My latest article on Impakter, here’s the start:
It’s become conventional wisdom that technological progress destroys jobs but also creates new ones balancing out the loss after a painful period of adjustment. Painful for those out of a job who are too old or unable to learn new skills. It’s also conventional wisdom that with the tech revolution unleashed by Silicon Valley, this time will be different. That the jobs destroyed by Artificial Intelligence (AI), by computers and robots, will never be replaced. Tech entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Altman in the lead, and a growing number of politicians and social scientists, are however confident that they have a solution: Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Is UBI really a solution? And how serious is the disruption caused by automation of tasks and are most jobs left for humans only the low-paid ones in personal services? Is there another, better solution?
Here, I will argue that the disruption is not likely to be as devastating as predicted in most current studies with scary titles like “How The Robots Will Take Away Your Jobs and Kill The Economy”. And in any case, there’s another, better solution than UBI: Supplementary income to top up the difference and make non-automated jobs pay better. Call it: Utility-Added Income (UAI) – because it would recognize the utility (the value, the usefulness) to the whole community of jobs that are undervalued by the market in an AI-filled world, like personal services, nurses, care-givers, teachers.
So, in an AI-filled world, are we facing a devastating disruption in the job market, with permanent unemployment for the majority of humans? To be fair, not all tech titans and artificial intelligence experts think a tech Armageddon is around the corner.
One famous scientist, Fai Ku Lee, thinks otherwise. He developed the world’s first speaker-independent, continuous speech recognition system as his Ph.D thesis at Carnegie Mellon. This is a man worth listening to, he knows what he’s talking about, he once worked for Apple and Google and is now a successful Chinese venture capitalist based in Beijing, helping China become a leader in AI. He is also a best selling author and in the closing section of his latest book, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order, he explains how creativity and compassion are the key to creating lasting and non-replacement jobs in an AI-filled future.
The Explosion in UBI Experiments
Fai Ku Lee’s reassuring words notwithstanding, people are in a panic. There is a plethora of UBI experiments around the world, as this map (updated to 3 April 2019) illustrates:
In the U.S., UBI research is fast becoming serious business. Four Stanford graduate researchers are currently setting up a platform to map UBI research that should come online soon in 2019. The aim, as they explain, is “to provide pertinent summaries of articles, research papers, books produced on UBI to date, highlighting important findings from each and ensuring that core areas such as health, crime, stigma, childhood poverty and gender equity are covered”.
There is even a UBI Cities Toolkit called Basic Income In Cities: A Guide to City Experiments and Pilot Projects. Launched in early November 2018 at the National League of Cities annual meeting, the toolkit highlights emerging practices and shares insights on the process of designing UBI experiments “in ways that are ethical, rigorous, informative and consequential for local and national policymaking”.
Unquestionably, even if some people like Fai Ku Lee see a silver lining in the AI revolution, most experts do not and the world is on a UBI research binge.
The most advanced experiments are in Finland and Kenya. Let’s take a look at both. Note that I’m not including here the “redditto di cittadinanza” (citizen’s income) that the populist Italian government started distributing last month because it hasn’t been set up as a UBI experiment with a control group. It’s merely political pork to fill a 5 Star Movement electoral promise. But even the best of UBI experiments have not given satisfactory results, and here’s why.
What’s Wrong with UBI Experiments
To find out what’s wrong with UBI and what my proposed solution is, please go to Impakter, click here. If you have a minute to write a comment either here or on Impakter, please do, I’d love to hear what you think!