Aug 17, 2017 (LBO) – Billionaire Richard Branson has joined the growing number of voices urging caution against rapid uptake of AI and automation that may lead to governments paying workers’ salaries.
Governments will have to implement “universal basic incomes” in effect paying workers’ salaries, if automation does take root.
Analysts say the fourth industrial revolution goes hand in hand with the ‘gig’ economy. This is where workers get paid for short-term work they do, such as being couriers, ride-hailing drivers or video producers.
In the UK an estimated five million people are employed in this way.
Such workers, classed as independent contractors, don’t have protection against unfair dismissal, right to redundancy payments, the right to receive the minimum wage, or paid holidays or sickness pay.
Last October Uber drivers in the UK won the right to be classed as workers rather than independent contractors.
“With the acceleration of [artificial intelligence] and other new technology … the world is changing fast,” Branson wrote in a blog post.
“A lot of exciting new innovations are going to be created, which will generate a lot of opportunities and a lot of wealth, but there is a real danger it could also reduce the amount of jobs,” he says.
“This will make experimenting with ideas like basic income even more important in the years to come.”
Finland is among the countries now experimenting with universal basic income, which is a step up from basic systems of social security.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that universal basic income will be a virtual necessity as technology replaces jobs that humans currently do.
“There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk told CNBC last year.
“Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”
Cities across the Netherlands are launching their first universal basic income trials in October later this year.
Other cities in Italy, Canada and Scotland are also at various stages of investigating and launching trials. Mark Zuckerberg and senior Vatican members are among those who have raised the idea too.
Analysts say countries like Sri Lanka, which haven’t gone down the path of rapid and mass automation, will likely have a choice about embracing such technologies, although demands of the modern economy may be difficult to resist.