Basic income may be needed to combat robot-induced unemployment, leading AI expert says

The rise of artificial intelligence could put millions of human workers out of jobs - could a basic income be a solution?

Doug Bolton
Friday 19 February 2016 15:14 GMT
Industrial robots have already displaced human workers in some factories
Industrial robots have already displaced human workers in some factories

A leading artificial intelligence (AI) expert believes that societies may have to consider issuing a basic income to all citizens, in order to combat the threat to jobs posed by increased automation in the workplace.

Dr Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University in Texas, believes that a basic income may be needed in the future as advances in automation and AI put human workers out of jobs.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Dr Vardi said: "Our current economic system requires people to either have wealth or to work to make a living, with the assumption that the economy creates jobs for all those who need them."

"If this assumption breaks down - and progress in automation is likely to break it down, I believe - then we need to rethink the very basic structure of our economic system."

In Dr Vardi's view, governments and societies around the world may have to consider a "basic income guarantee" - a system in which all citizens or residents of a country receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income they bring in elsewhere.

The concept is controversial, but in the last few years, basic income has gathered support among those in power. At the end of 2015, the government of Finland began drawing up plans to give each citizen €800 (£620) a month, tax-free. The system would cost the government around €52.2 billion (£40.6 billion) a year, and would replace all existing forms of benefits. The final proposal won't be ready until the end of this year, and if it goes ahead, it'd likely be trialled in a few areas before being rolled out nationwide.

A basic income pilot scheme is also set to be tested on a small number of benefits claimants in the Dutch city of Utrecht, and the system has support among people in the Green and Labour parties in the UK.

The idea of robots replacing humans may sound like science fiction, but it's already a reality. As Dr Vardi told The Huffington Post: "Many [of the US manufacturing workers who have been displaced by automation] have found new jobs, but many also left the workforce, which accounts for the significant drop in the US labour force participation rate over the last 20 years."

Similarly, not all of the workers who will be displaced by automation in the coming decades will find new jobs. This is one of the reasons why a basic income system may need to be examined, he believes.

One industry which is set to be radically altered by automation in the near future is transport - self-driving car technology is progressing at a rapid pace, and although legal issues may delay its widespread use, it still poses a threat to the livelihood of the millions of people who operate vehicles as part of their jobs.

According to a 2015 study, around 70 per cent of young people in Australia currently enter the workforce in jobs which will be "radically affected by automation."

A separate 60 per cent of students are currently being trained for occupations in which at least two-thirds of jobs could be automated within the next 10 to 15 years, it claimed.

If technology-induced mass employment does become a reality in the future, a basic income may be one of the solutions. Governments around the world will be keeping a close eye on the experiments in northern Europe to see just how feasible the concept is.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in