UBI Rises as a Tech Priority

Technology’s advance is nowhere near as fast as the science fiction universe has you believe. Blade Runner is turning out to have some truths about the use of Artificial Intelligence but replicants have yet to arrive as author Phillip K. Dick prophesised in his original book. You may think that UBI (Universal Basic Income) may have nothing to do with Blade Runner.

AIthough, is here, as well as a number of other advances Dick and his ilk suggested to the point where Kai-Fu Lee, head of Google China, recently predicted: “half of all jobs will disappear in the next decade.”

That tapers in with the predilection in Silicon Valley for the introduction of Universal Basic Income. The Guardian reported in 2016 that Y Combinator conducted a six-month UBI experiment in Oakland, California at the peak of the tech industry’s love-affair with being socially responsible.

It’s easy to argue that having made their billions, the scions of technology ought to be thinking about putting something back into society. After all, if advancements continue at the current pace, they could be responsible for soaring social security spending across the globe.

That’s the negative story; there is a positive one coming out of the rapid developments we’re seeing in robotics and AI: job creation.

Contradictorily, at a time when it is seen to be destroying jobs,technological advancements demand the creation of new opportunities. As manufacturing cuts its workforce, the world becomes focused on service industries and customer-facing roles.

What needs to happen in schools and other educational facilities is a change in the focus, away from the disappearing employment landscape, shifting the view towards the new opportunities which are arising.

Changing Workplace

Not only for future generations but also the current workforce who is finding traditional employment eroded. A properly introduced UBI – pitched at the right level – offers the double-benefits it needs to be successful: cutting the governmental social security bill while offering the prospect of a better standard of living.

With this behind them, workers can afford to retrain to new roles created by the technology.

As we become more proficient online as nations, we need more workers to face and help the customers. Shops migrating more products to their websites, such as John Lewis, or online-only retailers like boohoo, are seeing online service assistants and warehouse staff numbers are increasing to cope with demand.

Other sectors are also seeing new jobs created. Online casinos are seeing player numbers increase year-on-year while visitor numbers at actual casinos continue to drop.

With this change in dynamic, jobs for croupiers in physical casinos are falling, seemingly increasing unemployment. However, the rise in online work means croupiers find themselves providing the same service but in a virtual environment for the likes of Evolution Gaming who serve the virtual online casinos at brands such as Betway. As the number of operators in that market increase, so too does the number of employment opportunities.

These are two examples of the changes we’re confronted by moving forwards.

This is the flipside of UBI; it provides more disposable income for those in work. Think of all the sci-fi films you saw where humans evolved into an intellectual species, wandering through life appreciating all its beauty. We’re light years away from that but as AI and robotics become more prevalent, leisure time is set to increase. With that, spending patterns change and we obtain different habits of which to become creatures.

Changing Attitudes

There is a danger in romanticising UBI, however. As Lee rightly points out, the tech billionaires are projecting their own entrepreneurial spirit onto the rest of mankind. Maybe in some cases that is the course, some will follow but others will have a more troubled path toward finding their new reality.

So too does Lee romanticise the alternatives. Politically, there are many of his proposals which are an anathema to many in power or with such aspirations. Social care, intervention; these are opposed to varying degrees by many political parties. There is a much more fundamental change required than UBI.

That said, UBI is not a universal panacea but a socially responsible course of action which needs to be taken if the world is to willingly accept the changes thrust upon it by the tech industry.

And that is what needs to happen to quell resistance to change. Human history tells us that industrialisation, when machines are first introduced, is met with varying degrees of opposition, most famously with the five-year Luddite rebellion.

If Silicon Valley and by extension the tech industry, wants to avoid a confrontational change in the working environment, there are steps it must take and must convince governments to do the same.

Change isn’t a one-way street. Anything which spreads across multiple aspects of lives must be, to some extent, centrally supported, if not coordinated. UBI is that support platform.

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