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere,” including driverless cars, vehicle safety and mapping services.

It’s this last one that fully intends to transform the transportation landscape. Uber is going all-in on self-driving vehicles to the point it wants to entirely eliminate car ownership as a 20th century relic.

Travis Kalanick, the CEO and founder of Uber, said at a conference last year that he’d replace human Uber drivers with a fleet of self-driving cars in a second. “You’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car,” he said. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.” That, he said, will “bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”

That’s the potential of self-driving cars — the outright extinction of car ownership. And with that, the elimination of entire industries built up around the existence of car ownership like: mechanics, car washes, parking, valets, body shops, rental companies, car insurance, car loans, and on and on. Even hugely expensive and capital intensive mass-transit infrastructure projects like streetcars and light rail can be dropped in favor of vastly cheaper on demand robotic “transportation clouds”, and all those construction and maintenance jobs right along with it.

Big players are already in the game. There are huge savings to be found, huge profits to be created. Higher quality and safety is assured. Driverless vehicles are coming, and they are coming fast.

But again, what about trucks specifically?

Any realistic time horizon for self-driving trucks needs to look at horizons for cars and shift those even further towards the present. Trucks only need to be self-driven on highways. They do not need warehouse-to-store autonomy to be disruptive. City-to-city is sufficient. At the same time, trucks are almost entirely corporate driven. There are market forces above and beyond private cars operating for trucks. If there are savings to be found in eliminating truckers from drivers seats, which there are, these savings will be sought. It’s actually really easy to find these savings right now.

Wirelessly linked truck platoons are as simple as having a human driver drive a truck, with multiple trucks without drivers following closely behind. This not only saves on gas money (7% for only two trucks together), but can immediately eliminate half of all truckers if for example 2-truck convoys became the norm. There’s no real technical obstacles to this option. It’s a very simple use of present technology.

Basically, the only real barrier to the immediate adoption of self-driven trucks is purely legal in nature, not technical or economic. With self-driving vehicles currently only road legal in a few states, many more states need to follow suit unless autonomous vehicles are made legal at the national level. And Sergey Brin of Google has estimated this could happen as soon as 2017. Therefore…

The answer to the big question of “When?” for self-driving trucks is that they can essentially hit our economy at any time.

The Eve of Massive Social and Economic Disruption

Main Street USA has already taken a big hit, and increasingly so, over the past few decades. Manufacturing has been shipped overseas to areas where labor is far cheaper because costs of living are far cheaper. Companies like Walmart have spread everywhere, concentrating a reduced labor force into one-stop shopping facilities requiring fewer total workers than what was needed with smaller, more numerous, and more widely spread Mom & Pop type stores. Companies like Amazon have even further concentrated this even further reduced labor force into automated warehouse centers capable of obviating stores entirely and shipping directly to consumers.

All of the above means fewer ways of securing employment in fewer places, while commerce has become more geographically concentrated and access to money has become increasingly shifted away from the bottom and middle of the income spectrum towards the top.

Source: Morgan Stanley
Source: Mother Jones

This is what happens when good-paying jobs are eliminated, and that money not spent on wages and salaries instead stays in the hands of owners of capital, or is given in smaller amounts to lower-paid employees in lower-wage jobs. Inequality grows more and more extreme and our land of opportunity vanishes. Economic growth slows to a crawl.

This is where we’re at and this is what we face as we look towards a quickly approaching horizon of over 3 million unemployed truckers and millions more unemployed service industry workers in small towns all over the country dependent on truckers as consumers of their services.

Glenrio, TX — Source: Reader’s Digest
Glenrio, TX — Source: Reader’s Digest

The removal of truckers from freeways will have an effect on today’s towns similar to the effects the freeways themselves had on towns decades ago that had sprung up around bypassed stretches of early highways. When the construction of the interstate highway system replaced Route 66, things changed as drivers drove right on past these once thriving towns. The result was ghost towns like Glenrio, Texas.

With the patience that carved the Grand Canyon over eons, nature reclaims Glenrio, where the clock stopped with the bypass of Route 66. The replacement of Route 66 with a four-lane superhighway that allowed motorists to zip past rather than wander through ultimately allowed Glenrio to decline.

