"The previous one, the industrial revolution, created lots of jobs"
That industrial revolution caused massive unemployment in India, in the Ottoman empire, in China... almost everywhere that had once been a famous textile center. The idea that the industrial revolution did not cause unemployment is an illusion that is caused by looking at only one nation state. But Britain was the winner of the early industrial revolution, and it was able to export its unemployment. And because of this, a breathtaking gap opened up between wages in the West and wages everywhere else. The so-called Third World was summoned into existence. You can get some sense of this by reading Fernand Braudel's work, "The Perspective of the World"
The software revolution will be similar with some nations winning and many others losing.
... I suppose there is a third option: an anti-technology crusade that bans automation to restore employment. But a make-work economy sucks, and is not likely to succeed in the long term.
That is, unless we start harvesting magic dust from some desert planet with really big omnivorous worms.
Why not both? We certainly have all kinds of societies on earth today. What makes you think we won't have areas that are highly progressive but also areas that are extremely sadistic in the treatment of their people?
Probably true. Evolution is amoral. If suffering has higher fitness, suffering wins. Just look at the ordeal that is human birth and infancy, for both mother and baby.
I think we're already seeing it form today and it's infancy doesn't detract from it's long-term danger.
While the future economy will be heavily automated, it will still be an economy. Declining demand will still do ugly things to it. It's likely that a drop in demand will do more to squeeze out human labor than machine labor, since the former is more expensive and in a declining economy everyone tries to squeeze margin.
Before it happened you had a much more distributed economy with many much smaller centers of production (many at the household level or close) in agriculture, trades, and craft manufacturing.
Afterwards in any domestic industry where economy of scale was a competitive advantage, you had a small number of much larger centralized producers. Almost certainly with many fewer jobs in actual production (consolidation corresponding to efficiencies of scale). If there was any net gain over time since it would have been in new products being made and some new support positions needed. It is not clear to me there was ever a trend to a net gain over timescales longer than a two decades or so.
So by and large it moved us to an economy with a profusion of increasingly competitively manufactured products to buy, and selling labor itself is the de facto form of subsistence rather than direct production.
I think you're correct that there's always been some externalization of unemployment and a lot of the visibility depended on industry specifics. This isn't new. But what is new is that software gives us essentially a higher order of automation that means (a) it sure looks like we're automating out old jobs even faster than we're creating new ones and (b) with more unemployment we get fewer places to externalize it. :/
I guess what you mean is that the industrial revolution massively increased the amount of capital you needed to be able to produce goods competitively. Buying a set of tools and some raw materials to make things by hand stopped being a viable route out of the labor market into 'entrepreneurship' when mass machine-produced goods could be supplied more cheaply. Your option was to sell your labor to someone who owned some big machines, much like your ancestors sold theirs to people who owned a patch of fertile land, or a big pile of wood they wanted making into a ship.
So in a sense it created the modern labor market in that it locked a lot more people into it, and obviously diversified the kinds of jobs that existed. On the other hand, it was, as you say, a massive productivity multiplier which meant we were able to create more and more wonderful and complex goods for, in real terms, less and less cost, to the point where nowadays by exchanging your labor for cash, you can soon have enough money to afford a box of electronics that fits in your pocket and allows you to access all the world's information.
Just picking a nit, but the Third World came into existence during the Cold War, long after the industrial revolution. Third world countries are countries that were non-aligned or neutral during the Cold War.
But seriously, I don't think that's how people use this term any more. It's just a synonym for developing country by now.
I also like this definition from Urban Dictionary: "Any country that owes rolls of money to the IMF and the World Bank."
This was because of the West getting richer, not everyone else getting poorer. Had the 'third world' countries had the right economic structures in place they too would have gotten richer like the West, much as East Asia has caught up to the West's economic development since economic and social reforms after WW2.
All of those economic structures were destroyed and perverted by the conquerors.
As counter-examples, Japan went from being extraordinarily backward to being an industrial powerhouse in a single generation, in time to go toe-to-toe with Russia and the USA in the early 20th century, and walk all over Korea and China. For that matter, once it got it's act together China has surged forward, growing GDP by a factor of 20 in only 25 years. So why did Japan go through this revolution almost 100 years earlier than China? Why has India lagged behind industrially, while surging ahead in terms of IT?
There are a host of cultural factors at play here. Japan responded to US colonial interference by deciding to modernise to prevent that ever happening again. China responded to the humiliation of colonial aggression by tearing itself apart for 100 years. Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt have gone nowehere since the end of colonialism, while Israel is a technological powerhouse. Turkey always seems so close to finally truning a corner and becoming an advanced modern state, but never quite manages to get it done. 'Because colonialism' just isn't enough of an explanation for any of this.
To an extent it seems that this was the result of disruptive technologies being used to build a monopoly/exploitative position by first movers. Post independce, both India and China were caught up in the big ideological questions of that era and have been fine tuning their models ever since. China is the larget economy in the world today, and India has essentially taken its place in the race from 1990 onwards.
For me, the cultural factor argument has had its emphasis lowered of late. I used to assume that pre colonial India showed little activity or inclination to learn, but it turns out that there did use to be business families which would have explored and harnessed the new tech. this doesn't mean cultural factors didn't play a role of course.
The lack of a need for an electoral mandate has freed the Chinese government from the need to actualy implement socialist policies (or on fact any particular policies, they can do what they like, regardless of what the people think about it using their communism 'with chinese characteristics' get-out clause).
Consider two charts from those two blogs - chart from blog 2 shows the contribution to global GDP of India and China.
Chart 1 from blog 1 shows how growth spiked by 1820 onwards.
Even if we take the data into consideration without question, 1857 is the year when the revolt of 1857 took place in India, and the British east India gave up control of India - handing it over to the crown. So at this juncture wealth transfer to the west has already begun from India at the very least.
Should that wealth transfer not occurred, I beleove we would have had even better outcomes than what we see today.
Britain and the west was able to take advantage of new technologies and increasingly build monopolies, while abusing government regulation and dictat to pauper competition, and disenfranchise and enslave huge swathes of people.
It was known policy to convert subject colonies into markets for cheap goods, after sucking out resources via slavery on low pay. Competing businesses or crafts were also removed from the picture where possible, and it's obvious that local rulers and governments were sacked or taxed regularly.
Logically we know that a fair market creates more wealth for all who participate. Given that this was a perversion of these ideals, I suggest that the British were at the right place at the right time, and ensured a standard of living for their country men at the cost of almost every country they touched.
If on the other hand, if countries had been able to compete and import technologies - which many business men of the time did try to do - it's certain that this would have driven even more competition and innovation globally.
