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The AI Threat Isn’t Skynet – It’s the End of the Middle Class (wired.com)
286 points by peter123 on Feb 10, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 254 comments



That threat has many thinkers entertaining the idea of a universal basic income, a guaranteed living wage paid by the government to anyone left out of the workforce. But McAfee believes this would only make the problem worse, because it would eliminate the incentive for entrepreneurship and other activity that could create new jobs as the old ones fade away. Others question the psychological effects of the idea. “A universal basic income doesn’t give people dignity or protect them from boredom and vice,” Etzioni says.

It's funny how boredom, vice, and the indignity of receiving income without continual labor loom in importance if and only if we're talking about technological unemployment. What of people receiving Social Security, pensions, inherited wealth, royalties from patents and copyrights, rents collected on real estate...?

Some people sound like they're planning how to invent enough bullshit jobs to provide everyone a regular 9-5 schedule and a supervisor even after machines are doing all the strictly necessary labor. It's like the worst of the Protestant work ethic married to the worst proposals from Keynesianism, so it's one of those special bad ideas that people from all parts of the political spectrum can endorse. I'd rather trust adults to find their own amusements and purpose, like we trust adults who today have income-without-regular-labor, and trust the robo-police to curb those whose boredom turns to criminality.


The idea that giving someone just enough money to live will kill their motivation is insane. If that were true why do people still work 40+ hour weeks when they could be earning enough to live on just 15? Most UBI schemes are initially targeting around 1k per month which is nowhere near enough satisfy the vast majority of people.


>If that were true why do people still work 40+ hour weeks when they could be earning enough to live on just 15?

There are all sorts of practical reasons why it's difficult to work 15 hours every week, the biggest of which is employers don't want to hire you. If you're flipping burgers, sure, but it's pretty rare to find that arrangement for a professional job.


When everyone working 40 hours they are getting paid a lot more. They can afford high rents and mortgages. Even as a software engineer I struggle with rent and don't leave much for savings.

When a robot is doing low skilled jobs and education is insanely expensive like it is now, the gap is inevitable.

Capital buys AI allowing one person to do the work of many and reap the rewards of it. America is built on this very idea.


well robots arent just doing low skilled jobs here. They are on the verge of replacing many white collaar jobs


This is an important point. AI could replace many programmers for example. Or make better investment decisions.

It has the potential to kill the entire notion of wealth as we currently know it, regardless of social standing.

What then?


The fear is that capital will own all the means of production and services and what then of everyone else? Hope UBI is implement? Or perhaps become more self-sufficient? The hype around 3D printing seems to have died down. I guess a lot of grand visions weren't realised and a lot of cheap trinkets printed instead but it still contains an idea that should be nurtured: robotics and AI at the grass roots level. Don't let capital own all the means of sufficiency.


Sounds like a way forward. The current notion of wealth is toxic: an incongruent patchwork of ancient and modern ideas of what's valuable. It limits mankind's potential.


White collar/services jobs are a lot easier for robots to perform than blue collar ones (Moravec's paradox). The untapped potential of being able to sell "the one company that does every service task with a credit card form factor" will probably make it more profitable to attempt to outcompete the low-hanging fruit: higher-cost (so more likely to "go viral") and easier to implement professional jobs. It might just be AI that makes Marx's accelerationism a household term!


Not only America, the whole world


Our ideas about motivation are shaped by self fulfilling prophecy; most people are on the planet a working jobs which are, at best, a compromise for what they want to do with their lives. As a result staying motivated is hard because you're ultimately doing it just for the money.

So yeah; let's give large numbers of people a chance to try doing what they want with their lives. Yes it will not be easy. More education will be required, some will need support to not fall into drug abuse etc but ultimately it could lead to a better human condition


I very much agree with you. Related to the parent comment I think it's not so much about killing their motivation, more a case that many people's skills will no longer be, or already are not needed. My simple theory about the current political anger in the US is that it's not so much money, though still important, that hurts people from unemployment. Instead I think that it is feeling that you are no longer needed by society or the people around you that hurts the most. I imagine that it must be existentially distressful to feel that you have nothing to contribute and very likely never will again.

The Dalai Lama puts it better than I can:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/04/opinion/dalai-lama-behind...

My guess is that in additional to a basic income, you'll need to find a way to make people feel that they are needed and useful. I think it's easy for the men and women on HN, who tend to be the go-getter type to say that they would start up a business or take up painting. However I think we could all probably learn learn a little from the unemployed factory worker in Akron Ohio about what would they do with basic income, unlimited free time, but limited job prospects.


It's also worth noting that $1K per month for all US citizens would represent materially more than 100% of the current federal tax.

US Citizens: Couldn't find a readily available reliable source, so I'll use residents instead. Should be close enough for this math though I'd imagine this would be more likely a citizen program rather than a resident program.

US Residents: ~325 million

Federal Tax Revenue 2016 - ~3.27 trillion

Federal Tax Revenue - ~272 billion / month

Federal Tax Revenue - ~$850 / resident / month

What if we didn't give it to minors?

US residents over 18 - ~247 million

Federal Tax Revenue - ~$1100 / resident-over-18 / month

That's if we spent it all on UBI, no debt service, no federal employees, no military, no infrastructure spending, no social security, no pensions (even for federal employees who earned them and are legally and morally entitled to them), etc.


Well, we're imagining a world where robots have made us vastly richer. (Self-driving cars! 100% automated factories!) Stark increases in inequality will also mean that more of the US' total income is given to the highest earners, i.e. those with the highest tax brackets. So we'd collect quite a lot more in taxes even if we left current rates completely unchanged.

If robots don't end up making society incredibly wealthy and more unequal then there's no point in UBI to begin with. So it doesn't make sense to simply look at current figures.


Agreed that current figures don't tell the whole story, but it's at least as unwise to not consider the current figures to get a sense of order-of-magnitude.


It needs to be indexed to GDP, it should not be welfare it should be each citizen's cut of the machine driven GDP. That won't stop people from forming new kinds of human markets and selling their art, or doing things like benefitting from a scientific breakthrough, people who own the machines may benefit the most, but if you tie it to GDP and its a cut of the economy rather than a welfare check far fewer people will sit around and get loaded. They will be motivated to do the thing that everyone told them "don't quit your day job" for, the dreams of childhood coming into manifestation for the masses for thee first time in human history.


"why do people still work 40+ hour weeks"

Mostly it's about upbringing. People are taught to have expectations for themselves and they strive to fulfill them. 15h would be bare subsistence for most, and that's not good enough. The minute they can live their expectations without work they usually check out; e.g. 45 year old "retired" government workers bankrupting their muni/county/state with union negotiated pensions.


Both something that doesn't exist, and also something you've mischaracterized. Pensions are delayed payments for work already done.


Defined-benefit pension schemes are a problem because now, with the baby-boomers retiring, we're finding that we can't afford it. Many people can expect to live to 100 - that's 35 years of retirement after 45 years of employment when their employer probably only set-aside 10-15% of an employee's income for investment in the pension when it should have been 25-30% - so now the younger generations are paying for it - by using revenue generated from their activities to pay for the defined-benefit schemes which cuts into their salaries - and making them work longer years to make up for their own contributions.


> Many people can expect to live to 100

Do we have an actual source for this yet? Anecdotally, I still see about 7 out of every 8 deaths in my social circles occurring before 90, with a notable number before 70.


>> Pensions are delayed payments for work already done.

That's your view, not mine. Bankrupt governments are a fact for the both of us.


> It's funny how boredom, vice, and the indignity of receiving income without continual labor loom in importance if and only if we're talking about technological unemployment. What of people receiving Social Security, pensions, inherited wealth, royalties from patents and copyrights, rents collected on real estate...?

It is largely a desire for a control mechanism where the sheep are inherently dependent on the mechanism to eat.

The retired pensioners and independently wealthy are both largely willing to sustain the status quo without substantial, rapid change.

The scary thing to people at the top of the ladder is what happens when it isn't just those two segments of the population? What happens when you have millions of rebellious young people completely free of the 9-5 to grind to survive?

They don't know if the answer supports the status quo and to them its a scary unknown.


I'm not against Universal Basic Income, but there are some things about it which worry me, and which don't seem to come up very much in these discussions.

leverage

If we're all on basic income, we no longer have any leverage if our "wages" are reduced. The ruling classes can decide to drop the amount we earn, and there's not much we can do about it. Sure, we can "vote", but we can't strike, which is a far more powerful way to fight against pay decreases.

education

the main driving force behind education is the need for employment. of course plenty of people seek education purely for their own fulfilment, and we imagine with the free time that will come with joblessness, more people will do this. but we'll almost certainly see a drop in the number of young people attending college, since there's no "need". with less people in college, the overall level of education around the world will drop.


> If we're all on basic income, we no longer have any leverage if our "wages" are reduced. [...] Sure, we can "vote", but we can't strike, which is a far more powerful way to fight against pay decreases.

Actually, if no one needs your labor (which is the only situation in which you have BI but not actual wages) you can't strike, whether or not you are getting BI. The loss of leverage is a result of the declining demand for labor, not the presence of UBI redistributing income.


> If we're all on basic income, we no longer have any leverage if our "wages" are reduced. The ruling classes can decide to drop the amount we earn, and there's not much we can do about it. Sure, we can "vote", but we can't strike, which is a far more powerful way to fight against pay decreases.

You could still strike. UBI has nothing to do with employment and it enables you to sustain strikes longer as you are guaranteed income regardless of employment status. (i.e. you won't starve)

> the main driving force behind education is the need for employment. of course plenty of people seek education purely for their own fulfilment, and we imagine with the free time that will come with joblessness, more people will do this. but we'll almost certainly see a drop in the number of young people attending college, since there's no "need". with less people in college, the overall level of education around the world will drop.

Tbh, I think many "creative" majors go into creative majors (despite the economic practicality) because they want to. (i.e. Art, English)


What exactly are you striking if the robots create everything? I'm not sure what you could withhold that would upset the government. I guess you could stop consuming things, but you don't have the money to consume very much anyway on just UBI.


We are a long way from SkyNet and self maintaining robots.

Realistically, the robots are simply going to replace Fast Food workers and such like they do in factories. (i.e. massively reduced but non-0 employment) UBI assumes people work but not nesc. full time and sufficient to take care of all of their needs.

If it gets to the point where you have no ability to earn any money for anyone, well, no offense you are probably screwed no matter the government unless its very benevolent. The forces you are talking about are wholly independent of UBI's existence.

Frankly, the belief that "lowering UBI" will be tolerated amuses me because the US has a UBI-esque system for the retired and it has the largest, most powerful lobbying organization in the US.


> but we'll almost certainly see a drop in the number of young people attending college, since there's no "need".

More likely the opposite. Making $12K/year sucks. You can make $12K/year + 17K/year by flipping burgers, but that still sucks. Much better to go to college and then make $12K/year + 70K/year.

And a UBI allows more people to do that because it reduces the risk of quitting a bad job to go to school.


The jobs for that would still be not there...

So, why go to school?


> The jobs for that would still be not there...

> So, why go to school?

You would obviously go to school for the jobs that are still there.

And if there hypothetically aren't any then what difference would a UBI make to that?


Why do you read hn? Is part of the motivation to learn something new?


As far as leverage goes, my present employer relies entirely on there being little alternative to what he offers. If I had a UBI, that would remove his leverage and I could leave - and I would, in a heartbeat.

Why work for almost no money every week, why work extra hours for free just to satisfy an incompetent's power lust if you don't have to?


Wait, what? If people don’t need to work full time to nominally survive, that gives them much more leverage vs. employers.

The BATNA during labor negotiations is now “live a spare lifestyle on basic income” vs. “let your whole family die starving in a gutter”.


He's speaking about leverage against the provider of UBI, who can simply lower or remove it.


Aha. Well that’s no different from any other public service, subsidy, or restriction then. The “leverage” is voting, the specific content of legislation/regulation, and the legal system, and if those don’t work mass protest.

For instance, “the ruling classes” could just as easily decide tomorrow to cut road maintenance, police response to violent crime, fire departments, emergency rooms, public schools, food stamps, public pension plans, access to parks, agricultural subsidies, grants for scientific research, government-backed loan programs, access to wifi spectrum, air pollution controls, carefully controlled monetary policy, bank deposit insurance, ....


OP is talking about leverage against the government should they decide to lower the BI level.


Speaking of leverage, if UBI money can be used towards credit cards, we might expect to see even more people get hooked in perpetual credit card debt. Always just enough cash to swipe the plastic, never enough to wipe away the debt.


Yes, but no more than we do with social security and our existing system realistically. And the threat of repeated bankruptcies by UBI folks is likely enough of a threat to keep it from getting out of hand (and if it does, its the credit card companies that get burned by the bankruptcies).


If UBI is garnishable/attachable, credit card companies could simply wait to get paid from a slice of future UBI payments, meaning there might be increased risk of over-extension.