With self-driving cars and trucks, here again we face the prospect of town after town being zipped past by people (if even present) choosing to instead just sleep in their computer-driven vehicles. Except this time, there is no new highway being made for businesses to relocate closer to and new towns to emerge along. This time, as is true of the effect of technology on jobs, it’s different. This time, there’s no need for entire towns to even exist at all.

The Road Left to Take

As close as 2025 — that is in a mere 10 years — our advancing state of technology will begin disrupting our economy in ways we can’t even yet imagine. Human labor is increasingly unnecessary and even economically unviable compared to machine labor. And yet we still insist on money to pay for what our machines are making for us. As long as this remains true, we must begin providing ourselves the money required to purchase what the machines are producing.

Without a technological dividend, the engine that is our economy will seize, or we will fight against technological progress itself in the same way some once destroyed their machine replacements. Without non-work income, we will actually fight to keep from being replaced by the technology we built to replace us.

Just as our roads a decade from now will be full of machine drivers instead of human drivers, a 21st century economy shall be driven by human consumers, not human workers, and these consumers must be freely given their purchasing power. If we refuse, if we don’t provide ourselves a universal and unconditional basic income soon, the future is going to hit us like a truck — a truck driven solely by ourselves.

To allow this to happen would be truly foolish, for what is the entire purpose of technology but to free us to pursue all we wish to pursue? Fearing the loss of jobs shouldn’t be a fear at all. It should be welcomed. It should be freeing.

No one should be asking what we’re going to do if computers take our jobs.

We should all be asking what we get to do once freed from them.

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One Fast Food Chain Is Adding Automated Kiosks to 1,000 of Its Restaurants in 2017

Experts have predicted that machines will take over a good number of jobs in the next five to ten years, but for a Dublin-based Wendy’s the automation began last year with their self-ordering kiosks. The demand for the technology has been rather high, coming from both costumers and franchise owners.

“There is a huge amount of pull from (franchisees) in order to get them,” according to the Wendy’s chief information officer David Trimm, speaking during the company’s investors’ day. “With the demand we are seeing … we can absolutely see our way to having 1,000 or more restaurants live with kiosks by the end of the year.”

Image credit: Wendy's
Image credit: Wendy’s

Obviously, these kiosks would cut labor costs: “They are looking to improve their automation and their labor costs, and this is a good way to do it,” said Darren Tristano, VP at food-service research and consulting firm Technomic. “They are also trying to enhance the customer experience. Younger customers prefer to use a kiosk.”

“They always are courteous. They always show up for work on time,” Bob Welcher, president of Restaurant Consultants Inc., joked about the kiosks last year.

As automation reaches the food industry, Wendy’s is taking the lead. It helps that the kiosks are made in-house, at the company’s 90 Degrees lab on North High Street in the University District. “So we know that the things we build work,” Trimm said.

Wendy’s is the third largest burger chain in the world, after McDonald’s and Burger King. In the United States, around 49 million consumers go to Wendy’s each month, and self-serve kiosks could definitely help those numbers climb higher.

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Bill Gates: The World Isn’t Ready for Universal Basic Income Now, But We Will be Soon

Income for All

In theory, a universal basic income (UBI) would be great. Under such a system, all citizens of a country are entitled to an unconditional amount of money on top of income they already generate through other means. It could spur productivity, improve health, alleviate poverty, reduce crime, raise education, and improve quality of life. It’s also especially relevant, given the reality of automation taking over more and more jobs.

UBI pilot programs
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UBI’s potential has prompted several nations to study and test its viability. Among the pioneers are Finland, which just started implementing a UBI program that gives 2,000 randomly selected citizens $587 tax-free per month; India, which proposed the system as a solution to job loss caused by increased automation; and Canada, which saw leaders of four political parties unanimously support the decision to establish a program that will guarantee income.

It’s all going well so far, but until the trials are able to deliver definitive results showing UBI’s effectiveness, we are left to ponder the many questions surrounding it. For instance, how much income should be distributed? Should it be limited to the minimum needed, similar to welfare state programs? Would a higher amount be more effective? Would UBI prompt people to lose their motivation to work? Is it enough of a response to address job displacement caused by automation? Can countries around the world afford it?

Bill Gates Weighs In

The urgency that most UBI advocates feel, given the current state of the economy and realities of job displacement, isn’t shared by Bill Gates. While the co-chair of the Gates Foundation isn’t exactly opposed to the concept, he doesn’t think the program is ready for public implementation just yet.

