Letter to the Editor: Universal basic income is inevitable as we head toward a fully automated society
Mahmoud Ramadan, Oct. 10, 2019
The industrial revolution, which started with the invention of the first commercially successful steam engine in Britain in the 18th century, allowed Britain to literally conquer the world. All the other advancements were built on what was started in the 18th century.
Today, we are witnessing another technological shift or revolution in the sciences: the Digital Revolution, which started in the 1960s with the implementation and adoption of digital data and digital computers (as opposed to human computers, who would run calculations by hand) from transistors and integrated circuits.
Today, artificial intelligence (AI) and data mining techniques are being implemented in the physical and natural sciences, engineering, medicine, the finance industry and even in music. Mini-robots are literally taking our jobs; a quick (and free) tour of the Amazon warehouse in Columbus will show you how few employees and many robots are running a facility that’s over-1 million square feet.
AI is now used to discover new drugs, predict stock prices, control robots, defeat chess champions and generate musical pieces. But the World Economic Forum and many scientists will tell you not to worry and claim they are just technological advancements and nothing disruptive.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn predicts that fundamental inventions and new theories will be carried by young scientists or those new to the field. It is only natural that older scientists will resist change that may threaten their research.
A McKinsey analysis on this issue concluded that “45% of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology.”
That decrease in the demand for human jobs does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. In The German Ideology, Karl Marx says that in an ideal, technologically developed society, “nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow.”
It is inevitable that leisure time will increase as technological advancements increase and the economy becomes more saturated.
In the same way that our government bribes corrupt and poor countries through USAid to keep their citizens from rioting, we must guarantee every American a universal basic income (UBI) to avoid a feudalistic outcome.
As the population increases and job availability decreases, fewer people will be employed simply because of the automation and digitalization occurring. We are witnessing political and economic chaos around the world, not simply due to the failure of neoliberalism, but also due to this revolution that is readily changing the world.
Andrew Yang’s proposal to give every American a UBI must be taken seriously. Older progressives, like Bernie Sanders, still believe that it is possible to give every person a job. Sanders’ Green New Deal may indeed boost employment and create 20 million “green good paying jobs” by investing in the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure.
But it will not be effective in addressing the issue of automated jobs in the long run. As we move forward, we must start exploring the UBI option and not ostracize those that cannot find a job at this inflection point in human development.
Mahmoud Ramadan is a senior studying chemical engineering at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Mahmoud by emailing him him at [email protected].