At no point in the history of our species has human culture ever changed as rapidly as it is now—and I literally mean now, because by the time you get to the end of this article, I suspect that a profound discovery will have been uploaded to the internet from somewhere on the globe. In this modern world full of sensors and sharing, we find ourselves in a time period when information and technology are advancing with reckless abandon, rampaging through the history books and actively filling day after day with breakthrough innovations and realizations that in the past would have been separated by decades or even centuries.
Just as interesting is the fact that we’ve known this was coming for quite some time now. We’ve been riding along a plotted path of growth, fast approaching what the most successful futurist in the world, Ray Kurzweil, calls the point of the Singularity— the moment machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence, a time that could potentially give us an abundant utopia or an oppressive regime composed of the rich and robotic. But while that moment is estimated to still be at least 20-35 years away, we are currently in the homestretch, where paradigm-shifting discoveries are happening weekly in preparation for this climax.
The above chart shows the exponential growth of these paradigm-shifting technologies we’ve been experiencing since humankind first harnessed fire, carved a wheel, and wrote their first hints of language into a communication medium that transcended mere verbal storytelling. Notice how it’s become vertical? That’s us… today… right now. And that is why right now is the time we have to start making some serious decisions about where this technological evolution will take us.
So what’s this have to do with dystopian slavery and political economics?
Well, the bottom line is: We are about to lose A LOT of jobs.
In the time leading up to the Singularity, the advent of highly-advanced AI systems, 3D printing, self-driving cars, virtual reality telecommuting, and automation unlike anything we’ve ever seen previously are all going to combine to put an end to the need for an unskilled labor force; even many skilled workers are going to soon find themselves replaced by an AI/robot.
And luddites should fear this, because it’s true: there are going to be A LOT of jobs lost because of it. (Self-driving vehicles alone stand to put an end to the ~ 8.7 million jobs supported by the trucking industry.) And these jobs will be lost at the same speed at which the technology is advancing—which is blindingly fast. So fast, in fact, that we simply do not have the skills or efficiency of governing to handle it. In a world of nearly 7.5 billion people, momentum takes a long time to build up. Policy and bureaucracy move at an ancient pace, more accustomed to a medieval era than a modern, sci-fi’esque one where the “peasants” and engineers can snap a recording of their efforts and thoughts and transmit them to the world less than 5 seconds later. And that proverbial relay torch can be grabbed by another thinker, who uses this new information to solve a puzzle of their own, which they can then share…which solves another person’s puzzle, which is then shared to solve another, and so on and so forth. And this snowball effect can quickly create breakthroughs so massive in their impact that they stand to wipe out entire industries or corporations in the blink of an eye. We simply cannot create policy and new jobs fast enough to deal with this. And so we need to be pre-emptive. We have to choose now.
Abundant Utopia or Aristocratic Slavery.
It is only fear of our survival that keeps us enslaved to jobs. What happens when we have abundance?
When you have robots tending the vertical farms of solar-powered skyscrapers, and self-driving drones and cars and automated hyperloops organizing transit and delivery, and shoreline breakers harnessing the power of the wind and waves to send electricity back to their coastal cities, and 3D printers creating clothing and food at near-zero cost—when you have all these things, we’ll be living in a state of abundance. Farmers will no longer be necessary. Oil companies and their laborers will be phased out. Construction workers will no longer be needed. When virtual reality allows us to visit museums and foreign lands, the travel industry could see a great decline as well; even those who do take to the road will find their service needs handled by the aforementioned automation—with no need for humans to get in the way.
The point is, just like everywhere else in the universe, our existence is based on getting energy: whether from food, from the sun, or from utility and energy companies. Even our jobs are an exchange of energy: we are paid by our employers to use our physical and mental energies in exchange for money that will then let us turn around and buy the energy outputted by a bartender, farmer, engineer, etc whose efforts created some product or service we desire.
But again, when solar technology can power robots who can perform all of our task and we can clothe and feed ourselves for a negligible cost, then we’ve reached a point of abundance where very few people will truly need to work—or at least not as much as the inhumane hours many of us currently work. We’ll be able to simply sit back and let the robots provide, setting aside minimal human hours for maintenance. And then the millions upon millions of unhappy, exhausted, and apathetic workers can stop numbing their minds and wasting their time acting like consumerist robots to a callous and uncaring economy, and instead can be beacons of happiness and passion who contribute to society their joy and inspirational creativity.
This utopia is achievable, but it won’t come without effort on all of our parts. We must constantly fight to ensure our policy makers and corporations do not restrict the flow of information and the progress of technology—or even worse, try to seize control of the breakthrough innovations and hoard them for themselves, thus making them inaccessible to the common person and thus the common good.
But even if we prevail along this path to utopia undiminished by greedy oligarchies, we will still have to deal with the immense job loss that will pave that way. So in order to ensure the bottom doesn’t fall out and halt our progress too early, in order to ensure an overwhelming number of struggling, impoverished masses don’t rip our world apart in their desperate struggle to keep a roof over their head and food in their bellies, we need some kind of safety net to survive the transition.
Enter UBI: Universal Basic Income
Even in this near utopian future, housing will still cost money, infrastructure will still need to be maintained, engineers will still need to be rewarded for their costly efforts, and capitalism will still need the competition and the fight for the consumer’s dollar. People will still need to pay for their food and have the freedom to splurge on choices that help them individualize: like buying a better gaming rig for their VR gaming career, a better instrument for their music career, or an education at a renowned institute; or maybe they’d like a trip to an exotic location just to become a more cultured person, or maybe even a trip to space. People will still be paying for virtual items as well, buying new devices, new experiences, and continuing their attempts to individualize using currency—and again, we want this for the sake of balance, progress, and the honing of our culture.
