(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
Jobs - Utopia and Dystopia
As more and more jobs get automated, one can also envision a society in which not everybody has to work. The modern origins of this idea the "universal basic income", are in Britain, which actually didn't have much of a tradition in anarcho-socialist ideologies (way more prominent in France and Germany). Bertrand Russell had just finished publishing the "Principia Mathematica" when he wrote "Roads to Freedom" (1918) in which he proposed the universal basic income, and in the same year the British politician Dennis Milner and his wife Mabel published "Scheme for a State Bonus" (1918). This idea became a movement thanks to the amateur economist Clifford Davis' book "Social Credit" (1924). Davis was inspired by the same premise that inspires today's singularists: machines were automating so much the production of goods that it wasn't really necessary to have every person add more work to the system, while it was still necessary to have every person consume those goods. This thread was picked up a few decades later in the USA by economists such as Milton Friedman in his book "Capitalism and Freedom" (1962), the book that introduced the concept of a "negative tax". Towards the end of the century the discussion moved to Europe again, where in 1986 the Basic Income European Network (BIEN) was established. In 2017 Finland became the first country to actually do it: the country launched a two-year trial of basic income for 2,000 unemployed people. As the concept spread to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the USA regained the leadership. In 2018 a joint team from MIT, Princeton and UC San Diego started providing universal basic income to 5,000 people in Kenya (via the organization Give Directly) within an experimental 12-year program.
This is a scientific experiment to determine what humans do if they don't have to work.
Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght made a powerful argument in favor of universal basic income in their book "Basic Income" (2017). It would simplify the world, rectify some unjustice and, lo and behold, save money (no more need for welfare programs). The society of (software and hardware) robots may afford a chance to get rid of the idea that people without a job must starve or beg. Maybe people without a job can still lead a decent life and contribute what they can to society, instead of being forced to understand what society wants them to contribute even when they have neither the skills nor the education to fullfil those functions.
At the same time, a society of millions of humans with spare time is actually a scary thought. Many individuals don't do much with their spare time: watch movies, chat with friends, mostly sleep. But others spend their spare time building narratives, and most of them are not competent at all: the human brain is programmed to build narratives, whether true or fictional. Idle brains tend to reach the wrong conclusion on the wrong subject at the wrong time. Humans also have a very violent history (with a visceral passion for torture and genocide), and work is one of the activities that keep humans from devoting too much of their time to violence. I am not sure that we should feel comfortable with idle brains any more than we are with psychos.
"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck" (Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama)
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