(I haven't thought deeply enough about whether it should or shouldn't be garnishable. I lean towards the idea that it shouldn't, but then that makes it less valuable in certain ways.)


http://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/sally-herigstad-...

> Another rule is that they cannot take more than the excess of your earnings over 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage (currently $7.25 per hour). That means $217.50 per week (30 X $7.25) is safe from any garnishment at all.

307.2552 = $11,310

You are largely immune to garnishment on a $12k/year UBI (for instance) under existing law. Bankruptcy would likely remove any garnishment if you only had UBI. I'm not a lawyer but the impression I have is pretty much under $20k, very little garnishment will occur due to:

A) Costs of recovery

B) The bankruptcy process favors the poor person declaring bankruptcy in terms of who walks away with "more".

I highly suspect the current floor on how much of your wages can be garnished would be kept equal to UBI and no one extends substantial credit to people on UBI for that reason.


Thanks for that data!


LOL. Millions of young men with housing and food and nothing to do. You just described a standing army.


That is the traditional method of UBI. Military expansionism. ;)



The topics of "boredom, vice and the indignity of receiving income without continual labor" come up whenever there is unearned income (from the point of view of the recipient). In this area, UBI and welfare benefits are very different from pensions, royalties or rents which - from the point of view of the recipient - have all been earned (through prior work) and thus don't come with indignity / stigma attached.

Inherited wealth is in some ways comparable and this is why there exist many examples where heirs have ruined family fortunes by desparately trying to make their own mark. (And many heirs of family fortunes would probably score high on the "vice" rankings, too.)

Look (because these posts don't seem to sit well with the HN crowd): I'm not against a UBI. I'm just saying that it will not solve all the problems. Getting people money to live is only one piece of the equation. Making it socially acceptable (both regarding the inside perspective of the recipients themselves and their self-esteem as well as regarding the outside view of society) to live off of UBI instead of being in regular employment will IMHO be far more challenging and will take time (maybe generations).


Inherited wealth is if anything a generous comparison, since those eligible to inherit wealth are often encouraged by their parents to jump through sizeable work-ethic related hoops to ensure their inheritance, and inheritance is usually with good reason more heavily taxed than most money transfers. UBI is all about assuming that it's entirely unreasonable to set thresholds of need or effort to state handouts when we could instead deny them to people solely on more reasonable criteria like whether they had the decency to be born in a particular country.

So yeah, I actually am against UBI for the foreseeable future, regardless of how well that sits with the HN crowd. Since in the real world we're a very long way from hard AI, replicators and post scarcity economics, UBI is - at best - redistributing from each according to his ability to each according to their ability to prove they're not a foreigner. Sure, the world isn't particularly fair anyway, but let's not pretend it's a step in the right direction to removing any assumption the welfare state is supposed to be a social insurance system for people that have paid into the system and are genuinely looking for work, and replacing it with the ethos that $nationals have a fundamental and inalienable entitlement to the fruits of other's labour (mostly non-entitled foreigners') if they're not particularly interested in trying to earn it themselves.

(Of course there are plenty of arguments against UBI that don't rely on notions of "dignity of work" like the important practical question of how much you're willing to slash existing welfare or raise taxes to give state handouts to much larger numbers of people that haven't indicated they need or want them, but that's probably a tangent to this particular article)


As far as the "wealth redistribution" goes, currently the 8 richest men have as much wealth as the poorest 50% (3.6 Billion) of the worlds population. [1] Capturing wealth is not the same as earning it. Wealth has already been "redistributed" to a wealthy few.

[1] http://fortune.com/2017/01/16/world-richest-men-income-equal...


The anti-nationalist argument makes no sense given that we don't provide most existing forms of social assistance to non-citizens either, and anyway there is no inherent reason that a UBI couldn't be provided to non-citizen legal residents if people so desired it.


Existing forms of social assistance in Western countries often are available to non-citizens and are usually more strongly linked to past payments into the system and/or intention to work and contribute to the system when they can. For obvious practical reasons (a suggested stipend of $10k PPP is well above the median salary internationally) if one destroys the link with work contributions, then numbers must be managed by imposing more onerous restrictions on non-citizens' entitlement to move to a country and claim subsidies higher than they presently earn. And however unjust it might already be, the existing systems that mandates employment for foreigners seeking residency generally aren't built on the concept that it's an affront to dignity to impose work requirements on citizens wanting handouts.

But the wider point is that the "nobody should be forced to suffer the indignity of having to work for their living" rhetoric behind UBI simply doesn't reflect any feasible near-term system that any person has actually proposed, and the "people should not have to work unless they were born elsewhere, in which case their continued labour to produce low cost goods for those who have chosen to become permanent UBI-dependents is fundamental to the system getting close to being affordable" reality is a bit less philosophically appealing.


> Existing forms of social assistance in Western countries often are available to non-citizens and are usually more strongly linked to past payments into the system and/or intention to work and contribute to the system when they can.

Most social assistance programs in the US are not linked to past payments, the most notable exception being social security, which pays only retirees.

And limiting benefits to people who have previously paid has the effect you seem to dislike anyway -- new arrivals to the country can't collect benefits because they have no history of paying.

Moreover, redistributive programs can't work that way because their entire premise is to improve the situation of lower income people. If the money had to go to people in proportion to what they've paid then it would have no purpose or effect.

> For obvious practical reasons (a suggested stipend of $10k PPP is well above the median salary internationally) if one destroys the link with work contributions, then numbers must be managed by imposing more onerous restrictions on non-citizens' entitlement to move to a country and claim subsidies higher than they presently earn.

We already have this because the existing programs already work this way. If anyone from an impoverished country could immediately immigrate legally to the US and begin collecting food and housing assistance, an unsustainable number of people would, which is why they aren't allowed to. Even if they could find a job here in e.g. agriculture, because those jobs don't qualify for H1B.

> And however unjust it might already be, the existing systems that mandates employment for foreigners seeking residency generally aren't built on the concept that it's an affront to dignity to impose work requirements on citizens wanting handouts.

Then it's a good thing a UBI isn't built on that, since its purpose is to provide a safety net without creating the poverty trap that existing means-tested programs do by withdrawing benefits at rates approaching or sometimes even exceeding 100% of marginal income for low and middle income people.

> But the wider point is that the "nobody should be forced to suffer the indignity of having to work for their living" rhetoric behind UBI simply doesn't reflect any feasible near-term system that any person has actually proposed, and the "people should not have to work unless they were born elsewhere, in which case their continued labour to produce low cost goods for those who have chosen to become permanent UBI-dependents is fundamental to the system getting close to being affordable" reality is a bit less philosophically appealing.

The idea that one country should have to pay for social assistance for the whole world in order to have it internally is not a philosophy most people are going to mind disregarding.


> Then it's a good thing a UBI isn't built on that, since its purpose is to provide a safety net without creating the poverty trap that existing means-tested programs do by withdrawing benefits at rates approaching or sometimes even exceeding 100% of marginal income for low and middle income people.

You're responding to an entire subthread revolving around the idea that the great benefit of UBI is that it allows adults (except foreign ones) to "find their own amusements and purpose" and avoid "bullshit jobs" and the social acceptability of it as a permanent and exclusive income source...

There are many ways of designing welfare systems to avoid the "welfare trap" of excessive effective marginal rates of income taxation, of which UBI is probably the least efficient.

The only argument which favours UBI over more modest alternate welfare reforms more specifically targeted at reducing benefit withdrawal rates at the margin is the frequently-made philosophical argument that it's fundamentally unreasonable if not immoral to make handouts contingent on willingness to work and pressure them to take jobs. I'm simply pointing out that few, if any of the people making that argument are opposed to subjecting foreigners to similar indignities if they seek to enter the country, and moreover the sustainability of a UBI is entirely dependent on people not lucky enough to be citizens needing to work for a living for the foreseeable future.

Needless to say, advocates of systems of social assistance not built on the principle that it's entirely unreasonable to ask people to work and/or assess their fitness to do so are not guilty of the same level of staggering hypocrisy when accepting the status quo of work requirements and thresholds imposed on foreigners seeking to enter a country.


> You're responding to an entire subthread revolving around the idea that the great benefit of UBI is that it allows adults (except foreign ones) to "find their own amusements and purpose" and avoid "bullshit jobs"

Because that's what a working safety net does. It prevents employers from imposing unreasonable terms on employees when their only alternative is starvation, by making that not the thing that happens if they turn down the job.

> There are many ways of designing welfare systems to avoid the "welfare trap" of excessive effective marginal rates of income taxation, of which UBI is probably the least efficient.

I'm going to describe two systems.

In one there is a UBI of $12,000/year and a flat 30% tax rate. In another there is $12,000/year in cash social assistance with a 20% phase out up to $60,000, a 10% tax up to $60,000 and a 30% tax over $60,000.

These two systems are in fact the same, the only difference is that in the second one when the government takes 20% of each additional dollar you earn they call it "phase out" instead of "tax", which leads people to the mistaken impression that increasing that rate (which applies to lower income people) is a sensible thing to do, even though it is identical to raising taxes on lower income people.

The second system is not "more efficient", it is exactly the same. And anything that doesn't look like that is going to be less efficient.

You can give people non-cash, and then you need an inefficient bureaucracy dedicated to busting people who figure out some way to divert their food assistance money into paying their insurance premiums or similar, and at the same time you create an inefficient barter system where low income people subvert that bureaucracy by converting the things that can be bought with government money back into real cash.

You can try to phase out the UBI, but as above that is completely identical to raising taxes on those people, and imposing high marginal tax rates on lower/middle income people is the poverty trap.

Nothing is going to be more efficient than a UBI because a UBI does exactly the thing it's supposed to do and nothing else. There is no inefficiency to remove.

> The only argument which favours UBI over more modest alternate welfare reforms more specifically targeted at reducing benefit withdrawal rates at the margin is the frequently-made philosophical argument that it's fundamentally unreasonable if not immoral to make handouts contingent on willingness to work and pressure them to take jobs

Really it's that if you don't have high phase out rates then you can't make it contingent on working. If two otherwise unemployed people could pay each other self-canceling payments to do each other's laundry or whatever, now they're both "employed". It's trivial to create "employment" between any number of cooperating parties that way. That doesn't happen much now because the government takes most of the "income" from that "employment" in reduction of benefits -- it invokes the poverty trap. If you eliminate the poverty trap but require employment then everyone will magically be "employed" on paper because making money creates eligibility for government benefits rather than reducing them.

And that isn't even fraud -- they really are paying each other and really are doing the thing they're being paid to do. They can even each pay each other to do the thing they each wanted to do to begin with. You don't even need another person -- create a corporation, have it pay you for whatever it is you were doing anyway and then reinvest your "wages" in the company so they have money to pay you again tomorrow. All a work requirement does is create useless inefficiency, paperwork and bureaucracy.

> I'm simply pointing out that few, if any of the people making that argument are opposed to subjecting foreigners to similar indignities if they seek to enter the country

To get in under H1B you have to be a qualified specialist. The purpose is to let in people with in-demand skills. None of those jobs are the degrading McJobs that people only take when the alternative is starvation or homelessness, and the people only qualified to do a McJob aren't "required" to do that to immigrate, they aren't eligible to immigrate at all.

> and moreover the sustainability of a UBI is entirely dependent on people not lucky enough to be citizens needing to work for a living for the foreseeable future.

It obviously isn't, because the money that funds the UBI doesn't even come from them, it comes almost entirely from other citizens in the same way that any social assistance money does.


> You can try to phase out the UBI, but as above that is completely identical to raising taxes on those people, and imposing high marginal tax rates on lower/middle income people is the poverty trap.

> Nothing is going to be more efficient than a UBI because a UBI does exactly the thing it's supposed to do and nothing else. There is no inefficiency to remove.

Nonsense. The former system you've described doesn't pay out to working age economically inactive people, who vastly exceed those claiming employment-linked or disability benefits in every developed country. Unlike your hypothetical example of people paying each other to do each other's laundry, these people actually exist, and needless to say transforming the system to pay out $12000 per annum to tens of millions more largely non-taxpaying people has a net cost orders of magnitude more than state bureaucracy. Most reasonable definitions of efficiency would regard it as less efficient to pay out to millions of people whose actions indicate they don't particularly want the money. (Most reasonable definitions of efficiency would also argue that it's often better to divert some of that cash towards providing additional support to people that can demonstrate a genuine need for support costing >$12000 per annum if purchased from the private sector)

So on practical grounds, it's a much, much more expensive social system than any real or feasible system with a work requirement. If you want to argue that this is justifiable because it's morally imperative that people ought to be free to choose not to work or subject to any form of state assessment unless they're foreign, feel free to make that argument. Just be aware that's the true nature of the argument you're making, and that those UBI dependents' access to the affordable consumer goods (and probably food) on a state stipend is entirely dependent on the rest of the world not being able to afford such a system to retire their own menial workers.


> The former system you've described doesn't pay out to working age economically inactive people, who vastly exceed those claiming employment-linked or disability benefits in every developed country.

And what would you do with these people, who have no disability but also no marketable skills and as a result no one will hire them?