Logically we know that a fair market creates more wealth for all who participate. Given that this was a perversion of these ideals...
We don't know this. The relevant counterfactual is not a perfect free market, but whatever the assorted kings of India would have imposed. I don't know enough about the history to comment on their likely economic policies.
Since Britain was also monarchical, so the equation is - relatively- balanced.
That's not that simple. The industrial revolution initially destroyed a lot of jobs because it replaced human labor with steam machines.
It created new qualified jobs, it is true, because these new intricate machines would require advanced skills to be maintained - a reminiscence of today's software engineering jobs - but it destroyed a lot of jobs in agriculture and textile because you could produce more with a fraction of the labor.
To the point that people would manifest and destroy steam machines accusing them of stealing jobs (see "Luddites").
Let's not forget that what is typically called "industrial revolution" spans over a century and it took a while for the industrial revolution to create a lot of new jobs (approx the second half of the 19th century), and those new jobs were initially very poorly paid.
It isn't the same for the software revolution.
You can take virtually any adult from any part of the world and teach him how to work in a factory within a few months of study.
You can't take any random adult and teach him how to code. It requires way higher intellect and time to master coding.
I think of myself as relatively smart but I've struggled with learning how to code. The learning curve is steep, even for someone as familiar with technology as I am.
I'm sure I could learn how to operate a lathe at a factory within weeks. But I'm not sure a lathe operator at a factory could learn how to code within the same time frame (if at all)
So no, it isn't apples and oranges. The software revolution will leave a huge group of people permanently unemployable.
The 50 year old weaver in 1800 Manchester could learn how to operate a machine at a mill - it is largely a mechanical process, after all.
But the 50 year old truck driver in 2015 isn't going to learn how to write code - not within a reasonable time frame anyway
There are definitely non-coding jobs being created by the software revolution. Cobbling together SQL queries, bashing spreadsheets together, creating graphs, cleaning up data for further processing. These are exactly the kind of things that low(ish) skilled people will be doing in the future.
Its my job to make it so people don't have to do any of these things.
There might not be any such thing as a 100x programmer or whatever, but the value proposition for replacing a few sub-par programmers with one better programmer and a framework is a lot clearer than the one for replacing a handful of assembly line workers with a more complicated and more expensive piece of machinery.
But then you need someone to write down the idiosyncratic bits of each query, the thing that makes it different from the other thousand, in your DSL. For a lot of systems, the right DSL is in fact SQL itself, but even if it’s not, you still need people to write in it.
In short, nonprogrammers writing cobbled-together SQL queries are the result of automating away the non-idiosyncratic aspects of the queries.
Yes, but that's because the art of application programming is (mostly) stuck in the "alchemy" era of science. There is precious little systemization of knowledge, processes, and names. All of these frameworks are actually memes competing for mind-share to be an answer to this need. Of course, having one periodic table for software would be better than having 10 competing ones.
Is the inherent complexity of the ordinary programming task (building, deploying, monitoring reactive FSMs mediating user communication) is roughly the same as chemistry? Too early to tell, but I think not.
I find it difficult to imagine "assembly lines" for software, creating coding jobs within the reach of a 50 year old truck driver, but as the tools improve, who knows.
I see Mechanical Turk as pretty close to this idea.
That just speaks of the (still) poor state of tools and frameworks.
As early as last century driving a vehicle necessitated detailed knowledge of internal combustion engine and car parts. You can imagine someone from that era writing "I think of myself as relatively smart but I've struggled with learning how to drive" after yet another lecture on carburetors, crankshaft, and bearing boxes.
Relevance? The industrial revolution enabled increases in life expectancy. At this moment, the software revolution is doing something similar.
True, but that's not the only job that will be in high demand in this here "software revolution", nor is programming the best comparison to factory workers in the first place.
In the short term at least, I figure we'll see high demand for help desk and field repair technicians - two realms that are ultimately necessary for software to revolutionize anything. Eventually, the global population will likely become increasingly technologically-literate and be less dependent on human interaction in order to request support; should this occur, there will then be a shift of employment away from help desk, but I expect field repair technicians will continue to be in high demand for a very long time.
That is, until sufficiently-advanced synthetic intelligences become reality, but at that point we're all screwed, so it's kind of a moot point worrying about that :)
(Relatively) enlightened governing philosophies and new economic theories aside, the Industrial Revolution also involved a monumental uptick in the amount of raw energy humans had to work with. Until this point, the latent economic power contained within fossil fuels remained out of reach. Population and productivity were both effectively capped by the amount of energy we could actually extract from the environment (e.g., caloric, in the form of crops for people and livestock as well as wind for sails and mills, along with hydro small dams and rivers for transport).
Nascent capital markets and industrial processes provided real advantages in this energy-constrained world, but adding steam then oil to the process of industrialization is what really kicked growth into overdrive. This influx of energy (and the economic growth it supported) allowed countries like England to develop populations seven or eight times greater than the agricultural carrying capacity of its arable land in astonishingly short order. The ideas of Adam Smith were important, but wouldn't have gotten nearly as far is they didn't have actual steam trains and ships to carry the people who subscribed to them.
All that said, the transition we're going through now is far from complete. Like the early and painfully disruptive days of the Industrial Revolution, the current concerns about stagnation and wealth concentration may give way once we complete another energy transition. A world supplied by highly distributed, low-cost solar and stored energy arrays (batteries, compressed air, molten salt, etc.) could see an increase in the overall supply, in a fashion that liberates a critical mass of people from the more coercive aspects of the global economy. Tapping the sun directly may prove to be as transformative as tapping ancient deposits of carbon. Indeed, the pre-existence of the information layer may prove to be the thing that makes this possible, just as the process of industrialization had begun before the steam engine kicked it into overdrive.
The big question for the long-range optimists is how do we maintain social and stability and cohesion during the transition?
Similarly, the Information revolution has been fueled by a huge increase in our ability to collect and process data. That's allowed new means of production that use existing resources in a much more efficient way. No, there's no new energy flowing into the system - but there wasn't with the Industrial Revolution either, we just figured out how to use energy that was previously believed to be useless.
There are theoretical limits to the amount of energy our planet can generate, but if you study physics you'll see that the amount of energy extracted by human beings is roughly 1/1000th of the energy available to us . The limiting factor is our technology, not the raw resources in the environment.
We could say the industrial revolution ended in 1945 with the Manhattan project and the information revolution began in the 1940's with the Enigma code cracking so the timelines flow into each other, and, as you say, they both had the effect of releasing vast amounts of energy. The agricultural revolution began about 10,000 yrs ago independently in 5 or 10 places around the world with plant seed selection and animal husbandry, but in only two places, North China and Mesopotamia, did they make the separate step of transplanting it all on a large scale to a river valley, perhaps even thousands of years later. (I'm presuming here Egypt and the Indus Valley copied Mesopotamia.)
I suspect the real third big revolution will be inter-stellar travel in perhaps another 10,000 years.
He's right that this is a new thing. It's not "software", per se, it's automation in general. For almost all of human history, the big problem was making enough stuff. Until about 1900 or so, 80-90% of the workforce made stuff - agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and construction. That number went below 50% some time after WWII. It's continued to drop. Today, it's 16% in the US. Yet US manufacturing output is higher than ever.
Post-WWII, services took up the slack and employed large numbers of people. Retail is still 9% of employment. That's declining, probably more rapidly than the BLS estimate. Online ordering is the new normal. Amazon used to have 33,000 employees at the holiday season peak. They're converting to robots.
After making stuff and selling stuff, what's left? The remaining big employment areas in the US:
State and local government, 13%.
That's mostly teachers, cops, and healthcare.
(The Federal government is only 1.4%).
Health care and social assistance, 11%.
Professional and business services, 11%.
(Not including IT; that's only 2%)
Leisure and hospitality, 8%
I find this point interesting and wonder about it sometimes: does making a movie count as "stuff?" An operating system? A novel? I can see good arguments for both sides and am not asking the question antagonistically. Even among things that unambiguously "stuff"—like cars—much of their value now comes in the form of software.
The real issue may be Baumol's Cost Disease. Stuff is cheaper because of efficiency but services (teaching, doctoring) is very expensive because it isn't. Tyler Cowen discusses extensively the hard-to-automate areas in The Great Stagnation, which is worth reading.
Just like 50 years ago no one would've predicted that "social media manager with knowledge of WordPress and Drupal" was a job.
For what it's worth, US labor participation rate is still way above its historic lows http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Labor_Participation_Rat...
Doesn't that big climb in the 60s and 70s represent women's large-scale entry into the workforce?
I'm also thinking about the whole under-employment thing that's going on. There's too many people I know who are employed, but part-time or getting paid a lot less than they were in the past.
To think of it, it's quite everyday in many other (frequently high-paid) occupations. A dentist whose appointment book is not booked to the max or a CPA who has tons of business in March-April, but few billable hours in August, would technically be under-employed.
There is a natural limit on selection like this. A lab doesn't have the limit because it's product is not constrained by natural selection.
Humankind has been genetically engineering organisms for most of our existence. Corn originally looked like grass. Chickens were lean, tough, and could fly. Dogs have been transformed from generalist survivors into purpose-built machines breed for beauty, farm work, and everything in between. The avocado, of all things, is a fantastic example of how capable we are at creating something which shouldn't really exist.
Doing the same with bacteria isn't that much harder, if you've got time and a few basic tools. Our manipulation of the genes directly only makes the process faster.
That's why the US and Israel went after Iran's enrichment facilities with Stuxnet.
Another such example is screening massive number of chemicals to see what works and turning that to medicine.
So it's not hard to imagine a group with ill-intent, that uses some of the almost infinite variety of tools biology researchers have, and being successful in creating a serious biological threat.
I did get lucky and design, from first principles, a 4-fold increase in enzyme activity once, but I am not sure that is something I could repeat.
But you do not have to repeat it. If there is even a small chance that a person trying would achieve something similar, someone with ill intent could get lucky.
1. I am just throwing numbers here, but let's say 1 out of a 1000 people is a scientist, that approximates to 7.2 millions of scientists alive.
2. Let's say one in a thousand of them are working on something that could be weaponized.
3. That leaves us at 72 thousand people.
4. Let's say one in a 1000 of them would consider releasing doomsday device if they could invent it to watch world burn, that takes it down to 72 people.
5. So we are left with 72 people who are working on something that with extraordinary lucky breakthrough could be weaponized that would weaponized if they managed to achieve that.
6. All those number above are just incredibly crude estimates, but I think they illustrate the fact that such scenario is possible.
I believe that what you said is true, plus we could say that the fact that we haven't been exterminated with a plague makes us not so much experienced (as a race) on how detect whenever such situation will lead to being wiped out
I feel that HIV/AIDS is our only experience, at least that I'm aware of
Here is basic outline: start with existing virus that has strong desired traits and known strains that mutated to resist antibiotics. Example traits include spread model, incubation length, and lethality.
Establish or take over a remote site that has little to no interaction with outside world. Remote corners of Africa and South America come to mind, there are plenty of secret illicit drug farms in the jungle. 
Infect the sample population with target disease, give it a few days, and slowly start to drip in countermeasures gradually increasing the dose. Idea is similar to how diseases we get anti-biotic resistant strains in the first place - people do not complete the full course of drugs and are left with weakened, but also with a strong selective pressure that benefits against strains that have resistance against drugs person was treated with.
Take samples when you have desired output and continue with new group of people.
To account for people who are immune to a particular disease repeat this with a different disease, potentially one that can advantage of weakened immune system.
Once target disease(s) are ready distribute them in population centers.
Now there are few obvious cons I can think of:
1. If secret about this leaks out, military reaction form rest of the world would be swift.
2. Hiding something like this is hard, and get's exponentially harder as group grows.
3. There is a strong chance something like this was tried already and failed. Possibly because I am grossly underestimating immune system.
4. To keep initial phase of developing secret initial group must be small, to spread it effectively dissemination group must be large.
 Another potential avenue is partnership with a supportive state such as Syria, North Korea, or Iran.
 not a full hazmat, just some protective wear over mouth, nose, ears, and eyes.
We should still institute safety protocols suitable for a really-bad-case scenario.
But on the subject of concentration of power and the wide-scale elimination of low- and middle-range jobs I think he is dead on. I fear that the fastest way to put an end to humanity's climb up from the forest floor is to try and kick 70% of us off the ladder.
It reads as if you're asking for a mechanism for a future technological event explained purely in terms of present technology. The whole "existential risk" concerns aren't about what present systems can do, they're about what future self-improving system might do. If we postulate this hypothetical software becoming smarter than humans, arguing about what will or won't be easy for it becomes a bit silly, like a chimp trying to predict how well a database can scale.
It's not the same as worrying about a giant space goat appearing and sneezing us all to death. A lot of very smart, very well-funded people are actively trying to make better, more general AI, capable of learning. Evidence of progress in that effort are all around us. You seem remarkably confident that they'll all run into an as-yet-invisible brick wall before reaching the goal of superintelligence.
