How artificial intelligence, guaranteed income, and virtual reality could construct our future society

Maybe you’ve heard about Facebook’s “M,” a digital assistant who uses a combination of artificial and human intelligence to complete any task. Or maybe you’ve read the recent New Yorker article about how the arrival of true AI could eradicate humankind. Or did you hear about Viv, an AI from the creators of Siri which can figure out how to solve problems by itself?

The AI field is booming again, and it’s advancing fast.

As machines take over jobs like farming, manufacturing, and medicine, humans may increasingly find themselves with plenty of economic output but nothing to do. AI researchers have suggested that a system that makes sense in this scenario is a guaranteed income for everyone. Even if that happens, we’ll still have a massive population with nothing to do.

How will people choose to spend their time? We know that work can give people meaning. What happens when you can’t work? As attractive as it might sound, not everyone wants to do a hobby all day, every day.

I predict that this is where virtual reality will come in. If your physical world is boring or unfulfilling, the virtual world doesn’t have to be. Want to be a hero? Want to be the leader of a movement? It’s easy in VR — much easier than in the physical world.

I can see a time when robots do all the work and humans get a monthly stipend that covers housing, food, and medical costs. All basic needs are covered. And people jack into VR all day. (Check out Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.)

AI provides the economic output, guaranteed income covers the necessities, and VR provides the meaning.

That might sound like a utopia to some, dystopia to others, but to me it seems like a plausible scenario with the potential to offer a better quality of life than today.