“Over time, countries will be rich enough to do this. However, we still have a lot of work that should be done — helping older people, helping kids with special needs, having more adults helping in education,” said Gates during a recent AMA on Reddit.

While others worry about impending employee displacement in the age of automation, Gates believes that technology will open more opportunities for countries, allowing them to raise money that could be used to finance sectors that need people in the jobs he mentioned. Governments can use this added income as an opportunity to train the unemployed to fill new roles in the job market.

Gates also added during his AMA that countries aren’t financially equipped to finance a stable UBI program. “Even the U.S. isn’t rich enough to allow people not to work. Someday we will be, but until then, things like the Earned Income Tax Credit will help increase the demand for labor.”

The Microsoft co-founder could be right and now may not be the right time for a UBI, but thanks to the countries giving it a shot, we should know for sure rather soon.

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Mark Cuban: Universal Basic Income Is “One of the Worst Possible Responses” to Automation

Not a Fan

When business mogul Mark Cuban tweeted his concerns over the imminent unemployment that could stem from increased automation, Scott Santens assumed that the Dallas Mavericks owner was out to support universal basic income (UBI). Santens, a UBI advocate, replied to Cuban’s tweet, welcoming Cuban into “Team #Basicincome.” Cuban, however, flat out responded by saying that he wasn’t in favor of UBI. “I think it’s one of the worst possible responses,” he replied to Santens.

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In the above conversation, Santens tried to convince Cuban of the merits of a UBI program. One of the arguments he put forward is what he calls the ‘entrepreneurial effect of basic income’. Cuban replied, saying that he has “spent a lot of time looking at [UBI]. I don’t see those countries [running a basic income program] as being apples to apples.” Cuban also said that there are existing safety net programs today “that need to be more efficient so more money can be distributed with far less overhead.”

UBI Basics

Under a UBI program, citizens receive a fixed, regular income from the government regardless of their financial background, employment status, or other qualities. The only qualification is that the recipients are citizens, and typically that they are of legal adult age. One reason behind testing a basic income program, proponents argue, is that it offers a better alternative to existing social welfare programs. Santens told Cuban that current welfare programs “create disincentives” for people to seek jobs. Cuban said it’s something that “can be fixed.”

UBI isn’t a new idea. Recent concerns over job displacement due to automation, however, have given the UBI discussion a new spark. UBI advocates include economists from various countries and some of the tech industry’s top leaders.

As of today, there are also several pilot programs running basic income setups. There’s one in Finland, one in Kenya through a charity organization called GiveDirectly, and there is even one that’s blockchain-based courtesy of Grantcoin.

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Mark Cuban: We Need to Prepare for When Robots Replace Human Workers

A Warning and a Question

Dallas Mavericks owner and business mogul Mark Cuban has joined other technology leaders in warning about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and robots on jobs. In an interview with CNBC, Cuban warned about the loss of jobs due to increased automation in the very near future. The interview was followed by a tweet and a link to an article.

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“I’m willing to bet that these companies building new plants … this will lead to fewer people being employed,” Cuban told CNBC, saying that “people aren’t going to have jobs.” Cuban echoed the sentiments of some of the tech industry’s top hats, including Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The Mavericks boss, however, also asked a very important question: “How does [Trump] deal with displaced workers?” Thus far, the new administration hasn’t provided any clear plans on how to handle the issue, but maybe Cuban’s inquiry will prompt a response.

Automation Is Here

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A number of studies have predicted that AI and robots are bound to take over a good number of jobs. One study predicts that around 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. alone will be replaced by automated systems, with 7 percent of these on track to be replaced as early as 2025. Job displacement will affect various industries, including transportation, manufacturing, information technology, and even law.

Automation is changing not just the state of jobs but possibly even the meaning of work. The previous administration had suggestions on how to deal with this, and several experts have also weighed in, with many asserting that automation itself isn’t a bad thing. One particular solution being pushed around is universal basic income (UBI). Several institutions have already begun UBI experiments to test how feasible and effective such a program would be.

As automation comes for many of the world’s jobs, Cuban’s question remains: What are we doing about it?

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Bill Gates Says Job Stealing Robots Need to Pay Taxes

New Rules

It’s possible that robots will take over some human jobs. In fact, it seems like it could be only a matter of time before they do. Increasing automation will lead to massive job displacement, and less people working means less employed citizens paying taxes. So, the question is, how will communities make up the difference if automation is inevitable in the future of employment?

