WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Many people believe that a rising tide of automation and intelligent machines will put much of today’s workforce onto the streets leaving governments with no option but to roll out some form of universal basic income, and it appears that Elon Musk thinks the same.
Wherever you look, whatever you read and, to a degree, whatever you watch – whether it’s on the small screen or the big screen, drones, intelligent machines and robots appear to be the defacto workforce of the future.
As more and more jobs are replaced by technology – up to 45% of all of today’s jobs according to recent studies – people will have less work to do and will ultimately have to rely on more handouts from government. As a consequence, Elon Musk thinks that the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a highly likely outcome.
“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” said Musk in a recent interview, “yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”
In a country with UBI, everyone gets a regular cheque from the government. Switzerland considered instituting a universal basic income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,578) a month this summer and while it was ultimately voted down countries including Canada, Finland, Scotland and the USA are now rolling out limited pilot schemes.
This summer, President Obama addressed the idea UBI in an interview with the Director of MIT’s Media Lab, Joi Ito.
“Whether a universal income is the right model – is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people? That’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years,” he said.
While society is slowly mulling over the idea of UBI technology is rapidly changing the global workforce. We’re already seeing the ripples from the future echoing back into the present as tomorrows technology begins showing us how it is replacing jobs today – whether it’s the hundreds of millions of professional drivers around the world, the cashier down your local store or the surgeons in our hospitals.
As Musk highlights the advent of autonomous trucks on our roads means that there won’t be as much of a need for truck drivers as there is today, and while the flip will take some time, it’s inevitable.
Some drivers, for example, will transition into fleet operator roles, responsible for monitoring the status of a fleet of trucks, not any one individual truck – if a truck appears to be having issues then the fleet operator would come in remotely and solve the problem.
“Actually, it’s probably a more interesting job than just driving one [truck],” argues Musk but it’s likely those truck drivers who now no longer have a job might see the situation differently.
But the ever optimistic Musk sees increased automation as an overall benefit to society, even as an opportunity.
“People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things,” says Musk, “certainly more leisure time.”
That last one seems to be reminiscent of another echo but this time from the past – after all the PC was supposed to help us all work one day weeks and we know how that worked out. But at that time we didn’t have increasingly capable artificial intelligence (AI) systems on the horizon like we do now and while leisure time may sound good it can also be an intimating prospect. For many people having a job and some place to be each day is grounding and gives purpose to life – as well as an all important income.
Indeed, Musk himself is one such person, driven by his professional ambitions – he hasn’t needed to work to pay his bills for well over a decade since he sold PayPal, the company he co-founded, to eBay in 2002 which put over $165 million in his pocket. Instead of kicking the tires though he’s gotten right back in the saddle with not just one “job” but several – as the CEO of Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX.
Leisure time and binge watching Netflix are obviously over rated.