A UBI combined with the elimination of the minimum wage would allow more of these people to work, because then they could actually find work for the price the market values their labor (less than current minimum wage).

And it's not like we aren't paying them already. Even after unemployment runs out, in most states they still qualify for food and other social assistance. Because what is the alternative? Watch them starve or turn to crime to eat?


> And what would you do with these people, who have no disability but also no marketable skills and as a result no one will hire them?

You seem to have difficulties understanding the concept of "economically inactive people", who exist in large numbers even where unemployment never "runs out". Many economically inactive working-age people have plenty of marketable skills, they just prefer to live off savings, inheritances or family/spousal income than claim subsidies contingent on their willingness to demonstrate effort towards seeking and accept an offers of employment. By definition, economically inactive people (including the minority dependent on other forms of state handout because they can't work) are people not looking for work in the near future, and especially not looking for work at less than minimum wage if given a boost to their current standard of living courtesy of the taxpayer.


It is not a problem for people who are living off of savings/inheritance/spousal income to receive the UBI because the taxes due on every dollar spent was already paid when it was earned to begin with. It makes no difference that it was last year instead of this year or by a different person who gave it to them. They are no more a problem than people receiving the UBI who are actively working, and if you really want more from them today, fund the UBI with a consumption tax instead of an income tax.

Compensating stay at home parents for their unpaid labor is even an advantage of a UBI that may help to mitigate the problem in first world countries of people having children below the population replacement rate.

At which point we are back to people who are not working but have no money, and the original problem. With no social assistance some of these people would starve. Maybe not all of them, but how do you propose to distinguish them? Especially without rewarding hard-to-detect dishonesty, or having any false negatives that cause those people to starve?


> It is not a problem for people who are living off of savings/inheritance/spousal income to receive the UBI because the taxes due on every dollar spent was already paid when it was earned to begin with. It makes no difference that it was last year instead of this year or by a different person who gave it to them

Of course it's a problem and of course it makes a difference. The result is that tax take remains unchanged and the burden of paying for additional social assistance goes up. This is a matter of elementary arithmetic; I find it genuinely mindboggling that someone can get this deep into a thread arguing in favour of welfare reform without being able to grasp it.

Sure, you cut that deficit by raising taxes on everyone, but this penalises families with multiple earners and rewards families where only one member needs to work since the new social assistance they get exceeds the increased tax burden on their sole breadwinner. And it's the latter group where that generally has less debt, lower cost of living and/or more of the assets they want already paid for; hence the other family members not seeking work. If you want to avoid giving the impression UBI is robbing the workaholic middle classes to pay for the idle asset-rich, funding it with a consumption tax (even if it were possible, given shifting the tax burden from consumption to income tax implies massive tax breaks to the low propensity-to-consume rich paying the majority of today's tax) is certainly not the way to go.

If you want to incentivise stay-at-home parenting, you create subsidies for stay-at-home parents; there's no need to also subsidise childless people staying at home because they don't actually need the money at the same time.

And then you're talking about assessing "the original problem" of people in danger of starvation as if governments don't already do that: hungry people should either apply for the benefits and demonstrate willingness to apply for jobs that are suggested to them or (they or their carers) should provide certification that they're not mentally or physically capable of work. Of course there are no guarantees against dishonesty, just as there are no guarantees a UBI will not continue to pay dead people. But a few dishonest people risking jail for fraud costs a lot less than paying many people who have no intention of applying for welfare - fraudulently or otherwise - but certainly wouldn't refuse it if it was thrust upon them. If false negatives are a major problem you can skew the government bureaucracy in favour of approving virtually every request and it'd still cost less than indiscriminate payouts. But don't take my word for it: most governments collect statistics on why people not in work are not in work and publish the costs of running their employment departments.


> Of course it's a problem and of course it makes a difference. The result is that tax take remains unchanged and the burden of paying for additional social assistance goes up. This is a matter of elementary arithmetic; I find it genuinely mindboggling that someone can get this deep into a thread arguing in favour of welfare reform without being able to grasp it.

You cannot evaluate a tax system without accounting for the benefits it pays for or vice versa. Taking $1 from a person or family in tax and then giving them back $1 in cash benefits doesn't "cost" $1. That is why it isn't a problem -- someone with average wealth who both pays taxes and receives benefits is completely unproblematic because their UBI is paid for by their own taxes.

It doesn't help them to simultaneously reduce their UBI and lower their taxes in the same amounts, and in practice the attempts to do that will hurt them because the cumulative withdrawal of independent benefits programs will be more than the tax reduction applied to median income people, with the balance going to tax reductions for higher income people.

> Sure, you cut that deficit by raising taxes on everyone, but this penalises families with multiple earners and rewards families where only one member needs to work since the new social assistance they get exceeds the increased tax burden on their sole breadwinner. And it's the latter group where that generally has less debt, lower cost of living and/or more of the assets they want already paid for; hence the other family members not seeking work.

The latter, wealthier family has or will also pay higher taxes which balances it out. And providing benefits to single income families serves the equivalent purpose to providing deductions for dependents and collecting lower taxes for married filing jointly than single, which can then be gotten rid of. It simplifies the tax code which makes it harder to cheat.

> If you want to avoid giving the impression UBI is robbing the workaholic middle classes to pay for the idle asset-rich, funding it with a consumption tax (even if it were possible, given shifting the tax burden from consumption to income tax implies massive tax breaks to the low propensity-to-consume rich paying the majority of today's tax) is certainly not the way to go.

This argument has been false every time anyone has ever made it.

There are two categories of "upper income" people. The first is upper income working professionals who do spend substantially all of their income and your point doesn't apply to, and the second is the even richer investment class who only pay income tax on the money that they actually spend because the remainder of their assets are unrealized capital gains which they never have to sell or pay tax on until they actually want to spend the money. And the richest families play the same international shell games that large corporations do which allow them to avoid taxes even then. Switch to a consumption tax and when they buy a plane they pay the tax, instead of borrowing the money from their own corporation in a tax haven and then deducting the interest on the self-loan as a business expense.

> If you want to incentivise stay-at-home parenting, you create subsidies for stay-at-home parents; there's no need to also subsidise childless people staying at home because they don't actually need the money at the same time.

Why should we penalize the domestic labor of a couple who is unable to conceive children over one that is? Should we not value homemakers who support their spouses and organize social gatherings and build strong communities just because they have no children [yet]?

> hungry people should either apply for the benefits and demonstrate willingness to apply for jobs that are suggested to them or (they or their carers) should provide certification that they're not mentally or physically capable of work.

That doesn't fix it.

The problem is this: There are, say, 20 million unskilled workers and 10 million unskilled jobs willing to pay a living wage (and this is likely to get worse). "Go find a job" doesn't scale. It doesn't matter which half of them have one of the jobs, the other half won't. Demanding that people go on a snipe hunt is a cruel joke.

The only way to give move of them jobs is to reduce the minimum wage to the market-clearing price, which is less than a living wage. Then they starve without social assistance. But if you give social assistance with a high phase out then you're imposing a high marginal tax rate on low income people and creating a poverty trap. And social assistance with a low phase out is equivalent to a UBI with a flat tax rate equal to the phase out rate.

> But a few dishonest people risking jail for fraud costs a lot less than paying many people who have no intention of applying for welfare - fraudulently or otherwise - but certainly wouldn't refuse it if it was thrust upon them.

Which is problematic, because people who qualify for it should receive it. Screw letting people starve -- and letting their kids starve -- because they're too proud to ask for help.

> If false negatives are a major problem you can skew the government bureaucracy in favour of approving virtually every request and it'd still cost less than indiscriminate payouts.

If you combine this with the elimination of the minimum wage which is actually necessary to get these people working, there wouldn't be "negatives" anymore. There barely are now. The childless "non-working" spouse you didn't want receiving anything is actually working for in-kind services. It's real work, it should qualify as a job. Likewise "not working" because you're taking care of your sick brother, or tutoring the neighbor's kid in exchange for sandwiches, or most of the other things people do when they're not working a formal 9-5 job.

If your system is only "more efficient" because it discourages qualifying beneficiaries from receiving benefits, that isn't efficiency. A thermostat that will only heat your house to 10°C might save you in heating costs, but that isn't efficient, it's just defective.


> This argument has been false every time anyone has ever made it.

The top 1% pay around 40% of income tax in the US. That's around the same as the consumption share of the top income quintile (and that's with it being income taxes and not consumption taxes they try to avoid). So the near-universally accepted proposition that that switching to consumption taxes shifts part of the tax burden from the ultra-rich to everybody else is obviously not "false".

I feel like this discussion has been something of a waste of time; it's impossible to engage with someone whose argument depends upon baseless denials of established fact even in response to a post which ended by gently hinting they should probably look at the statistics.

I can't see any reason why you still seem unable to grasp the fact that net increases in benefits to non-working people paying no income-tax and little in the way of capital gains or indirect taxes (including, for example, homeowners living off savings) are paid for by increases to current period (net)taxes on working people, not historic tax takes (from times when the early-retirees might have paid income tax but not at levels set to subsidise a UBI for the wider population). It really, really doesn't all net out. And whilst I understand the support for the extreme position of insisting the taxpayer subsidise the lifestyles of tens of millions more economically inactive people might hinge upon the rhetorical device of pretending they're on the cusp of starvation despite their disinterest in applying for jobs and benefits, I still find it unfathomable you're also arguing that [assumed] in-kind services provided by homemakers should be funded not by proportionate support from their grateful recipients but by an arbitrarily large unconditional bill to the state. I have a feeling we're not going to come to agreement on this...


Boredom quickly becomes a non-issue when the real issue is starvation.

I'd love to get to the point where the main problem is being bored. I fear that, if the current social and political dogmas don't change, a heck of a lot of people will get kicked to the curb once AI-driven automation really takes off.


A point i'm always surprised is not discussed much in the basic income debate is loss of control.

Whenever a job is performed by a person, that person has the power to refuse doing the job or put their own spin on it. The effect is that there some basic checks of ethics. This keeps businesses from doing things blatantly against the interests of society and ensures that CEOs with grand visions of shaping humanity are forced to discuss their ideas with others before implementing them.

All that is not true if a major part of society is not part of the work process. In the extreme, that could make the old "bond villain with robot army" scenario actually credible. But more realistically, it could lead to large and important aspects of society being under unchecked control by a relatively small number of people. This is already true today with communication and data collection (e.g. google/apple/etc can push arbitrary updates to billions of phones around the world without any sort of oversight) and it will likely be the same with transport and manufacturing in the future.

I fear basic income not only doesn't address this problem but even worsens it by declaring it normal that a large part of society does not take part at all in shaping that society.


Many things that people do without it being "a job" have a significant impact on shaping society. To the degree that your concern is legitimate (and I think to some degree it is) it is a concern about automation irrespective of basic income.


Basic Income will never be politically possible in places where it's culturally expected that a living must be "earned". It's more likely we'll end up paying 50% of the population to dig holes and paying the other 50% to fill them in, than implementing a basic income.


This is so true. You could argue we already have this occurring in the US, for example. I've worked many places where it's unclear exactly why it requires so many people doing their various jobs to keep the business afloat. I've even held various positions which seemed like that: some days I would dig holes, other days I'd fill them in (metaphorically). I'm not sure how this happens in private industry, maybe because of various incentives from the government? Tax breaks, etc.?


In the United States you have plenty of holes that need to be dug (crumbling infrastructure) and a historically low labor force participation level and some people are still arguing that the cost of employing people to dig them is too high while arguing that BI will be necessary very soon because robots.


... never ...

It'll take a few generations probably. If living cannot be 'earned' for the majority, it'll be done fast enough with that opinion.


Exactly we could have a society oriented around the arts and sciences, pure creativity and discovery instead of bullshit jobs we could put the pedal to the metal in human freedom and innovation.


Putting aside our political slants, one might ask when exactly in the history of human civilization has any fraction of humanity ever consistently demonstrated that they were willing to devote themselves to the sole pursuit of "the arts and sciences, pure creativity and discovery" for any significant length of time?

If such instances existed, did those noble pursuits come without costs? To either themselves or others?

Say they did manage to exist in harmony with other civilizations (who may not have had any such lofty ideals or pursuits) then how long did they manage to keep doing so? [1] [2]

How long did they survive?

How long did their inventions or works of knowledge survive, in their intended forms?

In fact the evidence is to the contrary that when humans are bequeathed with a surfeit of riches and time to devote, they indulged in decadence, degeneracy and if nothing else sloth.

At which time, they were quickly wiped off by their geopolitical peers who placed a higher importance on self-preservation than they did on arts, science & discovery.

We like to think we have ridden ourselves from the shortsightedness of those older, less-prudent & ill-advised civilizations.

But really, on balance, have we?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Peoples

[2] http://www.ancient.eu/Sea_Peoples/


"oriented around" != "sole pursuit". You're making a strawman by inserting an overly-high bar.

