There has been a lot of discussion around robots, artificial intelligence, how will this impact humanity, and will we need some sort of universal basic income?
Here’s my thoughts and predictions.
You are probably thinking, what is a universal basic income? UBI is a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.
Why has this become a hot topic and why would we even need this?
The fact is, that in the next 20 years’ robots and artificial intelligence will replace at least half the jobs that exist today. I’m not just talking about traditional blue collar jobs which we know have been at risk for many years and in some cases already have been replaced, I’m talking about white collar jobs.
IBM’s Watson Artificial Intelligence engine, has already started replacing jobs in the legal profession. Lawyers spend a massive amount of time trawling through documents for evidence or information that could help with contracts, identifying fraud, due diligence and litigation cases. ROSS Intelligence has built a legal research platform. The robot called 'ROSS' is built upon Watson, IBM's cognitive computer. With the support of Watson's cognitive computing and natural language processing capabilities, lawyers can ask ROSS their research question and the robot reads through the law, gathers evidence, draws inferences and returns highly relevant, evidence-based answers.
ROSS also monitors the law around the clock to notify users of new court decisions that can affect a case. The programme continually learns from the lawyers who use it to bring back better results each time.
BakerHostetler, a US-based law firm, will license ROSS for use in its Bankruptcy, Restructuring and Creditors' Rights team. Other firms using ROSS include K & L Gates, Fennemore Craig, and Dentons.
These firms believe that they will not need to lay-off employees. They feel they can allocate employees to less mundane jobs and provide a better service to clients by way of a more personal touch. Interesting thought, but is this practical? Perhaps there will be new areas for lawyers to focus on including, contract land purchase on Mars, insurance for space travelers, and law suits against companies for wrongful dismissal due to AI implementation. Ironic? But nevertheless, a possibility.
So where does this leave workers of the future?
If history has taught us anything it is that over the last 100 years, more jobs have been created than destroyed. In the last 20 years the number of new roles that have been created in the technology sector is astounding.
Research conducted by PwC, showed that in terms of the positive effect on employment generated from the technology revolution, in 2004 5.5% of the UK workforce was employed in job titles that did not exist in 1990, which by 2014 had grown to 6%.
Think about the agriculture sector 100 years ago. Literally 98% of those jobs today, have been replaced with farming machinery, as the industrial age took off. A similar story with car manufacturing. These two sectors made up a large chunk of the workforce during the 1900’s. If you asked a farmer back in 1900, what his predictions would be in 2000, do you think he would believe that he wouldn’t need 98% of his workers?
My prediction is that we are entering a period similar to the automation of car manufacturing 50 years ago. We know that robots will replace many jobs and industries will undergo massive transformation. What we don’t know is what jobs will be created and where does this leave workers of today? Will they need new skills and training? Absolutely. How will this be funded and what impact will this have on those people incapable of learning new skills?
This is where universal basic income may be needed during this transitional period. The traditional period will relate to those workers in their 40’s and up, who have not grown up with new technology and are not capable of adapting to newly created jobs such as a “Drone Engineer”. They refuse to change and are stuck in a rut.
Is it fair that their jobs have been replaced by robots and AI? At the end of the day, businesses must return a profit back to the shareholders. If there is a way to streamline processes using automation, it is only sensible that the business invests in the new technology. The concept is no different to a farmer in the 1950’s investing in a tractor to plough his field.
But no one wants to see the long-haul Truck Driver, Uber Taxi Driver, or Contracts Attorney struggling to find work and not being able to support their family. This is not good for the economy or the well-being of the family. And this is where Universal basic income could help.
In January 2017 Finland began experimenting with this type of scheme. They will run a two-year trial to see how this could work.
A recent report published by The Guardian, said that Switzerland considered introducing a basic income for its citizens last year, but the plan was rejected by the public in a referendum.
Other countries considering the idea include Scotland, which plans to test the scheme in Fife and Glasgow later this year.
Proponents of universal basic income argue it can be more efficient, fairer and will better protect people as the economy evolves.
"A universal basic income would provide a much more secure income base in an age of deepening economic and social insecurity and unpredictable work patterns," economists Howard Reed and Stewart Lansley said in a report on basic income published in May last year.
"It would offer much greater financial independence and freedom of choice for individuals between work and leisure, education and caring while recognizing the huge value of unpaid and voluntary work."
Others criticize the idea as expensive and unworkable. In September, the U.K. government rejected plans for a basic income scheme.
"While at first glance a universal basic income might appear desirable, any practical implementation will invariably be unaffordable. Because it doesn't take into account individual needs properly, it will markedly increase inequality," Conservative politician Damian Hinds said during the debate, The Independent reported.
We are at the beginning of an interesting and exciting period. There will be massive change without question. The will be casualties in many sectors. But I’m optimistic that new occupations will be created. Mundane, boring, repetitive jobs, will be replaced through robotics, automation and Artificial Intelligence. And if all goes to plan, the interaction and communication between businesses and consumers will become more personalised.