Co-founder of Microsoft Bill Gates suggests that robots that take human jobs should pay taxes.

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“Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, Social Security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” Gates explained in an interview with Quartz.

This robot tax money could be taken from what companies would save given the efficiencies that an automated workforce provides them, or a tax imposed on companies that employ robots. The collected taxes could be used for anything from the care of the elderly or to support youth projects in public schools. Gates believes there will be little resistance from companies that employ a robot workforce.

Making Up the Difference

Half of jobs today are already at risk of becoming obsolete due to automation, and evidence of an industrial future defined by an automated workforce is steadily building. According to a report by McKinsey, about 60 percent of all occupations could have 30 percent, or more, of their activities automated with technology that exists today. And, as technology rapidly advances, those numbers will only climb higher.

Gates’ tax idea has already been proposed by European Union lawmakers, but the law was rejected. Another proposal that looks to also provide a solution is the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI), which tech industrialist Elon Musk is a strong proponent of.

Regardless of what solution is put into place or how governments will treat taxes and a waning organic workforce in the age of automation, Gates asserts that this is something that people should start talking about now:

“Exactly how you’d do it, measure it, you know, it’s interesting for people to start talking about now. There will be some great conversations and be some ideas about new investments that can be made.”

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Expert: We Can Have Universal Basic Income and Jobs

Basic Income and Jobs

The debate about the effectiveness of a universal basic income (UBI) program has been fueled by concerns over job displacement due to increased automation. Several studies have shown that a number of jobs from several industries — including transportation, manufacturing, finance, law, and even IT — are going to be affected by this trend. This has generated support for UBI from a number of economic experts and tech industry giants, including Elon Musk.

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Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) proponents also see UBI as a better alternative to current social welfare programs. Brad Voracek, who holds a degree in Applied Mathematics in Economics and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s in Economic Theory and Policy from the Levy Institute at Bard College, shared his thoughts on how proponents of BIG and Job Guarantee (JG) shouldn’t be at odds with one another.

“Supporters of either of these policies should be working together to get either one implemented and we can debate adding the other later,” Voracek writes in The Minskys. “Today, we need to move beyond our current disjointed welfare system to one that will help Americans, and either policy (or both!) seems like a step in the right direction.”

A Better Alternative

In the article, Voracek also tackles several of the arguments against UBI.

Contrary to what some critics say, he doesn’t see UBI as incentivizing not having a job. “I haven’t seen any proof an income stops people from working,” he writes. “It’s all speculation.” He also points out that many of the jobs that are available to those who qualify for the current welfare system aren’t beneficial to society.

“We have to keep abject poverty as a social option so that people keep working at McDonalds making the McObese, and keep stocking the Wal-Mart shelves so that Wal-Mart can pay starvation wages which allow people to be eligible for the [welfare] in the first place,” says Voracek. “I’m not really sure those are the jobs that need to be done.”

Voracek has a plan on how we should pay for a new system as well. He argues that the total cost of the welfare programs currently in place is higher than the potential cost of UBI, so we could get rid of all of those programs (with the exception of the complicated Medicaid) and apply all of that money to a singular UBI program.

At the moment, it’s all about trying it out. “Let’s see what happens when everyone has some cash on hand,” Voracek writes. “BIG and JG proponents, let’s not quibble. We’re on the same side. There’s work to be done. Get organized. Make it happen.”

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The Next Blue Collar Job? Coding

The Evolution of the Workforce

It almost shouldn’t come as a surprise. In an age defined by advancements in the tech industry, it was only a matter of time before the traditional paradigms set by the industrial revolution had to change.

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The sophistication of today’s technology means factories are turning to computers instead of human employees to get the job done. According to a joint study conducted by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School, “[…] 47 percent of jobs in the US are ‘at risk’ of being automated in the next 20 years.” A Ball State University study concluded that almost nine out of 10 jobs have been lost to automation since 2000, and a factory in China just saw a 250 percent increase in production after replacing 90 percent of its workforce with automated systems.

However, as demand for physical labor goes down, other opportunities are arising, and according to Clive Thompson of Wired, the next big blue-collar job will be coding.

Opportunities in IT and Beyond

The information technology industry is expected to grow faster than almost any other, with some predicting a 12 percent growth between 2014 to 2024. The problem lies in the fact that coding will require a different technical skill set than much of today’s blue collar work. But thankfully, many employers are responding to the needs of the evolving job market by attempting to make code learning more accessible.

Silicon Valley giants like Google have initiatives designed to engage and teach anyone interested in programming. Schools are working to introduce coding as early as high school, while various other institutions are offering intensive code-learning programs. This level of education and exposure to coding won’t necessarily give these future coders the knowledge to create complex AI algorithms, but it would be enough to qualify them for a well-paying, reliable job in the IT department.

It should also be noted that coding opportunities reach far beyond the tech industry. Silicon Valley employs only eight percent of the coders in the U.S., and according to one study, half of all programming openings are in industries outside of technology, such as finance, manufacturing, and healthcare. There’s also the draw of compensation. The national average salary for IT jobs is double the national average for all jobs: $81,000 annually.

It’s now a matter of demystifying coding as a profession that only gifted computer prodigies are capable of learning. As Thompson points out in his article, several of the skills needed to be successful at blue collar occupations like coal mining — intense focus, an ability to function within a team, a level of comfort working with engineering tech, etc. — could easily translate into coding. Once people realize that it is a highly specialized skill but one that they can learn to do well, coding has the potential to open more doors to employment in the age of automation.

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Production Soared After This Factory Replaced 90% of Its Employees With Robots

The Rise of the Robot Workforce

It’s hard to argue against automation when statistics are clearly illustrating its potential. The latest evidence comes out of a Chinese factory in Dongguan City. The factory recently replaced 90 percent of its human workforce with machines, and it led to a staggering 250 percent increase in productivity and a significant 80 percent drop in defects.

Changying Precision Technology Company’s factory used to need 650 human workers to produce mobile phones. Now, the factory is run by 60 robot arms that work around the clock across 10 production lines. Only 60 people are still employed by the company — three are assigned to check and monitor the production line, and the others are tasked with monitoring computer control systems. Any remaining work not handled by humans is left in the capable hands of machines.

According to Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the factory, the number of people employed could drop to just 20, and given the level of efficiency achieved by automation, it won’t be long before other factories follow in their footsteps.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Employee Displacement

This efficiency comes at a price, though: our jobs. In fact, according to a joint study conducted by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School, “[…] 47 percent of jobs in the US are ‘at risk’ of being automated in the next 20 years.”

And these won’t just be factory jobs, either. At the rate that robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are advancing, machines will soon be able to take over tasks in a variety of industries and do them just as well as, if not better than, humans. This early into our inevitably automated future, we already have robot lawyers capable of defending parking ticket violations, an AI that can deliver a medical diagnosis as well as a human doctor, robot “journalists,” and even AI therapists that can outperform their human counterparts in terms of drawing out necessary personal information from patients.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of human employment in the age of automation is already apparent, and machines are poised to keep getting better and better at what they do. Fortunately, governments and private organizations are putting some serious thought into this subject and have come up with some potential solutions to address widespread employee displacement.

Among those is universal basic income (UBI),  a system in which all citizens of a country receive an unconditional amount of money on top of income they generate through other means. Pilot studies in countries like India, Canada, and Finland have already begun, and thus far, they’ve delivered promising results. It’s too early to say if UBI could address widespread job loss due to automation head on, but it could ultimately prove to be an empowering economic move as we make the transition.

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Bill Nye: This is The Technology Can We Expect to Have 50 Years From Now

Bill Nye, everyone’s favorite science guy, recently appeared on the youtube series Big Think to answer a very difficult question from a young engineering student: “What technology can we expect to have 50 years from now?” Thinking back 50 years from 2017, it would have been impossible to imagine in 1967 that we would soon have computers, cameras, calculators, and phones all in our pockets and that jetpacks and flying cars would be a reality. So this was a difficult question to answer.

Bill spoke at length about the crossroads we find ourselves approaching, and that what might have been easy to predict before is now much more challenging. However, he hopes that in 50 years, at least 80% of our energy will be made using renewable resources. He also thinks that almost all cars will be both autonomous self-driving vehicles and powered by electricity. And while he discussed the grim possibilities of our future, he recognized that the progressive influence of younger generations can give us hope.

