17 Oct 2022

AI, Technological Unemployment and Universal Basic Income

I have been involved in a training course on the Economic Singularity that finished last week. There were  10 one-hour presentations by a set of 6 speakers, including myself. https://economicsingularity.eduweave.com/

My presentation was on AI, Technological Unemployment and Universal Basic Income. It was a good excuse to talk about two of my passions. The first concerns my research over the past 45 years (yes, I started my doctorate in Oxford in October 1977) that has tried to understand the mysteries of how our brains process sensory information and store memories, and attempted to use ideas from studying the brain to develop artificial systems. 

The second passion is my interest in the economy that started at the same time as this blog in October 2010. 

Following the presentation, and after taking into account some of the feedback I got from the "students", I updated and expanded the original 1-hour presentation, and the result is a 75-minute-long talk that I have uploaded to YouTube. You can find the presentation here

The talk has three parts.

In Part 1, I discuss why humans will not be able to compete with AI, why many paid jobs are going to disappear, and why this could be a disaster unless we act quickly. I argue this position on the basis of my own work into biological vision, which demonstrates that our biological hardware is simply too slow and limited to compete with advancing computer technology. I mention my current projects that aim to implement neural networks with billions and even trillions of spiking neurons using off-the-shelf hardware such as NVIDIA GPUs and computers with Apple's M1 and M2 chips. Such devices could replace paid humans in a wide range of situations.

In Part 2, I propose that introducing a Universal Basic Income is probably the best way to cope with the technological unemployment resulting from advances in AI, robotics and automation. I discuss 4 different ways of financing a UBI : (1) Central Bank Money Creation, (2) A radical reform of the tax and benefit system with an Unconditional Basic Income coupled with a flat rate income tax, (3) a 0.1% financial transactions tax, and (4) an annual 1% tax on all assets. The first two could be used at the national or regional level, whereas the last two could be used to provide a $100 a month Basic Income for everyone on the planet. 

In Part 3, I describe another very radical proposal, the introduction of IOU-based transaction system (IOUNet) that could allow the economy to function without the need for conventional money. In the end, I am personally convinced that there is a way forward that would allow all humans to live rewarding lives, and live in peace with technology. However, I believe that this will only be possible if we make the right decisions now. I very much hope that the ideas presented here could help stimulate a wide-ranging discussion on this vital and pressing issue.

There's a lot of stuff there, and watching the whole thing requires some effort. But I very much look forward to getting feedback from you - whether positive or negative. I will no doubt be doing an update of the presentation, as well as a version in French, so do let me know what you think.

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