But we can’t have this if no one has money. And we’ll never even reach this phase if society first collapses under the onslaught of lost jobs—a situation that would create an impoverished majority caught in selfish death-throes that pull us into an apocalyptic peasant-class, where all of those innovators and freethinkers who would be sharing their revelations are unable to afford the free-time or equipment necessary for their work, if they’re even able to afford to survive.
UBI stands to solve these problems. UBI, in its simplest form, is guaranteed income that will be given regularly to all citizens. There are many varying forms (conditional vs unconditional, etc), but I’m only interested in unconditional for the sake of this argument. In this scenario, let’s simply say every citizen gets $2000 a month. This would cover rent, transportation fees, food, nightlife, and the splurging or saving toward big purchases such as an Oculus Rift or a trip to Spain. The city gets paid from infrastructure usage, while food purchases and general nightlife cost pays the businesses providing the services, and companies innovating devices like Oculus Rift still get paid by creating something of value. No one goes hungry, and everyone has a chance to thrive along their individualized path. Without the fear of health and home being taken away from them, people will become happier. They’ll have time to ask themselves what their passion is now that they’re not working a soul sucking job that is now being performed by an already soulless machine. Then they’ll be able to use the unbelievable power of the internet to share their passion, to contribute to society in a way that embodies the best of who they are, therefore creating a society of more richly awakened and inspired people.
Happiness soars through the roof, abundance is maintained, and capitalism continues unabated. It’s that—OR—we continue to let people lose jobs without building a safety net.
Saying no to UBI is saying no to providing a launching pad from which to let people build the best version of themselves, a version they can then carry out into the world like a ripple of authenticity that frees us all from the kind of fear that makes us cling to things like nationalism, religion, race, gender, or any arbitrary dividing line created by an ego that uses xenophobia as a way to feel safe in a broken economy, education, and governing system.
So how do we get UBI and this abundant utopia?
Okay, so this is the part you’ll hate me for, but it has to be said. We get there by embracing democratic socialism. And I know what you’re thinking: AHHHH! NOT SOCIALISM. IT SOUNDS LIKE COMMUNISM AND THE RED SCARE.
But wait a minute. What’s the point of a government that takes all of your money and doesn’t give you anything back? That sounds to me like a war-mongering, largely oligarchical, tyranny. It sounds like a peasant class living in the mud while the king conquers land so he can eat better, get richer, and sleep with more women. Oh, and hoard selfish power so his insecure ego feels like he’ll have some defense against the looming specter of death.
But that’s the asinine behavior of primitive minds that preferred slavery to humanism.
And what we all really want as the peasant class is a democratic socialism, whether you realize it or not. You know why? Because here’s a list of things you already enjoy thanks to socialism:
A Sewer System.
And you could have more of these things (like UBI), once we realize that the big blob of blue on the right of the pie-chart below could fund it. Because who needs military once we’ve stopped making people live in fear of their survival.
These socialistic kinds of things are exactly what the purpose of a government should be, and what you often consider them to be anyway. These humanistic benefits are where our money SHOULD be going. And some of your tax dollars certainly are going that direction. But we know it’s also largely going to war, to killing other people. Now, rather than support that, what if we had a government that logically continued the above list and added things to it like healthcare and education? Or the logical next step: UBI.
You see, UBI is a socialistic idea, and the bottom line is that we’re not going to get UBI if we keep supporting an oligarchy that continually lifts up the rich at the cost of the common person. If we want that abundant utopia, we need our average people free to create and share the technologies that will get us there, and for that to happen these people cannot be suffering from a lack of food, home, and health.
And if you think this is a radical idea, consider that two of the most successful financial countries in the world have already begun to test and put UBI to a vote: Finland and Switzerland.
Aside from voting for governmental leaders who are willing to embrace these ideas, one of the best things you can do to help get us to this humanistic existence is simply be a champion for it. Change the zeitgeist through standing resolute in your beliefs. Talk about it at the bar, with your co-workers, and in your social networks. Watch for policies to arise that may get us there, support them, and voice your opinion.
Otherwise, you’ll quickly lose your voice to a culture that demands a showcasing of wealth before giving your opinion credence or value. And then you’ll be silent. You’ll become the homeless person you pass on the street who it pains you to ignore. We all will. The bottom will crumble, and we’ll all be in the gutter looking up to our Kings and Queens lavishing in the glory of the hoarded technology they keep to themselves, just like many places the world over where the economic divide looks like this:
Slavery or humanism, it’s your choice. No tide ever turned without a majority of the water molecules agreeing to do so. No avalanche ever happened without enough snowflakes grouping together. And this society will not get better for the 99% of us unless we actually band together, sharing our voice and our votes for the sake of humanism and abundance, for the knowledge that even if we hit rock bottom, we’ll still be okay, because we’ve created a society that values each human the same, finding each worthy of unconditional love and compassion.
Thanks for reading, and for giving me a bit of your energy and hard-earned time.
Download our podcast on Basic Income here, or watch below.
On a side note, this article was inspired by two short stories I recently released. Each explore how the hoarding of technology and resources are a detriment to humanitarian and technological progress. This whole writing gig is how I’m trying to support myself until UBI comes around, so if any of this resonated with you or you’re interested, please take a look at the two stories: Fire and Oil, GOLEM.