However, the USA in the 50s and 60s matches your demand. An incredibly wealthy time, it was also a golden age of modern art and a golden age of science in so many fields. The moon shot itself cost 4% of the USA's GDP. How well did these advances survive? The cultural waves turned out to be the origin of the USA's soft power, with movies, music, and fashion spreading out throughout the world like nothing before. And much of the science continues to be the bedrock of science, engineering, and manufacturing today.


People are already creating more art than we actually need (witness how hard it is to make a living as an artist). Now just wait till the AIs become serious competition at that too.


The amount of money someone can make in our economy as an artist isn't a reflection of how much art we "need." Art in particular is not a commodity that society can just have enough of. And in general, the price something fetches in our economy isn't always a reflection of its value to society. See: salaries of social workers, emergency medical technicians, etc.


Everything, including art, follows supply and demand. Value is the point where they meet. Salaries of social works and EMTs are where the supply of those positions meet the need for those positions in any certain area.

Art has a defined supply and demand, where the supply is high and demand is low (probably due to the fact you can buy copies of famous masterpieces for very cheap).


> Everything, including art, follows supply and demand.

It isn't about supply and demand, it's about transaction costs.

Suppose you could create a work of art that fifty million people would each value at 25c, so total value of two million dollars. Far more than enough to pay your wages for a year. But if you actually try to charge them, the credit card company wants 30c + 3% per person (consuming more than the entire value) and other payment mechanisms suffer similarly infeasible costs in money or inconvenience or otherwise.

But if we would pay the artist unconditionally and then they create art and give it away, we would get two million dollars worth of art for $12,000 and with no transaction costs.

Meanwhile this allows some of the artists to become famous and then charge prices for their art that exceed the transaction costs, and now they're paying taxes and funding the UBI for the next generation of artists/inventors/experimentalists/etc.


What happens when a competitor creates a substitute artwork (i.e. one that competes for market share with the original artwork) and sells it at 24¢?


> What happens when a competitor creates a substitute artwork (i.e. one that competes for market share with the original artwork) and sells it at 24¢?

Price and value aren't the same thing, that's part of the problem.

Suppose in response to competition the original artist would lower the price to 24c. The customer still gets the same value as before but is paying less. The customer gets 1c more of the surplus and the artist gets 1c less.

But the total surplus is still the same. The benefit the customer gets from having the art hasn't gone down, only the price.

Where this gets weird is displacement. Suppose competing art appears and now half the customers will choose the other art instead, and the customers only have time for one piece of art. Now the original art has lost half its total value because there are half as many people with it, regardless of what price was paid.

Which means it is possible to have "enough" art and more would be too much -- when you have so much that people are too busy with existing art for enough of them to choose the new art to justify its creation. But that point is well past what transaction costs will allow if payment has to be made per-customer via an ugly hack like copyright.

It may even be past the point where there is "too much" art/science/software, because you can justify over-producing a lot of junk if the result is even one more Andy Warhol or Albert Einstein or Alan Turing.


And obviously to total $2M at 25c requires 8M customers rather than 50M if you actually divide by .25 instead of multiplying by 25, so that's even easier.


What is the value of the Sistene Chapel? How much would it cost to make a second one?


While in theory art would be efficiently transferred from the ideal seller (artist) to ideal buyer (rich #1 fan), in practice the idea that information falls in the right hands automagically is kinda laughable


Once ai starts making better art than humans it might be able to improve itself better than humans as well. At that point we don't need humans either. Still nice to keep us around though.


"we could have a society oriented around the arts and sciences, pure creativity and discovery instead of bullshit jobs "

I'm afraid your statement implies a misunderstanding of what 'the economy' is.

'The economy' is people providing services and building products for one another.

So that guy who waited on you at the restaurant, the girl who did your payroll, the guy who delivered your mail, the person monitoring your blocks internet connections, the person who planted crops, the person making sure your street is safe to walk down ...

Those 'bullshit jobs' all exist for a reason - because they provide value to someone (like you), and we are willing to pay for it all by doing stuff for others as well.

'The jobs' that we do are a function of what other people in the economy 'want done' in terms of products and services.

Not a function of 'what they want to do'.

If you don't want to do anything that 'helps others' - that's fine, but you can't expect for them to help you in return if your 'lifestyle choice' is 'windsurfing'.

But when we do help each other, the whole is actually greater than the sum of the parts (i.e. comparative value) - and that's where we really start to win.

Most of the things you need done for you are not that fun. It'll always be that way.


Most of them can be automated.


True, but not for a very long time.

The day someone that can make a robot to clean my bathroom and then make me a ham sandwich, I'll get worried.

In the meantime, other industries like sports, entertainment, tourism, etc. expand.

One are that will be the last to be automated is 'taking care of the elderly' - it's human-intense and that market is only expanding.


I wish you were right.

I wish it were 50 years off.

Life, however, has other plans:

https://arstechnica.com/business/2017/02/how-being-replaced-...

(Incidentally there's actually a gif of a robot cooking in there.)


Do you see much "creativity and discovery" coming out of present-day homeless shelters and encampments?


I mean, the whole idea is that if people have their basic needs met, they'll be able to be more creative and productive. Homeless people are the perfect counter example.


No. Homeless people almost all have mental illness, substance abuse problems, or some combination of the two.

I'm not seeing why you and the OP think they are representative of the general population in any way. They are, pretty much by definition, people who are too messed up to function in society.


You couldn't be more wrong here. Have some facts:

https://www.nlchp.org/documents/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet


Posting a link to a spun document from an advocacy group doesn't actually prove me wrong.

For example, "sleeping in public places not meant for human habitation" would include anyone who has ever taken a nap in the airport, even one time.

When the piece starts out with an obviously bogus definition, there's really not much point in going through it point by point. It has zero credibility from the start.

Other sources (easily found by Google) suggest that up to 2/3 of the real chronic homeless population has problems with alcohol and/or other substances


You're moving the goalposts. You said homeless. If you're now shifting your claim to merely "chronic" homeless that's a different conversation all together. Furthermore do you have source material that calls the numbers used in the article into question or were you planning on solely relying on ad hominem to win the day?


"You're moving the goalposts. You said homeless."

No, I'm not. I'm pointing out that the definition given in your "factual" source, to wit "sleeping in public places not meant for human habitation" is ridiculous on its face.

Ever slept in class? Then you've been "homeless", according to your source.

I really don't mean this as a personal attack, but rather as a suggestion: you should learn to tell the difference between factual research and advocacy pieces. Your source is the latter. There is absolutely nothing wrong with advocacy, but one must take it with a grain of salt. When it starts out with a straw man definition (as does your source), perhaps a boulder of salt would be preferable.

"Furthermore do you have source material that calls the numbers used in the article into question"

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK138716/

Mental illness:

"An earlier literature review on physical and mental disorders among those who are homeless (Martens, 2001) cited reports that found that anywhere between 25 and 90 percent of people who were homeless had a mental disorder. A review by Toro (2007) suggests that 20 to 40 percent of people who are homeless have a serious mental disorder, with 20 to 25 percent having depression and 5 to 15 percent having schizophrenia. In their introductory review, Greenberg and Rosenheck (2010a) note that estimates are that between 20 and 50 percent of people who are homeless have serious mental illness (SMI). Research reviewed by McQuistion and Gillig (2006) also indicates that between one third and one half of people who are homeless have SMI."

Substance abuse:

Another Midwestern study recruited subjects who were homeless from food programs and shelters (Forney, Lombardo, & Toro, 2007); here, 77 percent of men (n=161) and 55 percent of women (n=57) met criteria for a substance use disorder. Velasquez, Crouch, von Sternberg, and Grosdanis (2000) found that among a sample of 100 clients of the Service of the Emergency Aid Resource Center for the Homeless project in Texas, 60 percent reported use of illicit drugs in the prior 6 months. In an analysis of NESARC data for people who had experienced an episode of homelessness since the age of 15, 74.2 percent of respondents also met criteria for a lifetime substance use disorder; only 30.5 percent of those who had always been domiciled met such criteria (Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2010a).

There are many other citations in this report.


Why wouldn't people with mental illness or substance abuse problems be able to be creative and productive if their basic needs were met?


Sorry if this is a dumb question but do homeless people fit the description since I'd think they still have to spend time begging?


"creativity" in Arts and Sciences (like academia in general) is driven by a silly popularity game.

It is as BS as are lives across the spectrum. Far off mountains appear hospitable indeed.


It does come up?

In the case of pensions and royalties, it is wealth from prior work, so it's not really in the same category morally (for a culture that believes in the virtue of work).

Social security and inherited wealth definately do have a sort of stigma attached to them though, precisely because of the lifestyles that "trust fund children" tend to live, and because the poor are already stigmatized in general. The structure of social security makes real problems here too, where people can't get jobs without losing their social security.


Maybe I haven't been listening at the right times, but I've never heard someone suggesting that we should raise the retirement age or cut Social Security benefits because old people will be bored or lack dignity if they're not compelled to remain in waged labor. (I have heard other arguments for raising the retirement age or cutting benefits, but not the they-must-remain-busy argument).

A freestanding belief in the "virtue of work" is one of those pathologies that I hope we can leave behind as machines do more. Many good things in life can be accomplished only with hard work. It's good to be able to work hard, that you may accomplish good things. There is no virtue in doing hard, purposeless work[1] after you run out of hard, purposeful work. If a person wants to keep starting fires using flint and steel after the invention of the friction match, that's fine if they enjoy it. It's a little worrisome but not really my problem if they keep doing it the hard way because they feel guilty otherwise. It's a real problem if they want everyone else to keep behaving as if the friction match were never invented, because they've confused "a valuable outcome from difficult work" with "an inherent virtue found in difficult work."

[1] Of course you don't want to let your body atrophy from disuse, but there's no reason that exercising your muscles and your senses needs to resemble paid-labor-as-it-used-to-be. People hike and go rafting for fun. Nobody needs to dig ditches for fun. You can keep your body and mind well maintained without imitating obsolete jobs.


"Early Retirement May Be The Kiss Of Death, Study Finds": http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/early-retirement-may-be-...

"Study: Later retirement may help prevent dementia": http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/15/study-r...

Other references are easy to find. Giving up the structure and purpose of one's life and building a new one on your own is not an easy transition to make, regardless of what young people think.


On "trust fund children", the lifestyle of a few loud examples is likely painting an unrepresentative picture to the masses. I'd love to see some real stats or study on people who inherited substantial wealth.

On one hand, society seems to argue that inherited privilege perpetuates itself, which means that wealthy offspring are succeeding, sometimes despite their abilities.

On the other, we have the stereotype of "trust fund babies" who by conventional wisdom don't amount to much and don't contribute to society.

So which is it - is inherited wealth a road to success or failure? Likely, both with outcome dependent on other factors then wealth.

If anyone has a good study to read on this that actually took more than anecdotal evidence, I'd love to read it.


A good documentary on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o46HH-TfNY

It's called Born Rich, and it's by Jamie Johnson, one of the heirs of the Johnson & Johnson empire. Ironically, he chose to do this endeavor despite not needing to work.


It depends on your definition of success. The offspring of the wealthy tend to remain wealthy, regardless of whether or not they "contribute to society". If you consider wealth perpetuation success then they are succeeding.


The original post talks about money and how non-earned income streams carry a stigma, so for relevancy to the discussion, success is accumulation and maintenance of wealth.


I don't see the contradiction? If you inherit a lot of wealth you're likely to remain wealthy. Simultaneously you may not be motivated to work much and contribute to society.


So how do you remain wealthy if, following the social stigma, you make all the "wrong decisions" and squander the money?

Maintaining wealth takes work too.


I think if you inherit a large enough amount of wealth it's actually really difficult to squander unless you're intentionally trying to.


The stigma that trust fund kids face is nothing compared to what people on benefits face.

In Britain channel 5 has a whole subgenre of programmes about people on benefits, while similarly the Daily Express runs articles about the most extreme cases.


> “A universal basic income doesn’t give people dignity or protect them from boredom and vice,”

It may not give them dignity, but it protects them from poverty, which strips dignity. It also protects them from vice-based-on-need, just not vice-based-on-boredom.


What of people receiving Social Security, pensions, inherited wealth, royalties from patents and copyrights, rents collected on real estate...?

Earned income is directly or indirectly linked to how you perceive society values you, and therefore your self-esteem. Pensions have been earned previously, royalties earned by your intellect, even inheritance is earnings by your family. A life on social security is known to lower self-esteem. Most recipients are desperate to work.

The UBI undercuts this to some extent. It may be part of the answer, but it is only a small part IMHO.


> What of people receiving Social Security, pensions, inherited wealth, royalties from patents and copyrights, rents collected on real estate...?

Not exactly the definition of the creative class is it?


Before governments started heavily funding scientific research in the 20th century, most basic science was done as some wealthy person's hobby. Of course there were far more aristocrats who were interested in using their moneyed leisure to (e.g.) race horses than to experiment with electricity or identify new insect species, but some were driven by curiosity. (If you remember the Web in the 1990s, there was also a lot of amazing creativity that found an outlet via personal passion-sites that had nothing to do with earning an income.)

