Recently I have been reading AI Superpowers (2018) by Kai-Fu Lee. While reading this work there is considerable discussion as to what happens to people and work as AI systems and/or robotics take over large parts of the work that people do now. While the estimates are all over the place as to what jobs and how many jobs are at risk, there is the concern that as computers, AI and robotics improve in the coming years that there will be a large displacement of people as jobs simply disappear for humans. While in the past these things happened, where one set of jobs disappeared, it was always accompanied by a new set of jobs being created that needed to be done with the overall net effect of the workforce ending better off after a while.
The concern is that a combined AI and robotics could result in the demand for work by people overall dropping over time as more and more of the workforce becomes computerized and not as many people are needed to do the same amount of work.
One thought that does occur to me is the recent discussions about Universal Basic Income, sometimes referred to as UBI, could help with this situation. As far as I understand the thinking, the idea is that everyone would be given some level of basic income every month to do as they wished with it. The criticism of such efforts is that at the moment no government entity can really afford such plans on a large scale, plus it is not clear what the benefit of doing such a thing would be for anyone, especially if the government entity making the payments has to borrow to make them meaning that eventually such payments would have to come to an end as said government entity was no longer able to tax and borrow to continue the payments. In order to properly do a UBI system, government entities would need to be funding such payments out of current tax revenue and probably really need to pay off most or all of any outstanding government entity borrowings.
My hope is that there is a path forward where once robotics and AI reach the point where the firms using such a workforce would be able to make the tax payments necessary to start UBI programs that were sustainable. At some point if the UBI amounts were large enough, which I believe is possible decades from now, people would be able to chose if they wanted to work or not or do whatever they felt like doing, without worrying about how they were going to make enough money to live on. I hope to shortly write a book about this and how I see we could transition from the current system to one where most of the workforce was computer AI or robotics and how UBI would allow people their part in the system.
While some people in a UBI system might simply do nothing all day, there are other people that even if they didn’t have to work, would still want to work and create things. There are also some things that even with a full computerized AI or robotics workforce may still be too hard for such systems and needs a person to do the work.
As an example of something that I think would take a long time and maybe never be able to be done in a cost efficient manner by robots is something simple like cleaning up the trash that is all over the place. Today, while driving to my friends business from my Worcester apartment to The Citadel in Groton, CT, along I-290 and then I-395, I noticed that just about every single foot of highway has some kind of trash on it! All 70 miles or so of my trip had trash on the side of the road. From my car I could see sparkles of plastic, glass, bottles, pieces of paper, plastic bags and all kinds of assorted trash. While I can see a robot doing that kind of clean up, I can’t see that it would be anywhere near cost effective and would really need a person to do that kind of work. While some people may think of picking up trash as not glamorous work, it is something that will need to be done at some point if we are to keep pollution out of the ecological system and the water supply.
Last night my friend Bob sent me a link about a group with special ship and boom who are cleaning up some of the floating trash collections that are in the Pacific Ocean:
The article mentions the group hopes to clean up half of one of the two trash groups that has formed in the Pacific Ocean within five years. If they can do that I would consider it to be incredible. The group is Ocean Cleanup and the device is Ocean Cleanup System 001. I noted that it looks like no government seems involved in the effort which I find strange considering the amount of money all of the various government agencies spend every year. To me It seems like some agency would be interested in such an effort and doing what they could to assist. From looking at the web suite, it looks like they have one prototype of their system working and a staff of around 80 people. https://www.theoceancleanup.com/ My expectation is that the entire organization is operating on something like less then ten million USD per year, which makes me wonder why no government organization is not participating in the effort? (i.e. Wouldn’t it be worth it for some agency like the EPA to fund this effort in order to clean up the plastic trash that has collected in the worlds’ oceans? )
Apparently, there are two large areas of trash that have collected in the Pacific and probably another one in the Atlantic Ocean. I remember one account from one of the people that did a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat or maybe bathtub (that crossing was like a publicity event) talking about how he ran into trash and pollution in the middle of the Atlantic in places that were hundreds of miles from land; places that I would have normally expected to be clean and pristine, not filled with trash floating all over the place.
Hopefully, as computer AI and robotics are implemented more and more into the workforce, UBI for people displaced by such technologies will follow and turn what could have been a disaster for people into one of a utopia where a person’s minimal material needs are taken care of. While such an effort and transition will take decades of work, it is something that should be worked towards and achievable over the coming decades.
Good Luck and Take Care,
Louis J. Desy Jr. – Thursday, January 03, 2019