Jacob Morgan
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Jacob Morgan

Is an AI-Driven Future with Universal Basic Income Possible?

“The Future If,” is a global community of business leaders, authors and futurists who explore what our future can look like IF certain technologies, ideas, approaches and trends actually happen. The community looks at everything from AI and automation to leadership and management practices to augmented reality and virtual reality, the 4th industrial revolution and everything in between. Each we explore a new topic and this week we looked at whether we should Fear or Embrace AI, this was the discussion starter we used! Visit TheFutureIf.com to learn more or to request to join the community.

Imagine a world where humans only work a few hours a week, robots and AI do almost all of the work, and we all receive a Universal Basic Income. Although it sounds very different from our current situation, it’s actually not that far fetched and could happen within the next 20–25 years. This week our community discussed the likelihood of this actually happening and what it would take for this hypothetical to turn into reality.

There are a number of current trends that could contribute to this future scenario. First, think of the rapidly evolving technological progress that is exceeding our expectations. Technology that was new just five or 10 years ago is now completely obsolete, meaning that in a few decades we really could have machines and robots that could replace almost all human jobs. As technology grows and the world changes, we’re facing the difficulty of re-skilling employees fast enough. The things employees were trained on when they first started their jobs could be completely different now, and it is almost impossible to provide employees the skills they need as things change. That’s not even considering what it takes to prepare employees for new positions. On the flip side, robots and machines can learn new skills quickly and be re-trained almost instantly.

Then there’s the money — Universal Basic Income pilot projects are currently be tested and are actually proving to be very successful. Under these systems, everyone gets the same amount of money on a regular basis no matter how much they work. However, many community members doubted that UBI would actually work when put into practice, with Principal Consultant Tamarah Usher saying the one-size-fits-all system goes against our human nature to strive and conquer. Others feared that people would abuse the system and said it wouldn’t work because of the emotional connection we have with money. UBI is very complicated, said Independant Researcher Michael Massey, adding that it would take the perfect combination of conditions to make the system even relatively successful.

This scenario has its pros and cons. On one side, it could lead to class separation between the less advantaged doing manual tasks that can’t be easily automated, such as cleaning, said Global Head of Future Work Practices, Karen Eden, while people who work non-manual tasks wouldn’t have to work as much but would still get paid the same. On the other side, it would provide humans lots more time to focus on activities besides work. Community member Chris Sparey said working fewer hours would give people more time to invest in their local communities, health, and experiences. Community member Angela Lapré agreed, saying that she hopes people would share their skills with others by volunteering in the extra time they aren’t working. If we ever indeed find ourselves fortunate enough to live in a ‘four hour work week,’ it should spur us to do more good, or at least more than binge-watching shows all week,” she said.

Even though AI would be doing all the work, many community members agreed it would be unlikely that humans would just sit back and not do any work. Instead, we would likely define new areas where can add value, but that those roles likely don’t currently exist.

No matter if this exact scenario manifests itself, there’s no doubt that the future of our working and payment conditions will be vastly different in the future. The next generation could work in ways that would be unrecognizable to us. Starting the conversation now about what to expect and how to prepare can help ease the transition into the work environment of the future.

Jacob Morgan is a best-selling author, speaker, and futurist. His new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to his newsletter, visit TheFutureOrganization, or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If…and join the discussion.

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Jacob Morgan

4x Best-Selling Author, Speaker, & Futurist. Founder of FutureOfWorkUniversity.com. Exploring Leadership, Employee Experience, & The Future of Work