Though rising automation makes some fear job loss, many believe that if a universal basic income is implemented alongside these growing developments in automation, companies and citizens alike would benefit.

According to Bill Nye, “either, in the next decade or fifteen years, the US becomes the world leader in renewable technologies or the US just continues to divide the rich and the poor and global climate change gets stronger and stronger and the ocean gets bigger and bigger as it gets warmer and the quality of life for a lot of people goes down. We’ll see.”

Bill’s a cheerful guy, as you can see; either way, he emphasized, “I want you to change the world!”

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Today, No Degree Means No Job

Skills Gap

Amid heated discussions of employee displacement due to automation and outsourcing, the fact that employers of traditionally low-skill jobs are now placing a premium on college degrees is getting overshadowed.

Siemens Energy Inc.

“In our factories, there’s a computer about every 20 or 30 feet,” Eric Spiegel, former president and chief executive of Siemens USA, told the New York Times. “People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today.” The same goes for John Deere dealerships, where employees are often tasked with fixing tractors and harvesters. The traditional toolbox has been replaced by a computer that requires advanced math, comprehension, and problem-solving skills to operate.

As more companies incorporated various technologies into their business models over the years, the need for employees with more sophisticated skills and credentials increased. Now, not only have the jobs themselves evolved, but many companies are using a lack of a bachelor’s degree as a simple way to weed out less-desirable candidates. This means that a lot of factory-floor jobs aren’t going to be open to people without a college diploma, even if those people would be otherwise qualified for them.

Pursuing some form of post-secondary education is an obvious route for many, but only 44 percent of high school graduates enroll in a four-year program right after school, and fewer than half of those students will finish their degrees in four years’ time. Traditionally, two-year programs and community colleges have been used to bridge the skills gap, but they often end with students getting some kind of generic training or degree that still falls short of employers’ expectations.

Competing with Automation

Rapid changes in our technological landscape are demanding more from human workers because machines are now capable of delivering more, and contrary to what President Trump has said throughout his campaign and into his presidency, members of the working class aren’t losing most of their jobs to offshoring and globalization. In fact, a Ball State University study has concluded that almost nine out of 10 jobs have been lost to automation since 2000.

As automated systems continue to improve, this disconnect between the number of workers and the number of jobs they are qualified to fill is only going to grow. The job market in the age of automation is going to get even more competitive, so we need to find better ways to bridge the gap and put more people to work.

For employers, bachelor degrees are considered a validation of an applicant’s skill set and propensity to do well in a job. To some degree, they could be right, but experience gained through apprenticeship programs or on-the-job training is also a good way to assess potential. Those options are also a great way for young people to avoid costly student loans or the nerve-wracking process of hunting for a job after graduation. “Apprenticeships can start with a job and end with a Ph.D.,” said Noel Ginsburg, president and founder of Intertech Plastics in Denver.

Though it may be an easy way to cut down on the number of applicants for a job, a degree shouldn’t be the only thing employers look for in potential employees. Ultimately, we need to find other ways of judging an applicant’s past performance and suitability for the workplace. Pushing for education is important, but in this era of rapid technological advancement, it has to be combined with human adaptability and initiative, two skills that might prove to be the most valuable characteristics an employee can bring to the job site.

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This Robot Barista Is Faster Than a Human, and It Just Started Work in San Fran

Gordon is a robotic arm that serves coffee in a San Francisco shopping complex. It’s the first robotic barista in the U.S., and it could serve about 120 coffees in an hour. “A lot of us spend a lot of time in line waiting for coffee,” Henry Hu, CEO of Cafe X Technologies, the local start-up that created the robot, tells USA Today. “And we decided to do something about it.”

Cafe X Technologies built a toll-booth sized stall to house Gordon, and customers can approach the stall or order via a mobile app. Gordon can serve seven drinks, including espressos and cafe lattes, for about $2.25 to $2.95 per 8-ounce cup. This system won’t get your name wrong, either. After choosing their type of drink, flavor, and intensity of flavor, customers enter a mobile number to get a four-digit code and then pay. When their drink is ready, they receive a text message.

Gordon is an example of how automated systems are replacing jobs bit by bit. “We’re an inflection point where technology will get smarter and smarter, and adapt to people — for years, it was just the opposite,” says Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty.

Automation and digitization are expected to displace jobs in several industries, including manufacturing, clerical and public services, legal work, and even IT. How we will deal with that loss is still up for debate, with potential solutions including advanced education and universal basic income (UBI).