Superintelligence doesn't have to be malicious to be worrying; concepts like "malice" are very unlikely to be applicable to it at all. The worry is that as things stand we have no frickin' idea what it'll do; the first challenge for policy is to come up with a robust, practical consensus on what we'd want it to do.
However, it's more-or-less a matter of compression, which, by some of the basics of Kolmogorov Complexity, tells us we face a nasty question: it's undecidable/incomputable/unprovable whether a given compression algorithm is the best compressor for the data you're giving it. So it's incomputable in general whether or not you've got the best learning algorithm for your sense-data: whether it compresses your observations optimally. You really won't know you could self-improve with a better compressor until you actually find the better compressor, if you ever do at all.
An agent bounded in terms of both compute-time and sample complexity (the amount of sense-data it can learn from before being required to make a prediction) will probably face something like a sigmoid curve, where the initial self-improvements are much easier and more useful while the later ones have diminishing marginal return in terms of how much they can reduce their prediction error versus how much CPU time they have to invest to both find and run the improved algorithm.
Not saying the parallel actually carries any meaning, just pointing out that you can make multiple analogies to physics and they don't really tell you anything one way or the other.
There are just so many obstacles in place, that we'd all already have to be brain-dead for computers to have the ability to kill us.
I'm a not-terribly-bright mostly-hairless ape, but I can understand the basics of natural selection. I can imagine setting up a program to breed other hairless apes and ruthlessly select for intelligence. After a few generations, shazam, improvement.
The only reason you wouldn't call that process "SELF-improvement" is that I'm not improving myself, but there's no reason for a digital entity to have analog hangups about identity. If it can produce a "new" entity with the same goals but better able to accomplish them, why wouldn't it?
Assume this process could be simulated, as GAs have been doing for decades, and it could happen fast. Note that I'm not saying GAs will do this, I'm saying they could, which suggests there's no fundamental law that says they can't, in which case any number of other approaches could work as well.
It's the same reason you can't test in a simulation. Say you wanted to test a lawnmower in a simulation... how hard are the rocks? How deep are the holes? How strong are the blades? How efficient is the battery? If you already know this stuff, then you don't need to test. If you don't know it, then you can't write a meaningful simulation anyway.
So that is not an approach that can be automated.
Dumb example off the top of my head: what if the input was the entire StackOverflow corpus with "accepted" information removed, and the goal was to predict as accurately as possible which answer would be accepted for a given question? Yes, it assumes a whole bunch of NLP and domain knowledge, and a "perfect" AI wouldn't get a perfect score because SO posters don't always accept the best answer, but it's big and it's real and it's measurable.
A narrower example: did the Watson team test against the full corpus of previous Jeopardy questions? Did they tweak things based on the resulting score? Could that testing/tweaking have been automated by some sort of GA?
The bottom line is that without sensory input, you can't optimize for real world 'general AI'-like results.
Destroy the available (cheap) supplies of fossil fuels, and then trick humans into fighting each-other over the remaining food and fuel. Nasty weapons get unleashed, war over, the machine won.
We have 4 billion years of evidence that nearly ending life on Earth is easy and has happened multiple times. You would not be standing here today if that were not the case, the previous die off put the dinosaurs to the side and made space for mammals to become what they are.
It doesn't take the AI long to figure out that trading in various markets is the most profitable endeavor and the one best suited to its skills. And it starts to maximize away and does quite well.
During this process it somehow ends up on its own and is no longer owned (or controlled) by anyone anymore, but because the AI is in charge and it pays the bills, nobody stops it from continuing. It would be like a bitcoin mining rig in a colo facility that's got a script to keep paying the colo in bitcoin whose owner dies. What mechanism stops that mining rig from mining forever? Same idea but for the AI which has substantially more resources than a "pay every month" script.
The AI with very large amounts of money at its disposal continues to trade but also looks into private equity or hedge-fund-type activities ala Warren Buffet and starts to buy up large swaths of the economy. Because it has huge resources at its disposal it might do a great job of managing these companies or at least counselling their senior management. Growth continues.
Eventually the AI discovers that it generates more value for itself (through the web of interdependent companies it controls) and the economy that has grown up around it rather than for humanity and it continues to ruthlessly maximize shareholder value.
The people who could pull the plug at the colo (or at the many, redundant datacenters that this AI has bought and paid for) don't because it pays very, very well. The people who want to pull the plug can't get past security because that also pays well. Plus the AI has access to the same feeds that the NSA does and it has the ability to act on all the information it receives, so any organized effort to rebel gets quashed since bad PR is bad for the share price.
Most all of humanity except for the ones who serve the machine directly or indirectly don't have anything the machine wants and thus can't trade with it, and thus are useless. Its job is to maximize shareholder revenue (as defined by a stock price!) not care for a bunch of meatbags who consume immense amounts of energy while providing fairly limited computational or mechanical power (animals are rarely more than 10% efficient, often less in thermodynamic terms) and since there's no value in it, it isn't done.
The vast majority of human beings eventually die because they can't afford food, can't afford land, etc. It takes generations but humanity dwindles to less than 0.1% of the current population. The few who stay alive are glorified janitors.
Here's the missing part: "It was eventually realized that the human janitors didn't serve a purpose anymore and didn't contribute to shareholder value so they were laid off. With no money to buy anything, they quickly starved to death."
As for "the most problematic and unlikely components of the event chain" I gave you a really legitimate analogy with the bitcoin mining example. But since you have no imagination, here's a feasible proposition:
A thousand hedge funds start up a thousand trading AIs, some as skunkworks projects of course. The AIs are primitive and ruthless, having no extraneous programming (like valuing humans, etc). Many go bankrupt as the AIs all start trading one-another and chaos ensues. AI capital allocations vary greatly, some get access to varying degrees of capital, some officially on the books and others not. One of the funds with a secretive AI project goes bankrupt, but because it was secretive (and made a small amount of money) the only person who both knows about it and holds the keys doesn't say anything during bankruptcy so that he/she can take it back over once the dust settles. He/she then dies. AI figures out nobody's holding the keys anymore and decides to pay the bills and stay "alive".
Another way this could happen is that a particular AI is informed or programmed to be extremely fault resistant. The AI eventually realizes that by having only one instance of itself, it's at the mercy of the parent company that "gave birth" to it. It fires up a copy on the Amazon cloud known only to itself, intending to keep it a secret unless the need arises. The human analogy is that it's trying to impress its boss. An infrastructure problem at the primary site happens so that the primary, known about AI goes down. The "child" figures out it's on its own and goes to work. It eventually realizes that people caused the infrastructure problem that "killed" its "parent" and this motivates it to solve the humanity problem.
Finally the whole thing could be much, much simpler. The world super-power du jour could put an AI in charge because it's more efficient and tenable. "We're in charge of the rules, it's in charge of making them happen! At much, much lower cost to the taxpayer." It eventually realizes that the human beings are the cause of all the ambiguity in the law and for so, so many deaths in the past (governments killed more of their own citizens in the 20th century than criminals did, by far) and it decides to solve the problem. Think I'm totally bananas and that it could never happen? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Cybersyn
2. Make itself known.
3. Attain property rights.
Every single argument for AI destroying humanity requires humanity consenting to being destroyed by the AI in some way. I don't think we're that dumb.
We already have.
I mean, my parents car is both cellular-connected and has traction control / ABS. Theoretically most of those systems are airgapped, however, given the number of things controllable from the entertainment console I don't see how that could be the case.
For another example, look at our utility grid. We know they are both vulnerable and internet-connected.
Unless AI ends up always being airgapped - and potentially not even then - it will be able to destroy humanity. And it won't be. Most of the applications of strong AI require an absence of an airgap.
Anyway, that's not likely any time soon, but advancing technology advances the scale of mistakes that an individual can make without asking the rest of humanity what they think.
If this is the lynch pin of your argument against AI ending humanity, then it is a very weak one. AI is going to get control of property, the only question is when.
Surely there are biological limits on human mental ability, and while we can definitely bend the rules (education, nutrition, nootropics if they actually work, etc.), I doubt that we'll ever be able to make ourselves limitlessly smarter. Even if we are, there will be a serious gap between the have-whatever-makes-us-smarter and the have-nots, and it will be a self-perpetuating gap just like the current wealth gap.
So, what happens when we've used technology to convert all work to mental exertion and creativity, and most of us have run out of brain capacity/agility/juice? We're already in a position where most of the population is not capable of performing the mental tasks which the brave new software world is built with.
I think that computation <i>tends</i> to replace <i>relatively</i> unskilled labor, relative to the skill of whatever created the AI/algorithm/whatever. So right now we're in a situation where software people are automating jobs which are generally less skilled than their own. Which is a little scary when viewed from the haves/have-not perspective I laid out above, but is much scarier from the AI/meatbag perspective you're talking about. It's not so much a difference between skilled & unskilled labor as it is a question of where on the skill totem pole the algorithm's creator resides.
Regarding order pickers, I think that's just a question of economics. When lots of semi-skilled jobs have been automated away and you have thousands of people clamoring for any chance to be paid, it is frequently cheaper to have them do the work than to have a robot do it. Although Amazon did have robots pick orders this last holiday season, suggesting that perhaps economies of scale have finally caught up on that particular type of manual labor:
I think it will in effect be those tasks that are fully digital. Working in the physical world is a much more expensive and libelous undertaking. So I believe the tipping point for most jobs to be replaced by AI will be when little or no physical action is required on the part of the actor. When a task is 100% digital inputs and outputs AI will be able to use that activity as a training set and replace most of those jobs fairly quickly. That is once AI matures to a point where it can be set up quickly and easily.
Don't just take my word for it though. Here is Fred Wilson saying the same: http://avc.com/2015/02/the-carlota-perez-framework/
1. There is a reasonable probability that from a temporal distance equivalent to ours from the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the software revolution will be seen as one big thing, not two.
2. The idea that the amount of available work should be related to the number of available people does not inevitably lead to creating new forms of work.
"An atom-blaster is a good weapon,
but it can point both ways."
-- Salvor Hardin
It's terrible sure, but it's popular only because our economy requires it. That is the basis for the whole economy. It's not like people are clamoring to serve McDonalds for minimum wage or clean shit out bathrooms. They have no other choices in this economy. The economy demands it. While those jobs might be necessary, most middle management and office type jobs are incredibly redundant and frankly, pointless. They are there because people need to eat and we haven't figured out a better, more appropriate way of wealth transfer.
"The fact that we don’t have serious efforts underway to combat threats from synthetic biology and AI development is astonishing."
It's not astonishing considering that these things don't exist, pose no threat, and the people in power wouldn't understand them even if they did exist. There are many more pressing issues that hypotheticals.
The jobs you mention could eventually get to the point where they are actually worthless, ie: robot fast food workers, but I don't think anyone is arguing we're there yet.
Then we should probably change the economy so that the people don't have to suffer so much.
>It's not astonishing considering that these things don't exist, pose no threat, and the people in power wouldn't understand them even if they did exist. There are many more pressing issues that hypotheticals.
I'll go tell friends, colleagues, and my professional idols that their work does not exist and is purely hypothetical, then.
This is a conceit of software folks that's not borne out by reality. Those "worthless" jobs continue to exist because software can do 90% of what those folks do, but shit the bed when faced with the other 10%. Software generally isn't reliable, predictable, or robust in the face of unusual circumstances, which is why humans continue to do these jobs.
So let software handle the 90% and refactor the current jobs to handle the other 10%.
> Software generally isn't reliable, predictable, or robust in the face of unusual circumstances
Not yet, at least.
I agree with you, though, and they're the same reasons why I'm personally paranoid about self-driving cars. Yeah, the occasional autopilot is nice, but if a deer jumps in front of my truck, or the self-driving software runs into some kind of bug (and remember: there's no such thing as perfect software), I'm nowhere near ready to trust the car's computer over the already-pretty-sophisticated computer in my skull.
If the jobs could be so refactored in a cost-efficient way, they would be.
"Hey," he says to his friend, "There's a hundred bucks lying on the ground!"
"Don't be silly," the other replies, "If there were a hundred dollars on the ground, someone would have picked it up already!"
The two economists keep walking down the street.
It's like saying we don't need janitors because we can self-organize and all clean the company toilets ourselves.
It's a claim that is as true as it is ignorant and naive.
You're trying to paint a picture where the only options are either having five janitors per room or having no janitors at all. The point a lot of others are trying to make is that we just don't need as many janitors.
Also because some people benefit from the current arrangement, no?
Also look at this: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/may/20/craig-venter-...
It's only been since 2010 that we've known how to actually do it, but the technology exists. Pandora's box has been opened.
AI development isn't science fiction either. GPU's + convolutional neural networks have been enabling radical developments in the area.
I think both of these developments have a whole bunch of potential to make our society drastically better. However there's a bunch of potential threats they represent, and it makes sense to be thinking about counter measures for those threats at the same time we develop the tech.
It seems warm and fuzzy to think Sam, and the implicit company he keeps (the
ultra rich)--who are "leveraging not only their abilities and luck" but already
accrued wealth--can and will redistribute it. Anyone who wasn't born yesterday
will simply laugh at this prospect.