If nobody really needed to work I think that's it quite possible that the huge population multiplied by a tiny percentage of people spontaneously taking up a creative pursuit (science, music, writing, mathematics, sculpture, animation...) could provide us with a "creative class" of a decent size. How many contemporaries of Henry Cavendish were born with comparable latent curiosity but left no scientific discoveries behind because they had to work in the fields all their lives instead of inheriting wealth? I personally stopped pursuing scientific research and started writing software (very little of it truly novel) because the wages and employment situation are so much better with software. If I didn't have to worry about income ever again I'd spend more time on truly novel interests. It's kind of sad if other people would use their newfound freedom from waged labor to rot on a couch in front of the TV, but not so concerning that I'd assign them a self improvement life-nanny.


> It's kind of sad if other people would use their newfound freedom from waged labor to rot on a couch in front of the TV, but not so concerning that I'd assign them a self improvement life-nanny.

I find it somewhat interesting that in our push to use UBI to avoid the destruction of the middle class, we can't seem to get over the idea that most people would still spend some time being productive and some time being entertained. It's not a matter of "you either spend all your time on the couch, or you spend it all being creative." We know, as a fact, that creativity requires downtime.


> most basic science was done as some wealthy person's hobby

Also "patronage" systems, where wealthier people would support not-so-wealthy scientists and artists. Presumably the patrons derived some social benefit (or personal enjoyment) from being involved in the broader work.


Plenty of scientists, entrepreneurs and creative thinkers have backgrounds that would allow them to subsist with minimal work, and choose to do what they do anyway.


Heck in countries like France, scientists are paid like shit (I mean, by US standards) and still do unpaid overtime without being forced to.


> Some people sound like they're planning how to invent enough bullshit jobs to provide everyone a regular 9-5 schedule and a supervisor even after machines are doing all the strictly necessary labor.

I think that's mistaken on many fronts. First, new jobs that get invented aren't bullshit. Just as the internet destroyed DVD manufacturing jobs, it created smartphone app jobs, which weren't make-work. Second, the day will never come when machines are doing all of the strictly necessary labor; this is an affectation of the group-think that happens on this site. The firmly established pattern in humanity is that if you automate all of the existing work, humans will start wanting new things, which creates more work. It just....never....stops.

So while I know there are techno-enthusiasts who think AI is so imminent that it can take over even high value knowledge work in the near term, and while I know that "elimination of the middle class through robotics" is a fashionable viewpoint right now, let me just say that I have been reading articles about how strong AI was just around the corner, just a few years off...for the last 20 years. I feel exactly the same way about driverless cars. Every time I pointed that pattern out, someone was always quick to say "this time is different" without really having much evidence why it was. So I guess I'll wait for my thread reply that this time, no, it's really different, AI is going to eat all of the jobs.

I'm enthusiastic about all tech development, but prognostications about the future are pretty much always wrong. Isn't that intuitive? Does anybody really believe they can predict the future?

It's like Star Trek and the 1960s view of what today would be like. Everybody expected matter transporters and flying cars. They didn't get either. But they did get the tricorder.


If the market economy keeps producing new jobs fast enough to compensate for technology eliminating old ones, then I agree that we don't need to plan for mass unemployment at all.

But I want to stake out a position early on that if the market economy plus automation does not actually produce enough jobs for job-seekers in practice, then we should accept that mass employment was a historically contingent phenomenon that can be let go. It's not something that governments should try to keep shambling around in zombie form after the original economic rationale has died. (Bullshit jobs invented just to keep people provided with employment/income is one kind of bad response that I'm worried we'll see from protective governments. Another bad response, from neglectful governments, would be to ignore mass technological unemployment observed in practice, should it come to pass, because they're too wedded to a theory that enough new jobs will always arise in the private sector to offset jobs eliminated by automation.)


Everyone knows the AI community failed to deliver on strong AI, the modern boom in automation and machine learning is not about strong AI, rather the exact opposite. Instead of trying to create artificial general intelligence, researchers are now focused on solving very specific problems.

Like speech recognition, or machine vision, or predictive analytics. What's awesome is that deep learning seems to be coming out with the best results across many different disciplines and problem domains, leading to optimism about it being a general technique that can be applied to many different types of complex problems.

So yea, modern renaissance of machine learning and AI is not the same as the promise of strong AI, very opposite.

I am totally with you in that the future is hard to predict. But this isn't quite the same thing, there are notable differences here that'd suggest that this isn't like the promises made by the community since last 50 years.

Speaking specifically about deep learning, never before in history have we been able to work with the sheer volume of data that we now have and can easily work with. GPU computing shits on the CPU and is faster than the CPU by orders of magnitudes for things like matrix multiplication[1]. Advances in the field like dropout, transfer learning, ensemble learning, boosting, convolutional neural networks, unsupervised pre-training, etc have also led to breakthroughs.

Finally, researchers have more access to large freely available datasets like ImageNet, which has had an enormous impact on the field of machine vision. Freely available tools like Caffe, TensorFlow, Theano, Lasagne, Keras, Torch also make it easy for engineers and not machine learning experts to utilize the state of the art techniques to build awesome software.

[1] https://github.com/tensorflow/tensorflow/issues/3320


I understand that modern techniques are different than older approaches and I'm enthusiastic about their potential.

But going from saying that these approaches will improve things to claiming that they'll destroy the middle class and effectively end employment everywhere is a crazy leap that the article and excessively optimistic people often make.

We can agree that the tech is wonderful, but disagree on the future it leads to.


I was going to start the next Apple but $10k a year and the prospect of a leisurely life of 40oz's in the park and generic brand mac n' cheese was enough to kill what overwhelming propensity and drive I had.


>McAfee pointed to newly collected data that shows a sharp decline in middle class job creation since the 1980s.

False. McAfee will find a corresponding increase in middle class jobs in India and China and elsewhere for the same time period. The narrative that says automation has destroyed the middle class is demonstrably overstated to the point of being close to false. Employers arbitraged labor rates across borders, pure and simple.

This issue is vastly more complex than the scope of the Wired article which suffers from temporal distortion about what has occurred versus what will occur and when.


Absolutely. A lot of these people don't seem to see the world beyond US. If x job losses in the US is compensated by 2x-3x job gains in India/China, why is that a bad thing? Are Westerns somehow more worthy than people from third world countries?



While some jobs have been replaced over sees, it seems like more have been replaced by gradual automation.

https://www.ft.com/content/dec677c0-b7e6-11e6-ba85-95d1533d9...


You're stating that a positive cancels a negative?


People have been saying this kind of thing forever. They said it about agriculture, they said it when the Luddites attacked factories, they said it about farm automation, they said it when computers were becoming popular.

I'm not so sure that this time is different - despite all the insistence, I'm sure it seemed just as serious every other time before too.


Those things freed up people to do more things that require mental instead of physical labor. Now that we're automating mental labor, what is left to shift to? Spiritual and emotional labor? I struggle to envision how we can continue to keep people prospering in a money based economy on just those kinds of work.


I think the point is that at the time of all these innovations (factories, automation, computers) it was never clear what careers people would be freed up to perform.

Surely "web designer" could not be envisioned by the people who were worried about automation 100 years ago, but here we are with under 5% unemployment.


What makes you think we're at a peak of mental productivity?

For the most part the mental labor we're automating isn't actual mental labor, but physical labor things which are difficult to make a computer do - like drive, cook or stitch.


You haven't been watching the news dude: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603431/as-goldman-embrace...

Yay, bring the downvotes, doesn't change the fact that not even our jobs are safe and downvoting such opinions won't make the problem go away - in the future we'll probably build software systems the way we train dogs today! And yes, we'll taste our own medicine :-)


Stock trading and software development aren't tasks I'd rate as difficult mental labor.

In fact, the reason such jobs are desirable, is specifically because they're actually kind of cushy.

Stock trading is a task that has been over-complicated mostly because investors need to engage in double-speak, so that motives for trades that lead to financial gain can be sufficiently obfuscated, when explained to auditors, judges, juries and regulatory officials. Behind the curtain of quants, it's really just a lot of grocery shopping.

Software development is mostly about stacking legos in ornate fashion. Bytes cobble together as building blocks. There are a variety of 256 different building blocks. The computers themselves, the syntax of the code, the methodology of data structures and loops, these aren't the hard parts. It's just plumbing.

Plumbing is probably a similar target of automation.


Every mental task can be reduced to putting 0's and 1's in the right order. However, reducing the tasks to this point isn't really helpful in the discussion. You pretty quickly arrive at a mind bending number of ways to order 0's and 1's, or "legos".


But there are mental jobs being replaced. Finance, insurance, data entry, law, etc are all being disrupted. Some slower than others, but its more the cost of hiring the software developers to replace them with automated systems than it is the technology not being ready.


There are mental jobs being created at greater speed. Hard though it might be to believe, the desire to put things in tables and pivot them and respond to customers' sentiments in real time didn't really exist for the most part before technology made it necessary to hire people to perform those roles. And there's a whole cottage industry of people trying to find Big Data algorithm-enabled solutions to problems companies didn't think they'd have. If they actually work, sometimes, the companies that purchase them can afford to employ more sales staff...


> There are mental jobs being created at greater speed

But not of the type that most of the population could ever do, and most of HN, possibly you, seem to think it too because HN tends to support the idea that things like H1B are needed because of a shortage of tech labour. So, there are jobs created, but not the ones the local population can completely fulfill. Do you think that solves the unemployment problem?

And then there is the fact that some forms of work, while they had left developed countries like the US, still existed because they were "moved" and not "destroyed", like many factory jobs that went to China, are actually now going to disappear for good, because even in a country where labor is extremely cheap, like China, automation is now on the verge of being cheaper on the long term, which leads to things like Foxconn planning to fire half of their employees (!) which also leads to the fact that any solution populists like Trump may have presumed to unemployment, like bringing back those jobs that were outsourced, may not actually work in the present age. Building iPhones in the US is not actually going to create any measurable amount of jobs in the future so it's pretty pointless.

http://fortune.com/2016/12/31/foxconn-iphone-automation-goal...

The present situation is nothing like the age of the luddites and if people don't become aware of it soon enough we might have large % of the people going unemployed, starving and potential revolutionary climates. Modern job creation is not something that can solve the problem. Ask the people who were laid off in Michigan to all become machine learning researchers?

Consider this classic :

> https://blog.codinghorror.com/why-cant-programmers-program/

> Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print "Fizz" instead of the number and for the multiples of five print "Buzz". For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print "FizzBuzz".

> Most good programmers should be able to write out on paper a program which does this in a under a couple of minutes. Want to know something scary? The majority of comp sci graduates can't. I've also seen self-proclaimed senior programmers take more than 10-15 minutes to write a solution.

This is with the current comp sci graduates, which are likely to be more motivated by the field than if we tried to make the entire general population attempt this kind of job. There is no good possible future for some % of the population once we enter the next stage of the automation age and start replacing jobs like truck drivers, taxis, have supermarkets like the planned Amazon Go everywhere etc.

Also, think of the impact the disappearance of some jobs can have on local economies and the dominoes effect. Truck drivers, for example, are essential to many remote places. Without truck drivers stopping there their economy would break and many other jobs would die. Meanwhile large cities have massive rents and ownership costs so it's not like all these people losing jobs and living paycheck to paycheck could suddenly move to the wealthier and more active areas of the country after automation turns their place into ruins, like Detroit (not saying automation was the root cause of Detroit, but comparing the aspect of what happens when the economy of a place turns it into a literal ruin).


You don't need to have the skillset of a programmer to do pivot tables, never mind become a social media manager or a salesperson, so I think we can dispense with that straw man. And the "mental" jobs this discussion speculates about being automated out of existence already have learning curves and some level of intellect/education threshold associated with them.

"Disruption" creates and transforms jobs all over the place: sometimes it's the incredibly specialised jobs being augmented by technology that allows them to be replaced with a below-average graduate using a user-friendly GUI app and sometimes it's incredibly specialised jobs being created because the last generation of analysts that did simple calculations aren't as useful as people that can write algorithms to process bigger datasets than before. Net effect: the middle class mental jobs in "finance, insurance, data entry, law" are different rather than disappearing. One thing companies in these industries certainly don't do is conclude their competitive position is such that after automating part of their work there's no further advantages to be gleaned from throwing staff and technology at solving new problems in their domain.

I've no idea why you're bringing up Foxconn labourers (1.3 million people manufacturing things things for which demand didn't exist a generation ago!) and truck drivers (median age 49 and rising) in a discussion about the supposed hollowing out of the middle class?


>> Now that we're automating mental labor, what is left to shift to?

Creativity and innovation, those are far off in AI. Once AI can do those then we will be pets maybe but I don't know if creativity and innovation led by AI will ever have the value that it would with human creativity, at least not to us. An analogy might be we have fast food but people prefer food cooked by a good chef. Will AI be able to have a unwritten signature like a good movie director? writer? or musician? a home designer? etc.

Robots and AI will take over lots of jobs but will create lots of work like computers did. We aren't even off this planet yet or doing much in space or below the surface or oceans yet, so much work to do.

Just like computers and the internet did, robots and AI will empower smaller and smaller groups to achieve amazing things. Single people can have companies of bots/ai to compete more quickly.


I tend to agree with the OP.

There is still a lot of manual being performed around the world, and there is a lot more mental work to be done than in say, 1800. Also, any current AI technology isn't flawless, so it's probably better used to augment a professionals abilities. That's not to say the machines are not better at something like detecting skin cancer, but it's probably not a bad idea to get a second opinion, I'm not sure it would be wise to hand over the controls 100% just yet.

Unless endlessly self-improving, omnipotent, omnipresence AI systems become a reality (skeptical), and decide they want to hang around on Earth and do our dirty work for us (also skeptical), then, I think we should worry more about fixing human problems immediately, like climate change and getting rid of nuclear weapons.


Mental labor has been automated for a long time. Slide rules, electronic computers all these automated vast amounts of mental labor.


It would be facile to ignore the massive and frequently bloody consequences of such previous economic disruptions. People didn't just go through a period of anxiety and then drift into new jobs and feel content again during previous industrial revolutions.


You frame the disruptions as if they were not a net benefit to society. Sure, governments could have banned the printing press and stayed in the dark ages (scribes would still be making a good living, though.)

Edit: it all depends on tone... I still read the comment with the tone that implies disruptions as being as negative as they are positive, whereas I would frame disruptions are more positive. Granted, that's not to ignore the countless people who have had their lives uprooted by not being able to keep up with fast moving societies.


That's not how I read the comment. I read it as admitting that both things can be (and probably are) true: these sorts of disruptions can be awful and bloody for the people living through them and can also be a net benefit to society. It's looking like we may very well be those people who will be living through the next one of these, so it's reasonable for us to be worried about the awfulness of the transition.


> You frame the disruptions as if they were not a net benefit to society

I don't think he does, though. I'd be much quicker to say that other people frame the disruptions as though they never had significant downsides; I constantly see people saying "most people found new work eventually without too much of a pay cut" as though that implies no one suffered.

More theoretically, we ought to be capable of imagining some net-positive change which causes front-end disruptions so devastating that we can't endure through to the positive result. Imagine rendering 50% of people unemployed in one year and ask whether they would all quietly drift into new jobs, or whether they would set all the data centers on fire and cancel out the progress.

I don't think things are that bad, but pretending a long-run positive exempts you from planning for short-run harms is pretty unfair.


I agree with you about the net benefit in purely economic terms, but it's easy to overweight the benefit when you were born after the costs were paid. Industrialization of production also inevitably led to the industrialization of warfare and we know how that turned out.

I can't say with any certainty that we're definitely better off than if WW2 had never happened. Suppose it had not, and that there had been slower technological development without the necessity of war, so that in 2017 the cutting edge of technology was 2400 bps modems and 300 dpi laser printers (ie a ~25 year technological 'peace handicap'). Is the actual progress we've made over that period worth the ~50 million lives lost in WW2?

Put another way, would you be willing to kill 100 million people now, today, in order to take a 25 year technological shortcut (with no certainty about how well it would pan out)?


I think this is sort of silly - many disruptive technological advancements have happened without causing a war.

Many of the advancements you speak of had nothing to do with war time even, they were made by private companies building things like faster and faster microprocessors.

Yes, war spurts technological advancement, but not in all areas - it might be more realistic to compare something like rockets or nuclear power.


Technological changes caught WW2? A manic dictator, German resentment over Treaty of Versailles had nothing to do with it?


Exactly what were the bloody consequences of tractors or printing presses? If you just say a large number of wars/civil unrest took place during the industrial revolution then the periods before it were no less bloody.


The Luddites and the textile industry come immediately to mind.

"At one time there were more British soldiers fighting the Luddites than there were fighting Napoleon on the Iberian Peninsula."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite


I think one big distinction this time around is how quickly things move now. Society can shift in a few generations, no problem. In a single generation, looks challenging.

But now we're talking about in the span of 5-10 years at most. We're starting to get to the point where the bottom end is bumping against how long people spend in college.

As it approaches 3-5 years, what happens? How quickly can people shift, retrain, and re-educate themselves for the new tools, concepts, or fields that are now open to them?

I don't think anyone has any answers.. but it's a line of reasoning we should explore.


A large middle class hasn't been around all that long in the history of civilization. Maybe it's just a flash in the pan.

My guess is that computer programming will be the new blue collar manufacturing job.


Programming isn't the new blue collar manufacturing job because you don't employ nearly as many people as you were doing manufacturing as you would be employing as computer programmers. Look at the amount of programmers at Alphabet (Google) vs people employed by Ford.


How about Infosys, Wipro, etc.? That kind of programming might employ a large number of people. I think many jobs which now only use spreadsheets for arithmetic may transform into programming jobs. Even some jobs which appear to be only words, like law, might become programming.


  > In English-speaking countries, a blue-collar worker is
  > a working class person who performs non-agricultural
  > manual labour. Blue-collar work may involve skilled
  > or unskilled manufacturing, mining, sanitation, 
  > custodial work, oil field work, construction,
  > mechanical maintenance, warehousing, firefighting,
  > technical installation and many other types of
  > physical work.
  >
  > In contrast, the white-collar worker typically
  > performs work in an office environment and may
  > involve sitting at a computer or desk.
Computer programming is currently white-collar work. At what point are we going to go outside and begin to do it with our hands?

Also, the nature of programming is the ability to automate away white-collar work. We're probably going to need new categories, once many of those are gone. We might end up with engineers, a service-worker class and a managerial/executive class.


> outside ...?

I meant "blue collar" as a metaphor for employing a large group of regular folks, not for outside work.

Manufacturing jobs in the middle of the 20th century were a core part of the economy. As robotics and other forms of automation replace more human activities, computer programming might become somewhat similar to the assembly-line job of the past. If not, I can't think of anything else that could plausibly take that role, in which case there would not be a large middle class.


Read things less literally and you'll be less wrong.


Can you explain what you mean?

There seems to be little connection between the category of blue-collar work and programming other than it is a form of 'building'.

The crux of blue-collar work is that it predominately involves physical labor and does not require 'skill'. That's not a literal interpretation, that's the core meaning -- programming is not analogous to physical labor or 'unskilled' work.


Take it in the sense of "[Color] is the new black". Obviously, it's not literally true. But (going back to xapata's statement) computer programming could come to occupy the same role in society that manufacturing jobs used to. That's how I would've read the comment.


>The crux of blue-collar work is that it predominately involves physical labor and does not require 'skill'.

The former, yes - the latter, no.

A boilermaker or a welder is a blue-collar worker, but doing either requires a great deal of skill.

What it does not require is 'artistry.'


A welder's job doesn't require too much physical labor and a lot of skill but it would still be classified as blue collar.


> blue-collar ... physical labor and does not require skill

If you drop the physical labor requirement, some computer programming tasks can be performed by folks without much education.

Manufacturing has historically been a low-skilled, not un-skilled job. Programming can be, too, if we change the way we teach.


I think you've nailed it with this observation. The middle class may be a mile marker on a many millennium journey from self/tribal sustenance to ubiquitous sustenance as specialization, automation and efficiency combine to compress social-economic classes. This assumes an intelligent and benevolent ruling class. The Snowpiercer outcome is possible too.


This assumes an intelligent and benevolent ruling class.

That would never happen, except temporarily. Those who want power for selfish reasons (money, control, etc) will always prevail in the long run, because they are slightly more likely to seek power. It's the Darwinism of politics. What we see going on today is merely that playing out. Good politicians play by the rules and the bad ones do not. This puts the good ones at a severe disadvantage. I'm using "good" here to mean ethical and moral.


>People have been saying this kind of thing forever. They said it about agriculture, they said it when the Luddites attacked factories, they said it about farm automation, they said it when computers were becoming popular.

were they wrong tho?


They weren't. All of the things the OP listed resulted in dramatic (and often very disruptive and painful) changes for the Middle Class.

Personally, I hate the whole "people have been saying this forever" type dismissals. They are "mid-brow", as PG would call it: they look intelligent on the surface by giving the illusion of a broader perspective, but don't actually address the point being brought up and don't add anything to the discussion.


I don't see how they don't address the point being brought up. They explicitly point out past scenarios where these sort of predictions were wrong. I think the peddlers of these predictions are disingenuous and intellectually lazy. If they want others to take them seriously they need to explain why their predictions don't fall under the same criticisms.


I like the idea from the CP Grey video on automation: Better technology did not make more better jobs for horses.

Horses are still around, but the population peaked around the turn of the century (19th-20th).

How good does automation have to get before large portions of the population find themselves in the same position as early 20th century horses.


People can do mental labor. Horses can't. Automation can't.


Automation can absolutely do manual labor. How do you think cars used to be made in the past? By workers manually attaching the parts together. Today however we have giant machines that perform those tasks.

It's only a matter of time before other forms of manual labor are automated. It won't happen all at once, but gradually.


I said mental labour, not manual.

Yes, most physical labor may be automated... eventually, a lot of that is still fairly far off - we don't even have completely automated farms yet.

I'm more talking things like development, writing, design, marketing and sales. Things like that we'll probably always want some human touch to, even if it can be machine assisted in some ways.


They were. They were disruptive, sure, they might have cost a lot of people, but eventually they resulted in a better, richer (if not in wealth, at least in terms of value), more scientifically advanced, more entertained and more productive society.


Tell that to the surplus horses that bootstrapped the pet food industry when Ford democratized cars...


They got jobs in the glue factory. ;)


Parallel career paths!


Right, but there really are dangers that fail to materialize until they do. That's not a reason to dismiss every danger that has always so failed.


"Forever" is before the space race, before everyone was driving instead of riding, before everyone had the Internet, TV or even radios in their home.

Every step in industrialization has hurt a lot of people, and their number is increasing every time. This time it's going to be millions.

I don't know if that's enough for a critical mass of sorts for some huge revolt, it may be.


Ultimately it's helped far more people than it's hurt. It's given us medicine, it's given us affordable food, clothing and incredible technology. To the extent that I can comfortably say I'd rather be lower class now than upper class just a few hundred years ago.


"...increasing every time."? I doubt that. I don't think we'll ever see a dislocation like we saw with agricuture in first world countries, where an occupation that employed 95%+ of the people is now done by something like 3% (depending on how you measure it).


Why, you're in luck I guess, that should happen again within the next two decades. Thankfully (or unfortunately?) the world is more globalized than ever, people will be moving all over the planet.


I doubt that, too. People will continue to move from the countryside to cities within their countries, but the days of mostly open borders are probably coming to a close.


Communists are dreaming of the revolution since 1848, it never arrives.


From a historical perspective your reservation is totally fair. But I think the issue is a lot more complex than just looking at the impact automation has had in the past. Here are a few points worth mulling over:

1. Automation in the past has been good at increasing worker productivity, and making new avenues of work possible. This is true going forward too. But each new generation of technology isn't "something we've seen before", it's a new thing with new consequences. Technological development isn't cyclical, so estimating the impact a new technology will have on the impact previous technologies have had is a poor model. This isn't to say the consequences will be bad, just that they're hard to anticipate. For the most part, the historical perspective is probably right though.

2. Automation in the past has been very effective in improving worker productivity, but developments in AI and robotics are looking at ways to supplant workers (i.e. electric cars don't improve our ability to drive, it removes our need for drivers). While in the broad sense this trend is good, and people will over time shift into new industries, it is going to be disruptive. Timelines will have a big impact on the shock. New industries won't spring up over night.

3. The timeline for this level of automation is much shorter than previous automation trends. The shift in agriculture happened over generations. The shift caused by driverless cars will likely happen in less than a decade. Add to that the efficiency of market pressures we have today - once one business is able to shift entirely to an autonomous fleet and save money over their competitors, all their competitors will have to follow suite to remain competitive. Entire industries could be displaced, and those workers will need to move somewhere.

4. This is more hypothetical and longer term, but it gets at what I think is the general fear around automation. Imagine we develop the ability to automate any unskilled job (whether through broad automation improvements or development of an actual general-purpose automaton). The primary factor in whether a business would choose to employ that automaton over a human is cost. The automaton is a once-off fixed cost, whereas a human is an ongoing cost. Once the cost of the automation is lower than paying a salary, humans will no longer be employed in that role.

5. Following from this, if it's the unskilled jobs that get automated, where do those workers go? At this stage, even if automation is creating new lines of work, why wouldn't that work also be automated? Basically, once we automate unskilled work, we never need unskilled workers again. In order to find work they'll need to skill up, which takes time and money. And if it takes a year to train a worker to a level that they're a net benefit, why not invest that money instead into automating the skilled work too?


Yeah, so describe how you think the middle class is doing these days.


It scares me too, but you know, I'm ready to embrace whatever comes next.