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New Study Predicts Nearly Half of All Work Will Be Automated

Automation Invasion

According to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, nearly half of all the work we do will be able to be automated by the year 2055. However, a variety of factors, including politics and public sentiment toward the technology, could push that back by as many as 20 years. An author of the report, Michael Chui, stressed that this doesn’t mean we will be inundated with mass unemployment over the next decades. “What we ought to be doing is trying to solve the problem of ‘mass redeployment,’” Chui tells Public Radio International (PRI). “How can we continue to have people working alongside the machines as we go forward?”

The report suggests that the move toward automation will also bring with it a global boost in productivity: “Based on our scenario modeling, we estimate automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually.” Removing the capacity for human error and dips in speed due to illness, fatigue, or general malaise can help boost productivity in any task capable of being automated.

Many of the discussions on automation surround how it will impact manual labor. However, while it’s easy to see how robotics can take over precise and repetitive manufacturing tasks, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing for more cognition-based tasks to be taken over by computers as well. Chui stated, “In about 60 percent of occupations, over 30 percent of the things that people do could be automated — either using robots or artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, all of these technologies that we’re hearing more and more about.”

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Sächsische Maschinenfabrik in Chemnitz, Germany, 1868. Public Domain

What About Workers?

Chui believes that mass redeployment is how the workforce will endure the job loss. The report cites the shift from agriculture to industry as another point in history during which mass redeployment occurred. For example, over the course of the 20th century and into today, the United States has moved from having 40 percent of the workforce in agriculture to only less than two percent. “We don’t have 30 percent unemployment because, in fact, we found new things for people to do in the economy,” Chui says. “So we have … historically been able to do that.”

However, the switch from automation isn’t as clear-cut as one from agriculture to industry. The industrial revolution created new roles for masses of people along with machines having a bigger part to play in farming. Automation may create some new roles for some highly skilled workers, but others, especially low-skill workers, will be left without any inherent positions. This is why some experts are heralding universal basic income (UBI) as the only way to ensure the livelihoods of displaced workers.

During his administration, President Obama saw that automation and UBI would begin to enter into our political debates. We are in the infancy of these ideas, but serious conversations need to start if we want to be ready to preemptively tackle these issues before we’re forced to by circumstance.

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The Bottom Line: Is a UBI System Economically Feasible?

Income for Everyone

Much has been said, both in favor of and against, universal basic income (UBI). Those who don’t agree with the system dismiss it as a socialist idea. Those who are in favor see it as a chance to reform social welfare programs and a viable solution to the problem of job displacement due to automation and digitization. What is clear, though, is that a UBI program would present a significant change in public policy.

UBI can be summed up as a regular, unconditional cash payment to each individual in a society. It is universal because it considers nothing beyond the person’s belonging to that society; their economic status, employment state, and even level of education are of no relevance. Various schemes of implementation are available, such as whether the payment is distributed monthly or yearly or as a lump sum. For example, in the case of Finland’s pioneer UBI program, the basic income is given monthly.

A unique compilation of papers discussing UBI, “Can Less Work Be More Fair?,” prepared by Australia-based think tank The Green Institute, offers many perspectives into how UBI could be beneficial. Among these papers is one written by Frank Stilwell, a professor emeritus in political economy at the University of Sydney. Stilwell is the coordinating editor of the Journal of Australian Political Economy and is on the editorial boards of Regional Studies, Social Alternatives, and Australian Options, among other things.

Can We Afford It?

One of the primary things UBI critics often bring up is funding. Is funding a UBI program feasible? In his article, Stilwell provides an answer by considering the economic ramifications of implementing a UBI program.

For starters, Stilwell notes that the time is right for UBI:

We have wealth on a scale unknown to previous generations, but we now need to distribute it more equitably and use it more wisely. We can collectively afford social policies, such as a UBI, that would have been impractical in previous eras. The current low-inflation environment is propitious because it does not have the macroeconomic stresses that were evident when UBI was previously being widely discussed in the 1970s and 80s.

Stilwell also mentions that technological changes, i.e., automation, are making UBI a necessity as these changes challenge “conventional assumptions about continuous full-time waged employment as the principal means of generating income.” UBI can also help solve the unequal distribution of income as it “would help provide the necessary income floor.”

