Uber for the people
So, there’s something I’ve been pondering recently about automation and business.
I remember growing up and reading stories about how technology would set people free from working so much, it would give us more free time and make life more enjoyable.
Now, we’re knee deep in the “sharing economy”, and most people are getting paid less, with a steady trickle of profit going upwards to fewer people. Amazing.
Look at Uber, a company that employs zero drivers, but takes a profit from everything they do. Increases in efficiency increase cumulative profit, which trickles upwards to the board and shareholders.
So, while working recently on a project about blockchain(Long explainer), smart contracts, and Decentralised Autonomous Organisations(Jargon prone), I was considering how this new technology, which usually benefits the few, could be turned on its head to actually benefit the many.
We’ll start with a hypothetical company much like Uber, but run as a cooperative, where profit is shared equally among all members.
This isn’t a radical idea, cooperative companies have existed for centuries, with the first recorded consumer focused cooperative being founded in 1769.
At this point, this would lead to annual payouts to all members, which could contribute to balancing out income between areas of high or low business, eg Uber drivers based in central London versus those based in a tiny town called Havant, in South England.
It’s well known that many automotive and transport companies, including Uber and Lyft, are looking at self-driving vehicles as a new generation of transport. In these cases, it would lead to drivers being taken out of the equation and increased profitability for the company.
Self-driving cars can be run very efficiently for a range of reasons, such as not requiring downtime, or easily finding the most efficient route to a destination.
Each of the cars could be set up as an Autonomous Agent, which can run independently of human interaction, and can handle the exchange of money itself. This would include taking payment for services, as well as paying for repairs, recharging etc.
Remaining money could then be transferred to the company which owns the vehicles as profit.
For a cooperative, the outcome could be very different.
The autonomous cars would gradually join the workforce, taking on more of the workload and increasing the cost efficiency of the business. They pay for their own fuel and their own repairs and generally self-manage themselves as a fleet, only needing human interaction when really necessary. This can be managed through smart contracts (automated programmes that handle transactions and management).
As this increases, there’s less work for the drivers, but the profit that the cars are making is redistributed among them.
Money that remains could then be redistributed among the members equally. These members, even though their workload is decreasing, still have an income. This allows them a degree of freedom to follow other pursuits, work less, go back into education in their spare time, or any number of other activities.
It becomes a micro version of a basic income. It’s not going to make them all billionaires or millionaires, or probably not even that wealthy, but it gives a support structure for people whose jobs no longer exist.
As technology develops faster and has an increasing impact on how people live and work, it’s important to keep a human centred approach, otherwise we can go down paths we didn’t expect.
I’d be interested to hear people’s opinions and questions, so fire away with the comments.