In Brief
  • While AI could result in a more productive and efficient world, it could also eliminate jobs, increase inequality, and suppress wages.
  • A universal basic income would provide all citizens with the money needed for survival as AI takes over more of the economy's jobs.

Obama Talks AI and UBI

In a recent interview with Wired editor-in-chief Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, President Barack Obama discussed the importance of exploring the concept of universal basic income (UBI) as it relates to the rise of technology and artificial intelligence (AI).

AI could fundamentally change employment in the future, and Obama notes that is already ingrained in our daily lives in more ways than we could imagine, citing the medical and transportation industries at the forefront. And while AI is inevitably poised to create a more productive system and possibly a more efficient economy, he’s also quick to mention that there could be downsides in terms of eliminating jobs, increasing inequality, and suppressing wages.

When asked about the future of Universal Basic Income in relation to autonomy, Obama skirted the issue, saying, “What is indisputable … is that as AI gets further incorporated, and the society potentially gets wealthier, the link between production and distribution, how much you work and how much you make, gets further and further attenuated.”

The economic implications are evident, and Obama asserts that a conversation on how to manage this is something that should happen soon. But while Obama recognizes UBI as a system that could potentially address concerns of technology taking over jobs, its role in the future is still dependent on how much widespread support it will get, and the President failed to come down on either side—noting instead that this conversation will be increasing over the coming years.

Universal Basic Income

A UBI system of wealth distribution entails the government providing all of its citizens with a fixed amount of money, regardless of income. There are no stipulations as to what the money can be used for, and it comes with no strings attached.

How effective the system will be has long been debated between advocates and critics. Proponents consider UBI a simple and straightforward way to lift people from poverty. Critics however, point out that giving away free money is unfair and completely disregards the idea of working hard for a living.

“Whether a universal income is the right model — is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people? — that’s a debate that we’ll be having over the next 10 or 20 years,” Obama notes.

While the system would be a major change, with a basic income in place, people would be able to meet their basic needs for survival while having the opportunity to pursue their passions. We’d let the machines focus on working, and we’d focus on living.