I've been thinking alot about this over the course of the last year. Say that enough things get automated that we have massive numbers of unemployed, how do we address that? Instead of dodging the question by exclaiming that it won't happen, we probably should address a much deeper and more fundamental question: Why does the value of a person come from their method of earning a living? We have to detach individual value from choice of career first.

Once we've done that, we really have a real question to answer, and it's deeply existential: Do we really want humankind's story to be about the majority of a population working at dead-end jobs just to buy food and water? Aren't we here for more? I for one don't buy the theory that we will self organize into makerspaces and become "creators". Creativity beyond survival is a luxury when life and death are on the line.

I don't have the answers, but I certainly have many questions. If I had to guess what would happen in the event that extreme A.I. automation puts us out of work, I'd suspect we will organize back into tribes to focus on subsistence. I've found that if you look at the history books, a centralized government isn't the best entity to take care of masses of unemployed people. In large enough countries, people would end up starving in the bread lines.

I think we need to really think about why we're here. Why are we so bent on using automation to complete the tasks of our shitty 9-5 lives instead of building a utopia? People are quick to say that we need to replace a money based economy, but that's too superficial a solution. Money is merely a shared myth used by us to trade our time and value for a symbol that we can use to prove our worth. Until we transfer where the "worth" of an individual comes from, we're going to be in this cycle.


Such questions have been asked for a long time, because this problem was visible ever since the dawn of the industrial revolution. It's what inspired Marx after all. And no, I'll never advocate for communism because I think Marx was wrong and because in practice it ends with crimes against human kind.

But we are here because of greed. And along with all other problems that we face, like global warming, overpopulation, pollution, etc, I think it's going to get a lot worse before getting better.

Some form of socialism is inevitable though, that much is certain. Having guaranteed food, shelter and medical care is a must.


Maybe this idea of worth is hardwired inside us. As animals that existed in small groups throughout the world there was much work to be done in the daily activities of hunting, cooking, fixing and building shelters, raising children and possibly fighting with other tribes. With those constraints where there are no idle hands, the elderly and disabled become liabilities that are often discarded. Lazy people probably would not be tolerated in this environment.

So it seems likely that the distaste for someone not working as hard as everyone else is deeply ingrained in our culture and possibly even our genes.


Each time this conversation comes up I notice people often like to suggest that history is just repeating and we have seen this before. I think its important to recognize patterns in cycles but its also important to be open to the possibility we've only seen local cycles and larger global cycles are still revealing themselves. In other words is AI really analogous to shifts we've seen before?


I agree. History certainly didn't repeat itself when it came to the scientific and technological explosion of the past ~150+ years.

But if we are considering history, we may also wish to recall that education was strictly for the clerical and aristocratic classes before the industrial revolution. And we may also wish to remember that in US none other than the robber baron John D. Rockefeller took initiative to shape the educational paradigm for the "peasants".

Will the peasants need to be educated anymore?


The "AI" being discussed is mainly competent data mining and machine learning. If we stay at that level, then there are easily bigger shifts that we've adjusted to in the past.

But self-improving AI is truly on a different level, as is AI with human-level 'general intelligence'.


I hear ya on the data mining observation. I have been digging into 'applied' ML for the last two years or so and its painfully obvious how many articles are based on science fiction and not the current state of things (which appears to be mostly reinforcement learning)


So much tech journalism falls prey to the logical fallacy of generalization from fictional evidence ...

http://lesswrong.com/lw/k9/the_logical_fallacy_of_generaliza...


Now I'll highlight a concern I do actually have about a fully robotized economy: weapons proliferation. The key pieces of information needed to build a serviceable anti-tank missile or a jug of nerve gas are already lying on the shelves of thousands of technical libraries. The details may be classified, but the broad outlines in the open literature are good enough for someone with patience and a technical background to fill in workable solutions. Fortunately for civilization to date, {diligent, technically educated, sufficiently well funded, homicidal} is a set of attributes that rarely co-occurs. We've seen homicidal maniacs who were patient and well-funded enough to make their own nerve gas just once so far (Aum Shinrikyo in Japan in the 1990s).

Things change if machines do all the real work and a would-be killer doesn't need any special skills to get deadlier weapons. The unhinged man who rage-kills his ex-wife and some of her coworkers with a gun today could, in the future, ask the makerbot for kilograms of RDX or tabun instead of a gun. Outbreaks of lethal violence might be rarer, since people who are materially well-off are generally less likely to murder, but the rarer killings rooted in rage or ideology could become a lot deadlier.

In a few post-scarcity science fiction settings impulses to violence are stopped with direct human nerve implants linked to a machine panopticon that can halt dangerous actions. I don't consider that a plausible or even desirable future. In my favorite space opera setting, the Culture of Iain M. Banks, killers are pre-empted by omniscient benevolent AI oversight running millions of times faster than biological intelligence. That sounds dreamy to me, but it involves a lot of made up Space Opera physics so I don't think it is plausible. Thinking about a future where AI is capable enough to manufacture anything people ask for, but not capable enough to act as benevolent gods, leads to some odd mixtures of prosperity and catastrophe.


_The unhinged man who rage-kills his ex-wife and some of her coworkers with a gun today could ....._

After such a horrendous event, maybe the US society would start asking themselves why there are so many societies with far less lunatics getting around killing. And after answering that question, US politics and society force themselves acting because everyone agrees "never again"?


"ask the makerbot for kilograms of RDX or tabun instead of a gun"

I know the NSA and IoT get a lot of criticism here. But this seems like a good usecase for the always connected, phone home systems, with an all seeing eye. :)

"killers are pre-empted by omniscient benevolent AI oversight"

As someone who used to work in a warehouse, ai which can detect anomalous orders seems incredibly plausible. Considering they have all been storing data for years, you have plenty of training data. Making something that notices when certain substances are shipped to someone who is not a normal customer seems trivial, if it doesnt exist. I mean the conservation of mass means that the explosive has to come from somewhere :)


Some fear that after squeezing immigration—which would put a brake on the kind of entrepreneurship McAfee calls for—the White House will move to bottle up automation and artificial intelligence.

Sounds bizarre but totally possible. If you haven't heard of Aleksandr Dugin then it's time to play catch-up, because even if you think he's batshit insane he's quite influential: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandr_Dugin

People in the developed world have come to take technological progress for granted because of the inexorable economic logic. But with automation, adherence to default axioms about basic concepts like property ownership inevitably leads to most of the capital being concentrated in very few hands, resulting in some sort of modern serfdom. Nationalist programs implicitly depend on autarky, and the goal of nationalism is not maximum collective utility but rather vitalism - continuous improvement through the struggle for survival. Conflict, even defeat, is preferable for nationalists to ennui.


AI will eliminate a lot of jobs, sure. So have many other advances in the past. It seems like the decline of organized labor unions would be a bigger threat to the Middle Class than technology.


It's more like "was" than "would be".


There are basic capabilities humans have, and capabilities machines have. Human capabilities are more or less fixed. Machine capabilities keep expanding.

About half of work done today could be automated with technology we already have. All it takes is wider deployment of the most automated technologies. The current phase is not because computers are smarter. It's that they're really cheap. If a computer can do it, it will be cheaper than a human.

Next employment area in the US about to get clobbered: fruit and vegetable picking.[1]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBcWZcjXr-I


I get your point but I'm not entirely sure human capabilities are fixed. In fact I would opt to say that we're the only species that has evidence of not being fixed in capabilities. I have no doubt that pg was a better programmer in the 90s than I am today. However if me now and him then were pitted against each other to build some web app I'm thinking I have pretty good odds. Human capabilities are their inate skills * education * available tooling. Education and tooling improve as time goes forward (generally and hopefully).


I think we will laugh at this "AI threat" in 30 years after yet another long "AI winter". I mean I haven't been convinced of any "AI" displayed. All just seems to be glorified pattern matching with little practical use. I mean siri and cortana and alexa are all dumb as sh*t. Sure some cars can negotiate some clearly marked streets in nice weather. I don't think there is an automatic leap from these technologies to more advanced AI that actually would for example enable totally autonomous cars. Sure there are incremental improvements in robotics etc that helps to raise the efficiency of some operations but then the humans can move on to different jobs and enable other things. Eg. radiology where humans can treat people some AI has marked the scans as "suspect". So better treatment because of "AI", but the doctor still has a job.

Also, manufacturing jobs have _not_ been falling, far from it. This all seems like a big ruse for globalists to use to lower wages and move jobs to the currently cheapest place, where ever that may be. "It's AI I tells you, luddites!"


> Also, manufacturing jobs have _not_ been falling, far from it. > This all seems like a big ruse for globalists to use to lower wages and move jobs to the currently cheapest place, where ever that may be

You are decades behind the times.

> http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966

> Foxconn replaces '60,000 factory workers with robots'

> http://fortune.com/2016/12/31/foxconn-iphone-automation-goal...

> In a new report from Digitimes, Foxconn executive Dai Jia-peng has laid out the company’s three-step plan for automating its Chinese factories. The company’s ultimate goal is to fully automate production of things like PCs, LCD monitors, and its most famous product—the iPhone.

> Foxconn makes its own manufacturing robots, known as Foxbots, and has already deployed about 40,000 of them. Some, which the company considers "stage one," assist workers at their stations. Foxconn already has individual fully automated production lines—they're "stage two"—in factories in Chengdu, Chongquing, and Zhengzhou.

> Stage three of the process would be fully automated factories, with only a handful of workers.

Even China with its cheap labor is now willing to invest in that technology. If Trump ever becomes "successful" at "bringing those jobs back" to the USA, it will be jobs for machines.


Throughout the 20th century new technology has been steadily increasing the value of human labour, but some forms of human labour have increased more than others, and this imbalance has caused a market distortions.

Technology has done a great deal to make railroad engineers more valuable for instance, because one guy could suddenly move hundreds of tons of goods. Used to be it took an army to do that.

On the other hand we have plumbers, and the amount of work a plumber can do has changed little in a century. There is no plumber who can to the work of a hundred plumbers from 100 years ago.

This causes a market distortion is what is hurting so much of what America calls the middle class. If we deploy AI well, it may correct some of these market distortions. A plumber with a team of robots and an AI assistant will all of the sudden be able to do enough work to justify the cost of his labour. Maybe. If one were to entertain the notion that there are certain jobs we haven't automated enough, which hurts their ability to compete with the value we get from low cost goods and services.


> A plumber with a team of robots and an AI assistant will all of the sudden be able to do enough work to justify the cost of his labour.

This also implies that fewer individual plumber/robot/AI teams than the current number of plumbers. To offset that, we either need quite a bit more work at this level, or we need a rethink of the whole work-to-live system.

In the past it has always turned out that there are new kinds of jobs to be done. That may happen this time too. Things like living off of making YouTube videos are perhaps an early indicator of the direction we should be looking in. But it seems like most of the new models that are successful are based on ads and it seems to me that advertising-based business models can only ever make up a relatively small portion of the total economy.


Just curious, but are there stats on how the comparative income of some professions has changed due to changes like this? I feel like the change in the importance and work done by people in jobs impacted in this way (you mention railroad engineers specifically) hasn't substantially changed the amount such people are paid, but this is admittedly only a gut instinct.


Every living organism is designed by evolution to strive for survival and reproduction. It's the constant fight that gets you out of the bed every morning. Having nothing to do all day but paint will eventually result in premature death. Think animals in captivity.

What if the end of humanity will be caused not by a nuclear war but by a peaceful AI that made us zoo animals?


If we have the technological prowess to replace human labor in full yet can't figure out what to then do with our lives other then paint then we truly are a doomed species. It seems like people lack imagination, everyone either thinks "don't worry we will still have jobs (appeals to social history)" or the "with nothing to do we will wither and die (appeals to evolutionary history)". I think both those camps are missing something which should be self evident if we ever get to this point: The freedom and ability to create meaning in ones own life.

I do agree with you though, if we are kept in captivity by political and social structures (ahem..religion) that fail to evolve with technology (which seems like human nature sadly) then the average human will go the way of the sloth or the people in idiocracy. I am hopeful though that the AI will save us from that captivity more so then reinforce it yet that may be a foolish hope.

Is being a zoo animal so bad if we have the full capabilities of very powerful AI? What if those AI's were specifically devoted to making it a better zoo? At that point what is the difference? What is inherently bad about being a zoo animal if you can't see the walls and the zoo keepers don't abuse you?


At some point attention becomes the ultimate resource. Most people earn income by paying attention to somebody else's projects. But with a little introspection and basic goal setting training, many people identify projects to which they would prefer to give their attention if income were not an issue. I think a society in which a higher proportion of one's time can be spent on personal projects vs. other's projects is a goal worth working towards.


I think this is unnecessarily pessimistic. We'll find our fights, whether mountain climbing, video games, even gaining recognition as a painter.


I'm working on a machine learning product for conversion optimization, https://improve.ai.

Despite my initial fears, I'm noticing that, like any tool, it simply allows the user to do more with less. My product isn't going to replace conversion rate optimization consultants - it's just another tool they use to provide more value to their clients.

