Saturday, August 5, 2017

UBI vs the Robots

With advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, many people's jobs will be up for grabs. And we are entirely unprepared as exponential advances, most notably in form of artificial intelligence, will eat away employment as humans' primary source of income. There may be an answer, in the form of a direct payment to each of us.

Universal basic income (UBI) is gaining momentum worldwide. Switzerland held a referendum on the introduction of a nationwide UBI (which it rejected) in 2016,1 Finland is currently testing it for some people, and India is considering replacing its welfare state with a UBI.2 The UBI is an unconditional cash payment that flows monthly from the state budget to everybody. It is transferred from public to private accounts throughout an entire lifetime, from birth to death, without any application or preconditions to be fulfilled by the beneficiary. It is supposed to cover the socio-cultural subsistence minimum. However, the determination of this minimum level of subsistence is a political and not an economic decision.

Some suggest work can be divided into a few categories: 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). Routine work started to stagnate at the end of the last millennium because some of that work is easily handled by machines.

One approach to machine intelligence is with neural networks, a tool of artificial intelligence. This provides a means for machine learning that can leverage big data -- the data sets being created and standardized. Everything we do is generating data, and lots of data is exactly what machines need in order to learn to learn.When computer code is wrong, it is self-corrected, further improving error detection and expanding the capabilities of the particular a.i. Bigger data sets speed such learning, and lower the error rates. No, this isn't SkyNet: think of robots as technologies, such as machine learning algorithms running on purpose-built computer platforms, that have been trained to perform discrete tasks that currently require humans to perform.

As others have written, "During the Obama administration, a report of the president was published (no longer available at that included a very dire prediction: "There is an 83% chance that workers who earn $20 an hour or less could have their jobs replaced by robots in the next five years. Those in the $40 an hour pay range face a 31% chance of having their jobs taken over by the machines." Clearly, the robots are coming."

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