Charles Darwin acknowledged that
he was able to set sail on the HMS Beagle because, coming from a wealthy
family, he had “ample leisure from not having to earn my own bread.”
Rene Descartes was able to revolutionize Western philosophy and mathematics
because, as he put it, he “had no feeling, thank God, that my circumstances
obliged me to make science my profession so as to ease my financial condition.”
Countless other luminaries, from
Adam Smith to Galileo, were similarly born into privileged lives that permitted
them to indulge their scholarly pursuits without the distraction of making ends
meet. “These were gentlemen of leisure,” Forget says in the interview. “I
don’t think these individuals felt useless; I don’t think their contribution
was negligible.” Even for those freed from the need to work for pay, we have a
deep human instinct to contribute to society. Many of those who give up work
are likely to replace it with something equally meaningful.
Of course, not every UBI recipient
will invent life-changing technology or form a new theory of evolution. But
economic security does liberate people from the daily grind, emboldening
them to start businesses, take risks, and explore new innovations. Think of a
basic income as seed money to facilitate the entrepreneurial spirit which helps
the American economy thrive. If we had a UBI that allowed more people pursue
their passions and curiosities, it could yield huge dividends for society.
And even more importantly, this freedom would no longer be limited to those who
are born into wealth.
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.
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.
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.
...no need or less need for
humans, and at lower costs than humans.
Money should be as abundant as our
creative capacity, not artificially scarce