If the barrier to using machine learning were high, then I would be concerned that the benefits would only go to few. But since very powerful APIs will be increasingly cheap and democratized, the barriers will be quite low to reap the benefits of these technologies.

We often get caught up in the technical minutiae of machine learning, but you already don't need to be a deep learning expert to take advantage of, for example, cheap speech recognition APIs. This lowered barrier to entry will only accelerate.

But, then again, I'm an optimist. :-)


I think there's more to conversation rate optimisation than randomly testing variations of a greeting. The price testing you mentioned looks interesting, but a good CRO consultant will do research and figure out the objections manually. Then, instead of having to test an infinite amount of variations with millions of visitors to reach statistical significance, they can test one or two. I call what your tool seems to do "throwing darts in the dark". And if I've completely misunderstood your product, perhaps you've got some optimising to do ;)


Thanks for the feedback. The "Hello World" was supposed to be tongue in cheek, but obviously didn't come off that way. Oops!

We initially built the tool for this app:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/7-second-meditation-daily/id...

From hundreds of different daily meditations it has learned precisely which order to show the content in to maximize retention. So it knows the best message for day 1, day 2, day 3, etc.

The first month retention for this app is 43%, up from the 20s before optimization. The current rating is solid 5 stars ands usually in the top 10 in the mindfulness category.

The In App Purchase prices are automatically optimized, and soon we'll be throwing in a bunch of different background images, all of which will be automatically optimized.

Anyway, I really appreciate the feedback.


That should be your headline :)


Middle class is not some fundamental type of entity. New class types might arise for future AI supported life. Or maybe population would reduce to a level sufficient to maintain new type of living which would be comfortable/luxurious in terms of what we think today.


So, like Brave New World?


The idea that technology will cause widespread job-loss and economic upheaval is such an old fear, and it never works that way. Technological innovations lead to wealth creation 100% of the time, along with more opportunities for more people, even if some jobs are initially replaced with other jobs. "This time is different" is announced everytime, and it's always the same.

This book is very good for anybody wishing to understand basic economic theory and see many examples throughout history of this exact debate taking place over and over and over again: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0517548232/ (see the chapter "The Curse of Machinery").


Yes but this time it's different. Throughout history, until the past 50 years or so, the new technology has typically replaced a mechanical function humans were performing. The coming evolution of software and robotics will start performing the mental work humans, until very recently, were the ONLY thing on the planet capable of doing.

For the past 3000 years of "modern humans", we have had a monopoly on the human brain and creative intelligence. That monopoly is coming to an end. What will the average worker do when a robot that can out-wit them? You cannot just handwave this problem away saying "it always creates new jobs!!11".

This problem is well-summarized by this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU


I'm pretty sure travel agents believed they were doing "mental work".


Animatrix: The Second Renaissance: Part I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0K6Cb1ZoG4

So yes, human revolution may come first.


I don't find many articles talking about how AI integration in the industry could lower the production costs in many markets, that would allow consumers to be able to buy products cheaper, so they could work less to be able to pay basic stuff.

Also it would allow people to be more capable to scale multiple tasks, for instance: instead of being a taxi driver you become the manager of a driver less taxi.


Even though I am considered 'skilled labor', I hardly consider myself so skilled to be making the incredible AI machines that will be the ones to take over the jobs (in comparison to the competition, anyway). As for "less skilled folks" like myself, here's an abridged list of things you can do (in additional to software) to start hedging your bet against AI.

- Real estate (Landlord): I'd suggest you save money and start buying some property. Dump some sweat equity into certain markets and you may have something here. AI can never beat the ultimate constraint -- land.

- Environmental science: AI is great, but I doubt computer vision and robotics will become good enough to replace foresters and the like anytime soon. If you live in a wooded area, it may be worth it to start investigating it. Plus, it's healthy to walk around in nature anyway. Double whammy.

- Teacher: It's unlikely any teaching will be done by an AI. Behavior management in particular is difficult enough with a human, let alone an AI. When an AI robot is teaching our students directly, we have bigger problems on our hand.


> - Teacher: It's unlikely any teaching will be done by an AI. Behavior management in particular is difficult enough with a human, let alone an AI. When an AI robot is teaching our students directly, we have bigger problems on our hand.

That already depends on the type of skill being taught. Learning a new language, for example, has never been dependent on teachers and I think I've been doing quite well with purely self taught English, and that was before methods like duolingo appeared. My mother is living in retirement and has started learning languages as a way to pass time, she has learned enough English through duolingo to achieve a conversational level and she never had a teacher. Is it really impossible for more sophisticated AIs to truly replace language teachers in schools, and have students do things through a computer? and possibly replace teachers in many other fields of studies too. I'd wager most of the less advanced courses in pre-college stuff could do well with modern, computerized, interactive methods of learning. I don't think you could replace the interaction with a teacher for more advanced studies, though.


I think the statement "AI/robots won't be able to do X" is incorrect for all X given a long enough time frame.


This problem has been weighing heavily on my mind since reading The Second Machine Age. The first thing I've read that gives me some hope for finding a solution is Rushkoff's "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus"

I highly recommend reading both books, because more perspective is needed to think abouy this than just "what machines can and cant automate"


Well, I dint know what they decded the ethics were for biotechnology, but genetically engineering seeds so that farmers depend on the auxiliary herbicides from singular corporations strikes me as unethical. Not to mention that farmers are reliant on those same corporations for seed itself. Seeds that have been cultivated for hundreds of thousands of years are getting replaced with zombie varieties that disrupt ecologies. This is a crisis. We are losing our collective seed memory.

To me, capitalism is not about free markets, it's about debt markets. Maybe that's because the only capitalism I've ever known is ideologically restricted. Its champions are often hypocrites of their religion, where income from rent is deemed productive while work done by a mother in taking care of her children is consumptive and indebted.


So was the telegram, the telephone, automobiles, computers, but every time it's meant an astonishing increase in wealth for everyone.

Employment isn't even the end all be all, we would be much happier with 50% employment and greater levels of wealth.


Who is we? The 50% that's employed and thus can afford to live, or the 50% that's homeless?


We don't need AI to end the middle class.

Services like Uber are replacing what used to be a stable job by fewer drivers with a job now done by many more drivers for peanuts. It's almost a way of taking an industry and redistributing the wealth.


> Services like Uber are replacing what used to be a stable job by fewer drivers with a job now done by many more drivers for peanuts.

Right idea, wrong complaint.

GPS is the automated tool that killed the Taxi. There was a time when it took specialized knowledge to know the layout of a city. GPS took away the one edge the Taxi-industry had... experience in driving and roads.

Uber is just the first major company to take advantage of cheap GPS technology. As soon as GPS-systems were so cheap that they are in literally everybody's pockets... the Taxicab industry became an endangered species.


"GPS is the automated tool that killed the Taxi."

No, not really. When I travel to a new city, I always use a Taxi to get around. GPS actually helps out the taxi drivers because I don't need to sit there explaining exactly where to go. I can just tell them the address. In a foreign country, it's even better: Just give them a business card or piece of paper with the address on it.

"Uber is just the first major company to take advantage of cheap GPS technology."

Uber is the first major company to avoid all of the taxi unions and the medallion systems and hire any driver off the street for what amounts to some extra beer money for the drivers.

It's really convenient and nice for consumers, but guts the industry of jobs that could actually earn someone a real living.

"the Taxicab industry became an endangered species."

Again, no it didn't. I'm not sure how much traveling you have done but when you need to get somewhere on time, Trains and Subways don't really cut it. You need to take a taxi.

Unless we have an instant form of travel without cars, we will always have a need for taxis.

Uber did, however, show us that when unions are in place and create a monopoly in an industry, they really have no incentive to actually make things better for the consumer.


> Uber is the first major company to avoid all of the taxi unions and the medallion systems and hire any driver off the street for what amounts to some extra beer money for the drivers.

Oh come on. As if these Uber drivers would have been able to navigate an unknown neighborhood in the 1980s.

The enabling technology here is the GPS, specifically the free GPS in everybody's smartphone. Without that, the entire Uber model fails because the typical Uber Driver has no navigation skills.


The driver's GPS made driving more accessible. But the passenger's GPS was even more important, because tourists finally know when they're being ripped off.


So us as technologists and engineers contributing towards this AI field, how do we help sustain middle-class? The state of STEM education is unfortunate at public schools here in the USA.


The problem with UBI is inflation. Give everyone another $1000/month (or whatever) and all you've done is make every existing dollar in the economy worth less.


This is exactly the question I don't see answered. How will you handle increased prices? Unless instead of $1000/pm, you give an equivalent purchasing power/quota based on normal/average/reasonable per-capita consumption. Like a token that allows you to buy a certain amount of food/clothes/medicines etc. So what happens if I don't need to buy anymore clothes today but need more medicines but another guy is in a reverse situation? How about we translate this purchasing quota into points and have an exchange for people to trade them? Did we re-invent barter system/money in another form?


Make the UBI micro-adjusted (month-to-month) for inflation based on a consumer index - and so indirectly tax passive capital (which is only earning meager interest)?


AI makes me want to join the Amish. You learn things to give yourself a future and self-fulfilment. But AI will catch up with your skills eventually. You would need to spend all your time learning if you want to keep ahead, and never have time to put to work what you have learned.

Wouldn't you rather have a community and a meaningful life than be a meat-based beta version of a future AI?


Great! Maybe we will finally have the excess capacity to finally send people into local archives all over the world so that we can save the data about the past and feed it to the machines. If you want data for models there is tons of it lurking in the basements of municipal buildings all over the world, and you might find a lost Da Vinci manuscript while you are at it!


The problem isn't AI. It's capitalism. People are fearing the ultimate triumph of capital over labor.. If people owned the robots, then there would be no problem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAwB9-9QOQI


It's an interesting perspective, but what would stop people from having shares in companies that own robots?


All people should have shares in companies that own robots. Or they should at least have a claim in the return on capital.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/basic-income-fu...


Once everything is automated there will be little need for money, we'll all be kings! Damn hell ass kings!


This is the bit I can't understand about the nay sayers. AI promises a world of everything you could want. The problem is the current way of assigning goods (money for labour) is obsolete. The really funny thing (to me) is the people who'd benefit most by this are the ones wailing the most.

It's the disconnects that confuse me the most. "What about houses, how can we afford a house without a job?" is a complaint I hear. Like for some reason AI won't reduce construction costs to near 0.

The hard part imho is the transition where some jobs are obsoleted, but some aren't and some things still cost lots because they haven't been automated yet. This is where we are now I think.


> Like for some reason AI won't reduce construction costs to near 0.

Ok and how will you pay the guy who owns the lumber if you have nothing he wants? And the guy who owns the construction bots? And the owner of the land?


Yes, thats what I'm wondering - when you have a fully automated supply chain that builds houses with 0 labour (probably never be 0, but near enough for the sake of argument). Lets say we have a world that everything is automated to produce all the stuff we need.

Then how do you pay for that stuff because no one will be working. Also what will prompt people to make new machines to build new stuff?


foglets perhaps will do the trick https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_fog


one step from gray goo then though https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo


In the end, it's all in the hands of our friend Sol. If only we could reduce every problem down to a problem of harvesting enough photons from the sun, we'd be set for life (and many more). In a way, DNA is the strongest-possible argument for truly universal UBI...


So the unemployed would need to find a way to support themselves by their own work, by cooperation and by using automation as well. A combination of solar technology, robotics, AI and classic engineering could be a formula for self reliance.


Agriculture is controlled by a relatively small sliver of people. If you can't convince some of them to be on your side and give you food, then your movement is going to starve.


Why not just wrest control of the means of production for themselves? The more concentrated the wealth, the easier it becomes to target it. When people see no other practical means of economic advancement revolutions tend to ensue.


yes, the old "specter of communism" is always hanging around. I don't think people will just rollover and cease to exist once they are deemed not needed by a society.


The kind of unemployed people that would require does not exist.

People are going to be unemployed and starving because they can't use or even access "solar technology, robotics, AI and classic engineering"


Yes, let them eat cake instead.


Skynet probably wasn't built for its own sake. It was probably built to protect the people who owned Skynet from the people that didn't.


Skynet has a specific origin story, explained in the movie, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

  In three years, Cyberdyne will become the
  largest supplier of military computer 
  systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded 
  with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully 
  unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a 
  perfect operational record. The Skynet 
  Funding Bill is passed. The system goes 
  online August 4th, 1997. Human decisions 
  are removed from strategic defense. Skynet 
  begins to learn at a geometric rate. It 
  becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern 
  time, August 29th. In a panic, they try 
  to pull the plug. Skynet fights back. It 
  launches its missiles against the targets 
  in Russia. Skynet knows that the Russian 
  counterattack will eliminate its enemies 
  over here.
It was an out-growth of the cold war arms race. Nuclear deterrents aren't as much about protection as they are about posturing. Lives aren't quite "saved" by nuclear arsenals.

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