Money for Nothing. How do AI’s think we’ll survive once they do all the work?

David Glennie
October 6, 2023

Three interesting contributions to the AI discussion this week:  Bill Gates saying AI was a more significant innovation that the internet, Sam Altman (CEO OpenAI) saying he was surprised at the sudden explosion of interest in AI, given that they had tried to drip feed GPT to the world to prevent such an explosion, and Larry Elliot, Economics editor of the Guardian, pointing out that this time the technology revolution is coming for middle class jobs as well.

These three points of view, all of which I’d agree with, add up to a pretty big statement:

One day, with less warning than you expected, the world of work will change and far fewer workers will be required. You are probably one of those unrequired workers.

I asked ChatGPT how it felt about this huge change to our lives. Did it feel guilty at its potential role in making so many people redundant?

As an AI language model, I don't have the ability to feel guilt or any other emotions, as I'm just a computer program designed to process and generate text based on user input.
However, it's worth noting that AI technology has the potential to automate many routine and repetitive tasks, which could result in job displacement for some workers. While AI can increase productivity and efficiency, it's important to consider the potential impacts on the labor market and work to address these challenges.
Many experts believe that AI technology can create new jobs and opportunities in industries that may not even exist yet, and that the key to addressing the potential negative impacts is through investing in education and training programs to ensure that workers have the skills needed to thrive in a rapidly changing job market.
Ultimately, the goal of AI technology should be to create a more prosperous and equitable society, and it's important to work towards achieving this goal while also considering the potential impacts on the workforce.

So how does chatGPT think we should go about creating this “More prosperous and equitable society”?

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is one potential solution to address the problems created by AI technology in the labor market. UBI is a system where every citizen receives a basic income from the government, regardless of their employment status. The idea is that this income would provide a safety net for people who are displaced by automation and would give them the means to support themselves and their families.
Proponents of UBI argue that it could help to reduce poverty, inequality, and social unrest by providing a stable income to everyone, regardless of their employment status. It could also help to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship by giving people the financial security to take risks and pursue new opportunities.

But what does chatGPT think of UBI? I asked for some examples of trials:

Alaska Permanent Fund: Alaska has been running a successful UBI program since 1982, called the Alaska Permanent Fund. The program provides an annual dividend to every Alaska resident, which is funded by the state's oil revenues. The program has been popular and has helped to reduce poverty in the state.
Namibia Basic Income Grant (BIG) Pilot Project: The Namibia BIG pilot project was conducted from 2008 to 2009 in the Otjivero-Omitara region of Namibia. The program provided a basic income to every resident of the region, regardless of their employment status. The results of the project showed that the program had positive impacts on poverty, health, and education outcomes.
GiveDirectly: GiveDirectly is a non-profit organization that provides direct cash transfers to people in poverty in developing countries. The organization has conducted several successful UBI trials in countries like Kenya and Uganda, which have shown positive impacts on poverty reduction and economic empowerment.
Ontario Basic Income Pilot: The Ontario Basic Income Pilot was a UBI program that ran from 2017 to 2018 in Canada. The program provided a basic income to a select group of low-income individuals in the province. The results of the program showed that it had positive impacts on mental health, housing stability, and employment outcomes.
Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED): The SEED program is a UBI pilot project currently underway in the city of Stockton, California. The program provides a monthly basic income to a select group of low-income individuals in the city. The early results of the program have been positive, showing that the program has helped to reduce financial stress and improve overall well-being.
These are just a few examples of successful UBI trials. However, it's important to note that the results of these trials may not necessarily be generalizable to other contexts and that further research is needed to fully understand the potential impacts of UBI.

I have to declare an interest here, and put on record that I’ve been an advocate of UBI (or its close relative GMI - Guaranteed Minimum Income), since the turn of the century. The social arguments against it; it makes people lazy, they will just take drugs and play video games, there will be no waiters etc. have been largely disproved by a number of well documented trials. Enough evidence exists for its social benefit for it to be seriously considered by President Nixon in 1969.

The economic arguments have always been harder to make. But, as Larry Elliot points out, the advent of AI will favour capital much more than labour and will lead to static wealth. Money that belongs to the very rich doesn’t get spent, so it generates little tax or consumption. We may well need a sustained economic stimulus just to keep the lights on. UBI / GBI would be a way of doing this whilst also providing opportunity and dignity to many.

The last word here goes to chatGPT.

Trials and experiments of Universal Basic Income (UBI) have shown promising results for poverty reduction, health, and employment outcomes. The advent of AI and other technologies may lead to job losses and economic challenges. As a potential solution, UBI could provide a safety net for people who are displaced by automation and help to address some of these challenges, while providing opportunities and dignity to many. Nonetheless, the implementation of UBI would require careful planning and consideration to ensure its financial viability and long-term sustainability.

What do you think?