In a world that gets further and further automated as technology progresses, humans become less and less relevant to the global task force. Sure, the robots have not invaded just yet, but we’re getting close, and its predicted to happen very, very soon.
One of the proposed solutions to the impending employment crisis that this will create is to implement a form of universal basic income (UBI). While the concept of UBI itself has been debated over, refuted, and criticized over the past few decades, the idea is just robust enough that pilot programs for it exist or has existed.
But if does turn out to be a true solution, an ideal one without the strings and issues it is currently mired into, what future world would it make? Could an efficient and ideal UBI system essentially turn each and every one of us into a potential entrepreneur?
The remaining capitalized choice
“What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. Ultimately, we will have to have some kind of universal basic income.” -Elon Musk
At this point in time, there is still wide speculation as to just how much jobs can be taken away by automation and artificial intelligence in the next few decades. Some estimate around half by the next 20 years, while some others are adamant that every single available job or profession will be taken over by smart and more efficient AI.
The discussion then goes to a universal basic income system, something that would maintain the people’s power to spend even amidst this looming theoretical employment crisis. There is a caveat however, as one more commonly depicted dystopian nightmare scenarios of a corrupt UBI is the total loss of control.
Specifically, the loss of control of the citizens to exercise power over the wealthy elite.
If automation forces a UBI system to be implemented in the future, this privilege disappears. There will be no worker unions to protest. Whatever it is that the citizens will protest would be irrelevant, as they are no longer part of the productive force.
Until that is, we become once again part of it, by becoming an entrepreneur. Apart from other society-building unpaid work such as child rearing, starting a business is perhaps one of the natural alternative choices once we start adopting a nationwide-scale UBI. After all, with a UBI the focus is no longer on paying bills or putting food on the table, but finding ways to make life more theoretically fulfilling.
The idea becomes especially lucrative when we consider that with a UBI, income basically goes on a flatline. No more corporate ladders to climb. No more seasonal bonuses. It’s just you and your basic, regular, state-provided stipend. At least on a world that’s finally built on AI and automation.
As such, for anyone seeking higher financial heights beyond the era of human employment, the most straightforward way is to start your own business.
Competition and domination
Of course, even when given a literally profitable choice as becoming a businessperson, there are many hurdles before you even begin. Keep in mind, choosing entrepreneurship as the next default choice in a UBI-driven society poses several entrepreneurship-specific issues, which are namely:
The issue of quality. Not everyone has the chops to be an entrepreneur, and certainly the idea won’t occur to that many people. Starting a business comes with great risks. As with every one success story told, there are usually countless other failures that are never brought to light.
The issue of quantity. How many businesses would there exactly be? What kinds of businesses would there exactly be? The economic landscape of a post-automation society would surely be different from what we have now. In particular, service-type businesses would have to take a lot into consideration anything that its AI counterparts could offer.
The issue of equality. On a more disturbing note, there is also the question if even the established big corporations would simply let potential competition rise and grow. In a setting where advanced AI is reserved for the larger corporations that have embraced complete automation, starting a business may well be an endless uphill struggle.
With this in mind, it is safe to assume that while many people would consider starting a business in a post-employment society, the competition would still be filtered out.
First, by the people who are unable to break into the larger markets. Second, by those who are simply not interested in entrepreneurship. Lastly, by those who are determined to keep any potential competition out of the picture.
Human resources to AI resource(s)
If the biggest driver of the establishment of a universal basic income is AI and automation, then we can conclude that AI will be the single greatest future resource of humanity. Those with access to AI would most likely be the ones capable of breaking into the higher markets, and eventually compete with the established financial players.
Therefore, one of the best theoretical nuclei of a UBI-driven mass entrepreneurship will be the wide-scale availability of AI. Specifically, the democratization of highly advanced AI in the future.
Such implementation will help to completely justify the loss of human jobs not just in an efficiency sense, not just because we are far too fallible in comparison. But because every one of us can now utilize something so much better for our own personal financial ventures.
Of course, not all people are positive on the idea of democratizing AI for the masses. For one thing, we are currently heading towards higher AI accessibility, not democratization. That’s right; it’s the big corporations that still currently own the hardware, the systems, the software, and the services.
The true democratization of AI requires it to be available at the fundamental level. It needs to be open source. During Elon Musk’s interview at the Code Conference 2016, he specifically spoke about the need to make AI widely available in order to put the power to the masses. He said:
“If instead the AI power is broadly distributed and, to the degree that we can link AI power to each individual's will, like you'd have your AI agent, everyone would have their AI agent, and then if somebody did try and do something really terrible then the collective will of others could overcome that bad actor.”
In other words, even if there would be occasional malicious users of that widely available AI, the rest of its overwhelmingly larger positively contributing users can easily stop the threat and correct whatever wrong is done. This is definitely not a scenario that is possible when there is only one super-advanced AI that is only available to the corporate elite.
The utopian verdict
So can universal basic income foster mass entrepreneurship? With a post-employment, automated world, driven by huge crowd of forward-thinking individuals, and empowered by widely available advanced AI, we think such a future might just be possible.
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash.