Yesterday I started something I couldn’t finish, it probably won’t be the last time that happens. More and more frequently I find the things I want to say take a lot longer to write and edit than I am making time for.
I am however, resolute in my “post everyday rule” so sometimes there may be cliffhangers, but more likely, awkward pauses or unexpected interruptions.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the opportunities available to people these days are far far greater than ever before. Technology has been the catalyst removing the traditional barriers to entry; you want to make and sell t-shirts? run your own online store? create dance music and distribute it internationally? Step right up and have a go, we are at a place now where solutions to each of these are in abundance and virtually free to use.
This blog is a case in point; it costs me less than a £5 a month to run my own virtual server (Amazon Lightsail) with free open source software (Bitnami WordPress stack with Linux operating system). I have a tool for sourcing royalty images for my posts (ImageInject) and I can host audio on Soundcloud and Video on Youtube. All of which I can manage on my laptop or (to some degree) on my phone.
However, while this hobby is considerably less than the cost of something like a gym membership that doesn’t mean it’s open to everyone. I’m fortunate to be in paid employment which keeps me fed, watered, housed and warm with enough left over for additional benefits such as a means of personal transport and high speed internet access.
Figures for the number of people in Absolute or Relative poverty run at between 20 and 25% of the UK population which equates to around 16.5 million people. These figures exclude homeless people, so you can add another 300,000 to the total according to figures from late last year.
Suffice to say that’s an awful lot of people who don’t have the same opportunities. Those numbers are only set to increase as automation sweeps across industries and job roles that have existed for years slowly get replaced.
We know this is coming; in the US around 4 Million jobs are in transportation, an industry set for mass redundancies with the onset of driverless vehicles. Warehouse automation is another area where increasing robotic technology will take over from manual handling for bulk picking and sorting processes. Requirements for call centre staff will reduce as data driven chat bots are utilised with increasing success at first touch issue resolution.
Which in an ideal world should all be a good thing. The amount of overall work the human race needs to physically do to survive will reduce, working hours could be reduced in line, the work should generally be more rewarding and free time in greater abundance.
and it’s a rather big “but”,
It would need a radical change in the socio-economic make up of the world. On the current trajectory the only winners of automation are the corporations and they are under no obligation to redistribute the increased profits to the workers who will end up with no form of income as a result.
There has to be an incentive to be altruistic, most companies serve only their shareholders and go to great lengths to avoid paying taxes which are intended to redistribute some of the wealth via the state to those in need.
At the point that a significant proportion of the population are no longer able to find traditional employment we need to consider how we keep these people above the poverty line and with access to the opportunities that would allow them to live happy and meaningful lives.
Universal Basic Income (or UBI) is one possible route to take. There are plenty of arguments against it (that it isn’t affordable and it discourages people from working are just two), but for me it seems the only logical solution however politically unlikely. Quite what mechanism we would need to fund it and ensure it continues to be funded probably needs some calculations done by AI that has yet to be developed….
Food for thought… Until tomorrow.
Update 13/8/18 : came across this comprehensive discussion on the topic between Sam Harris and Andrew Yang which I’d somehow completely missed a couple of months back. Throughly recommend a listen