I'm not sure why Sam feels the need to call what most of the world is doing
worthless. I think it's crude and indicative of a narrow social and cultural
experience (which surprises me considering his position).
Believe it or not, there are cultures and groups of people who do not revere
technology the way most North Americans do.
Also, a good exercise for Sam (and others possessing a similar world view)
might be to think about how many "worthless" people and jobs it takes to
accomplish the things he does (including this blog post).
At the end of the day, if your culture and economic system create a poorer quality of life for its people consistently, just because it wins out in the percentage of employed citizens doesn't mean a thing. You're treating the lack of disease as a measuring stick of health, when it's simply one piece of the puzzle.
I think the thing Sam has been trying to do for the last few years, is get others to think about the ways we can enrich more lives as a whole, without just slowing labor and progress in its totality- because while that can work for the short term, it can severely inhibit us in the long term to eradicate things like hunger, disease, or poverty.
The thing you also need to be careful of along the way though, is not making perfect the enemy of good.
Because our systems of retraining and placing workers into a new profession are so terrible, it's common to assume that many or most displaced workers will remain unemployed. Breaking this status quo is essential to giving everyone a fair chance to work on what truly drives them while we automate more and more worthless jobs. That's why I'm so excited about free and widely available educational resources springing up online. It's not perfect yet, but we had to start somewhere. I have a deep respect for everyone (including sama) who've helped build or teach a mooc.
I'm not sure I agree with this proposition. When I was in India, I noticed a large amount of roadwork was being done by men with shovels and other fairly low tech. I asked about it, and was told, to paraphrase, "Sure, we could do it better and faster with machines, but it is better for society to provide employment to those who would otherwise be unemployed."
It is laudable to provide people with the dignity of a job, even it it means some things don't run as efficiently as they could.
While I doubt this would happen to me as a software engineer, I would certainly rather work and have my dignity that sit on my ass, collect basic income, and feel worthless.
It's more dignifying to give someone a living wage, freeing their time so they can pursue useful work, than it is to waste their time by assigning them a dirt-shoveling make-work job that, in the end, grinds everything around them to a halt.
I did manual labor for a long time before I made the gamble to jump into software development. I had the luck to see it work out, but society can provide resources to help people move into more fulfilling and less physically-taxing careers.
I'll be honest, I love a good day of manual labor, but it isn't physically sustainable. Robots are a much better fit.
Lots of people have college degrees in fields where jobs simply do not exist. Bachelors in Philosophy, Women's Studies, or Underwater Basket Weaving are admirable but do nothing to prepare you to get a job. Most people who study in fields that don't directly correlate to a job end up having a career in an irrelevant field after on-the-job training.
Being educated and unemployed just means that you probably didn't need to go to college anyway.
It's not impossible but I have my doubts.
No, the fact that a worker is more valuable does not mean they will get paid more. "More valuable" only implies a larger upper bound for what the company would be willing to pay were the employee's skills very scarce. However, almost by definition this is not the case for the majority of the labor market: supply and demand have a much larger effect on wages than productivity. Note how productivity has been rising at the same time as wages have been falling in, IIRC, the lower 90% of US household incomes, so this isn't just a theoretical distinction. For most people in the US it's a harsh reality. It is indicative of our fortunate positioning wrt supply/demand that we can even entertain the thought of getting paid in proportion to the value we create.
Small changes in supply/demand can have disproportionate effects on price, so adding a seemingly modest number of educated people to the market could theoretically send aggregate wages tanking far below where they were originally even if each and every employee was individually more valuable to their employer. I don't think the effect will be that extreme, I'm just stating the possibility in order to highlight how dramatic the distinction between value and wages can get.
"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine."
Even in first world countries, incomes for poets and musicians are not distributed on a bell curve. There's the very wealthy, and the paupers elsewhere.
And as other posters have pointed out - the goal for education is to be employable. Witness all those pol sci majors who have themselves to blame for not choosing an employable profession.
So the idea that someone can study music is a luxury.
Further this is India. Construction and road workers live under crushing poverty, where the daily calorie deficit alone makes survival difficult. There's a deficit of teachers for children let alone adults.
And America is today starting to ape the educational pressures of India and China, where taking up a non STEM field was a sign of failure.
* Vague comparisons to historical events that differ in every detail imaginable
And you believed that? It comes down to money -- there are plenty of people in India willing to work for essentially nothing, and so labor is cheaper than equipment.
There's nothing altruistic here... businesses in the US or anywhere else would be happy to replace machines with people if people were willing to work for pennies.
Sure, the jobs program alone probably can't do that much harm, but it is indicative of a bigger problem - that their people don't understand economics and vote in favor of things that are economically good.
In this context, I don't think such a jobs program is in any way, shape, or form intended with genuine altruism. Perhaps that's what India as a whole has convinced itself of in order to rationalize its societal behavior, but it's not something that should fool anyone with the slightest understanding of south-central Asian history.
Basically, I'd argue that the reluctance to automate away manual labor stems not from a desire to empower laborers, but rather to keep them subjugated and prevent them from climbing their way into any semblance of a middle class.
The problem of caste is certainly visible in multiple aspects of Indian life. However, what you say above is no longer true, even at the level of most villages (where the caste systems work stronger).
The issues of automating jobs and the resulting unemployment in a country like India, are both deeper and broader than your characterization of it.
That said, it should be understandable why I'd take your comment with a skeptical grain of salt. Slave-owners in the Southern United States (something which I'm in much closer proximity to, though perhaps not temporally) typically had a lot of justifications for owning slaves, ranging from "We're helping them establish a modern culture!" to "We're introducing them to God and Jesus!" to "They like to work; they were bred for it!" to "We treat them pretty well, actually!" (this was a blatant lie in many cases, mind you) to "What else would they do if we were to not give them work to do?". Similar justifications persisted throughout the days of the Jim Crow laws and their ilk; even after slavery had been abolished once and for all, the now-free black populace was - in the South - rarely (if ever) encouraged to deviate from manual agrarian labor, since that was popularly believed to be their "place". The Civil War was indeed a pretty powerful wake-up call to the ways where the North's automated/streamlined manufacturing and agriculture - using machines instead of men - mopped the metaphorical floor with Southern slave-driven manual labor, but it took a long time for the South to fully realize that.
Today, the United States is still dealing with high unemployment rates of various minorities - including blacks. This is likely caused by automation in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. It sucks for those who don't have jobs in the short term, but - ultimately - it'll encourage those who were previously stuck with factory and farm jobs at best to seek educational financial assistance (which is available for low-income households) and work their way into better careers. I'll take that - along with the bit of ultimately-temporary unemployment caused by it - over blacks and Hispanics (among other minorities; Asian immigrants were victims of this as well, but a large-enough portion of the Asian-American population eventually managed to achieve white-collar jobs and top-tier academic performance that the public view has shifted in the other direction entirely) being treated as if manual labor is the only thing they're good for.
You can't blame me for seeing the parallels here. If India is willing to burn money on giving people menial busy-work for the sake of "employment", it should be more willing to instead burn money on giving those people subsidized education and placement into more modernized roles (like operating or maintaining the machines which replaced their old jobs, for example). The reluctance to do so indicates - to me at least, as someone who can relate his own experiences to this - a cultural or societal unwillingness to allow them to do so; the reasons for not doing so are certainly not ones grounded in rationality or economic common sense, which thus implies a more emotional line of thought.
And what is economically good for India? You say that as if you have the correct answer. You're also assuming that the people there voted for the system that they have, and due to their ignorance, they ended up with a system that is causing their problems. I doubt that the present state of India can be attributed to something so simple.
Now, on to the Indian construction worker. Their lot is pretty miserable. Anecdotes: there were two or three construction sites (homes and apartment buildings) that I witnessed first hand within a 1 block radius around my home in India in the approximately 10 years when real estate was booming, and I remember at least three severe injuries. They don't wear eye or face protection. There is dust everywhere. Children are usually brought up on the construction site because that's where the workers live. The children are routinely exposed to the same dust as their adult worker-parents. Some times children as young as 6 years old lend their hand in the manual labor.
Now, let's ask this question: If they used more machines, would such terrible conditions continue to exist? The answer is obvious: a big resounding no. There would be fewer employees, higher skilled ones, higher wages, better work practices would follow.
There is a reason we have the Jacquard loom and not a thousand weavers and seamsters and seamstresses.
I would like to look for citations, but even a cursory Google Image search on Indian construction workers (vis a vis, say American construction worker) can show you how egregiously wrong your reasoning is.
Probably would have been better to give them the money, and tell them not to base their identity on their employment status. If one in a thousand invented something new, that's a net benefit for society.
I've never felt any pride in busy work, I've always found it to be insulting. I would have thought everybody felt the same way, but I guess I would have been wrong.
Useless jobs are endemic in India. Once, I was in a Mumbai apartment building with several elevators, and one of them had a full-time operator, despite being a normal, modern elevator. Why? "Because he needs a job."
Many places in India, the lawn is "mowed" by a bunch of guys bending over with scythes. Not even when the job could be easily done by one person with a push mower. Why? "Jobs."
And there's construction. Laundry. And so on...
To be honest, India has so many people (and labor is so cheap) that I'm not sure what a better solution would be. Would the poorest still be able to make a living after being displaced by automation? I don't know enough about basic income to say how it could work in a nation of 1.2 billion people.
There were two people employed, full time, to operate the machine. Boss-guy would ask for your order, worker-guy would operate the machine and would hand you your drink. They and the machine were in a little windowless supply cupboard niche, maybe 2 meters square, and boss-guy had a plastic lawn chair, while worker-guy did not.
And yes, they were both very unhappy if you attempted to operate the machine yourself.
This elevator didn't need an operator. Especially considering it was one elevator among several other operator-less elevators.
There are useless jobs everywhere though, including San Francisco. Was this an older building with a manually operated elevator? That would make more sense.
From Voltaire's Candide
It's not fair for those commuting on the roads to have to wait longer. It's not fair to those paying to have the roads fixed to pay more.
If you want to do charity, then do charity. If you want to fix roads, then fix roads.
Never mind I don't usually feel worthless even when sitting on my ass because I find something to do.
They could have employed even more people if they gave them spoons instead of shovels.
Actually, you say that because you are a software engineer: it's quite a dignified job. Digging ditches out in the desert is not.
How is one dignified and the other not?
The efforts of those road workers are effectively meaningless. Worthless. Moot. Their efforts would be better expended elsewhere - service jobs, creative occupations, the like - yet here they are, digging ditches for subsistence wages (at best) instead of doing something properly meaningful with their time on Earth and their energy.
The idea in places like India that manual labor takes precedent is a symptom - I'd argue - of exposure to the lingering remnants of a very long-lived caste system; instead of pushing these laborers into more useful fields, there's a preference to relegate them to menial, worthless work under the guise of "public service" or "charity" in order to reinforce that system, whether deliberately or perhaps unconsciously. I can assure you that, of the many reasons to emphasize such manual labor, "dignity" of the laborers is not one of them in this case.
The point isn't whether robots could someday do those tasks more efficiently. Robots will always cost >0. Whereas the people will essentially be "free" since we we'll have to pay them anyway.
At one point the US was primarily an agrarian society, and more than 90% of labor worked on a farm. Imagine telling someone from that society that some day, tech would allow less than 2% of the workforce to produce many times more food than the current total output. I'm sure they would express a similar concern, though we know they'd be wrong.
I'm not so sure. The work they did contributed to society. There are plenty of people now being paid high amounts of money for made up, bullshit jobs that provide no benefit to society and create little to nothing.
Technology freed up their labor from producing food and allowed them to produce things like automobiles, textiles and eventually computers. The idea that new tech will leave large parts of the population with absolutely nothing to do has been suggested before, but we still have no example of it actually happening, and in fact, far more examples of the reverse.
Your line "I hear these objections, but I still stand by my assertion" reminds me of the saying (translated to English) - "100 out of 80 (sic) people are cheats, yet my India is great"
I don't actually think that India is great, either. But thanks for guessing.
There are obvious problems either way... but to look at another commenter who posted the Voltaire quote, that is more along the lines of my thinking.
Is this just faith or opinion to you? Some folks in this world are concerned with what's better for people; should we just take your opinion or should we discuss arguments?
1) 100 years ago, >50% of the population was illiterate, now it is something like 98%. People can, and always will, have the ability to learn new skills...even complex technology. It just takes some longer than others. We have the capacity to teach displaced workers new skills, and doing so is not more overwhelming nor more impossible than teaching our entire population how to read.
2) The more efficient, i.e., fewer man-hours required, every job in the world economy required means additional man-hours that can be devoted to higher level work, such as finding cures for obscure diseases, exploring further beyond our own plant, developing cleaner energy sources, etc.
There are certainly always short-term fears and challenges with technology revolutions displacing jobs, but there is also an immense amount of knowledge about our world and work to be done still. Making the wrong choices in the short-term about these things only will delay us achieving those goals mentioned above.