Pixabay
Pixabay

To the question of costs, Stilwell provides an answer as well:

The question of how to fund a UBI is fundamental. General taxation is the obvious revenue source. Depending on the level at which the UBI were set and the extent to which it replaced other welfare payments, it would comprise a substantial share of total government spending, probably somewhere in the $100 billion to $300 billion range annually. Consideration could be given to funding it out of a particular earmarked revenue source. Inheritance tax is one such possibility that might be appropriate (as a means of establishing more inter-generational equality of opportunity). 

Stilwell goes on to talk about the cyclical nature of capitalist economic systems, with those governments regularly experiencing periods of deficit:

Because a UBI would be an expenditure commitment that is on-going whatever the state of the economy, there is a potential problem of funding it from more cyclically volatile revenue sources. Cyclical variations in budget deficits are already a feature of public finance but could potentially become more pronounced with a UBI.

He sees that situation as being both a positive and a negative, though, as it would provide citizens with a short-term cushion during times of recession, but also put into question whether a UBI system could be sustained for a longer period of time.

Implementing a UBI system isn’t impossible, really, if one puts an effort into it. Certainly, such a program would require a great deal of planning and careful implementation, which is why the countries that are considering it have opted for pilot programs first. As Stilwell concludes in his article, however, discussing UBI might be just as important as actually reaching a decision on whether or not to implement such a system: “The UBI proposal is important to consider because it … directs our attention to the all-important questions of ends and means: ‘What sort of society do we want?’ and ‘How should we restructure our economy so that the desired social outcomes can be achieved?’”

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A Timeline to Unemployment: When Will Robots Really Replace Workers?

No Definitive Timeframe

As many studies have predicted, we are globally moving toward more automated workplaces. Indeed, most experts already believe that the rise of automation is inevitable. One popular and often cited study published in 2013 by Oxford University and the Oxford Martin School predicts, for instance, that 47 percent of jobs in the United States will be automated in the next 20 years. Forrester, meanwhile, thinks that about 7 percent of jobs in the U.S. will be automated by 2025.

And the U.S. isn’t the only country focused on this trend. A study by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship predicts that 40 percent of Canadian jobs will be replaced by machines in just 10 to 20 years. In the U.K., meanwhile, an expected 850,000 jobs will be automated by 2030. Then there’s a report conducted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that talks about how 137 million workers in Southeast Asia could lose their jobs in (again) the next 20 years.

All these studies seem to have the same general timeframe for when automation will significantly disrupt the job market. Two new studies, however, think it won’t be that fast.

A study by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that the transition to a machine-dominated workplace will happen at a slower, more gradual pace than what others think. In a survey of more than 2,000 activities across 800 jobs, the study determined which tasks could be automated and which jobs were ripe for automation. Their conclusion? Only 5 percent of jobs can be entirely automated with “currently demonstrated technology.” This position is echoed in a report published in 2016 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED), which concluded that only an average of 9 percent of jobs could be automated across its 21-member countries.

“This is going to take decades,” said James Manyika, author of the first report and director at McKinsey. “How automation affects employment will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible, which is what technologists tend to focus on.” The other factors at play include the economy, government regulations, and society’s attitude toward this new tech. In their estimation, 2055 is the soonest that half of the world’s work activities could be automated.

An Inevitable Future

One thing all these reports agree on is the fact that workplace automation will happen, and in some cases, it has already begun. There’s WalmartAmazon Go, a Japanese life insurance firm, and Barclays, not to mention the boom of self-driving vehicles. The industries that will be experiencing this job displacement gets more and more varied, everything from factories to office desks. Stifling this development, clearly, won’t be the right move forward.

Ultimately, automation is a good thing, with the potential to benefit the global economy in the long run, so perhaps rather than focusing on when it’ll happen, the conversation should center on what can be done to help those whose jobs will be affected by widespread automation.

In the case of the world’s governments, more involvement via policy-making is key. One policy in particular that’s gaining attention alongside the automation issue is universal basic income (UBI), with some countries already testing out UBI systems to see if they could help with future unemployment. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has proposed an increase in education to counter automation.

Whether automation reaches a tipping point in 2025, 2030, or 2055, we still have time to prepare and adjust, so continued research like that out of McKinsey and OCED will help illuminate the best path forward.

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