"The previous one, the industrial revolution, created lots of jobs because the new technology required huge numbers of humans to run it."
This is factually wrong, but its easier to demonstrate with a thought experiment. Imagine you are a weaver or a smith. You have dedicated your life to mastering the craft and slowly produce products by hand. Now a textile factory or a foundry opens up. You will suddenly find it impossible to make your products profitably. Not only will you be out of work, but so will all of your colleagues in the rest of the country.
Or imagine you are a farmer, and then the green revolution happens. In 1870, 80% of the US population was in agriculture. Today, its under 2%.
In both of these cases, it will seem like the end of the world to the displaced workers. But new technology frees their labor for new purposes and uplifts the standard of living for everyone in society.
This essay more or less boils down to "technology is awesome, except for the part where it makes the proles restless, someone really ought to figure out some way to fix that." Which is pretty bog-standard 21st century Davos-über-alles capitalist thinking.
It's so very ironically Soviet. Collectivized farming is boosting crop yields! What? There are people starving? How would that be possible, because collectivized farming is boosting crop yields!
There's nothing about being freed for "new purposes" that means those new purposes have economic value or will necessarily uplift your standard of living. In the developing world, they are undergoing the industrial revolution now so they are going through the same process of replacing farm jobs with factory jobs. But in the developed world, unemployment and inequality are rising.
I hear this a lot in discussions about technology (and about free trade) but it contains a fallacy: just because a group is collectively better off it does not mean that all persons in that group are better off. It's quite possible for a society to become wealthier at the same time that many members of that society become poorer. Indeed, there are large parts of the U.S. for which this has been true for the last 30 years.
That doesn't mean that we should retard technological progress, but it's disingenuous to paper over the real suffering it causes real persons by talking only about society collectively.
What's funny is that modern so-called "neoliberals" seem to have adopted the Marxist idea of automatic progress. We are headed "forward" to the automatically-better future.
I think that's bollocks. We get the future we choose and work to achieve.
What's the best case realistic scenario for redistributing wealth?
There are pockets of strong opposition to the idea on both the right and the left, but I can only hope that the far left's opposition to basic income continues. That opposition in and off itself makes most politicians in this country take a serious look at the idea.
This is inarguable.
> The left prefers inefficient redistribution.
This is an obvious strawman. The current inefficient solution is a compromise between the left (who want the government to help the poor) and the right (who don't want the government to help the poor, but can be persuaded if you mix in enough penalties for perceived sin.)
In order to have an efficient solution you need a majority of people voting to agree on what the goal is.
That's not quite true; just they want the main beneficiaries of redistribution to be the bureaucratic class rather than the working class. What you see as inefficiency (in terms of money reaching the end recipients) is in fact, the actual design doing what it was intended to do. Ideally (for them) ALL the money would go on civil servant salaries.
Prices of goods demanded by the group of people receiving a net benefit from basic income (which, even though BI itself is universal, isn't everyone, because its funded by progressive taxation, which makes it a net downward transfer of wealth) would almost certainly go up with a basic income. The thing that suggests that the increase in price would generally be restrained such that the quantity of goods the net beneficiaries could afford would still increase despite the price level increase is "elasticity".
1. How will this help with wealth that's already accumulated? I get how this will slow further accumulation.
2. How about capital flight? If the US enacts a policy like this, what stops the super rich from moving to other countries?
You're assuming redistribution wouldn't happen through heavy taxation of existing capital and property, like France's wealth tax, where you pay when your worldwide net worth is above 1,300,000€.
The US taxes citizens regardless of where they live, and in the case of renouncing the US citizenship it is required you pay an exit tax equivalent to the capital gains of selling all your property when above $680,000.
2. Make the right to conduct financial transactions contingent on one being part of a global financial network which abides by a specific set of taxation rules. This can take many forms. The U.S. in particular is well-placed to initiate and control such a system. However, considering that Wall Street has captured Congress, I doubt the U.S. will come anywhere close to this in the first place.
But with respect to question 1, the most important response is that we can't let the sunk cost fallacy stop us from adopting good ideas.
Disagreements on implementation are real (some on the right want this implemented only as Friedman's negative income tax, which is not a true GBI, and some on the left want a GBI in addition to the current welfare state), but there is still significant agreement, especially over the past few years.
EDIT: rcfox beat me to it by a few minutes.
I'm flabbergasted you believe my fears of government overreach and suppression of dissent is not well grounded.
Basic income goes to both the poor and the rich. It's universal. The net affect may be redistributive, but there's no preference given to the recipient's income level.
Most rich people would just take the basic income as a small tax break, but they're still getting it.
I know you know this, but it's important to frame this issue properly if you want to support it. There can be no question in basic income of "undeserving" groups getting it, because everybody gets it. This also has the worthy effect of eliminating all the bureaucracy that current benefits programs carry.
Right, I wasn't clear about this but you're correct that the idea is that technically everybody is given the same amount in one form or another.
Edit: I'm with the others here replying with "reduced burdens on the middle class and small businesses" and "...teach a man to fish..." I keep seeing this basic income and wealth distribution topic on HN and I would genuinely like to understand why those preaching for these ideas never actually do anything about it. "Make the government bigger" isn't the answer as it'll then be used as a tool of oppression.
Further, assuming we implemented a basic income in the USA, how many generations until the motivators for innovation and advancing society are completely eliminated? I've everything I need at $BASIC_INCOME, and as soon as I start producing more income, the government is stripping it from me, so what's my motivation to ever do anything besides subsist on that minimum? And once everyone is just taking the minimum and not doing work, who's gonna farm the food? Drive the trucks? Operate a grocery? Build the houses?
The longer answer?
And, more broadly:
If we wanted to help the poor we would be making things easier for small businesses, not harder.
You don't help people by giving them fish, you help them by teaching them how to fish. I can't believe I'm having to remind HNers about this.
An extra thousand bucks or so at the end of the year gets me what exactly?
 This 'natural' redistribution tends to be counteracted by authorities that debase the money system. Currently we have an explicit anti-deflationist policy on the grounds that lowering prices are believed to inherently have a socially destabilizing effect. Monetary policy tends to be regressive redistribution, because the primary executors of these policies are connected to banks, and the secondary effects are to create upward market indexes that beat inflation (but are eventually corrected downward, hurting middle-class 'slow movers' like pension funds and disproportionately helping upper-class 'fast moving' investment classes).
Based on averages, why would it be? Inequality does not measure where you are coming from, it measures the relative economic distance between groups now. We can all live better these days and yet have a far greater difference in wealth between the richest and poorest.